Leverkusen pursuit brings back painful memories

BERLIN - Bayer Leverkusen have three games to make up a five-point gap on Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund and know from painful experience that their cause is not lost.

Dortmund could clinch the title on Saturday if they beat Nuremberg at home and Leverkusen failed to win at crisis-torn neighbours Cologne whose coach Frank Schaefer quit on Wednesday.

Yet Dortmund's shock 1-0 defeat at relegation-threatened Borussia Moenchengladbach last Saturday has brought back memories of 2002 when the two teams were in the opposite situation with leaders Leverkusen five points ahead of Dortmund.

On that occasion, Dortmund won their last three games to snatch the championship from Leverkusen, who remain without a Bundesliga title and are still scarred by that experience.

Leverkusen, also beaten in the German Cup and Champions League finals the same year, have been stuck with the nickname "Neverkusen" ever since thanks to their uncanny knack for finishing second.


Despite Dortmund's jitters last Saturday, when their lead was cut from eight points to five, few believe that history will repeat itself.

"This is 2011 and not 2002 and in any case we are Borussia Dortmund and not Bayer Leverkusen," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc told the Bild newspaper.

His Leverkusen counterpart Rudi Voller said: "In that season, Dortmund had already been champions five times. But they haven't won it yet. If Dortmund slip up, we will try to take our chance."

Dortmund, with 69 points from 31 games and only four defeats all season, have a tricky match against sixth-placed Nuremberg who are chasing a place in the Europa League next season.

Leverkusen can make sure of a Champions League group stage place if they beat opponents who are in disarray after Schaeffer's shock resignation.

Schaeffer, who initially led Cologne away from the relegation zone after replacing Zvonimir Soldo in October, had been due to leave at the end of the season.

His decision to quit came after Cologne suffered a 4-1 defeat by VfL Wolfsburg, leaving them just three points above their opponents who are 16th and occupy the relegation playoff spot.

Wolfsburg, who have 32 points and are two behind Eintracht Frankfurt, continue their survival battle with a trip to Werder Bremen, who are 11th and need one point to be mathematically safe.

Relegation zone pair Moenchengladbach and St Pauli, who each have 29 points, visit Hanover 96 and Kaiserslautern.

Hanover are third, which would earn them a place in the Champions League qualifying round, and are one point ahead of champions Bayern Munich.

Bayern, who host Schalke 04, are desperate to qualify for the Champions League next year especially as the final will be played in their own stadium.