The Bundesliga is up for grabs as first-place Schalke host second-spot Bayern Munich

Schalke v Bayern Munich, Bundesliga, April 3, 2010

Schalke 2.64; Draw 3.18; Bayern Munich 2.54

Bayern Munich travel to Schalke on Saturday fresh from their comeback win over Manchester United in the Champions League. Louis van Gaal’s side will be looking to close the deficit on the hosts’ lead in the Bundesliga, two points clear of the Bavarian giants at the top of the table.

With it being such a crucial game for both teams, the war of words started early over the state of Schalke’s Veltins Arena pitch. Last week Bayern Munich won a tough DFB Pokal semi-final at the stadium thanks to a late wonder goal from Arjen Robben. But the game was marred due to a cabbage patch of a field that is unlikely to have improved. (1.80 to be under 2.5 goals, 1.98 to be over.)

Uli Hoeness, the Bayern Munich president, one of a batch of ex-players that seemingly dominate the German press, said: “You can’t present a pitch like that in such an important phase of the season. I have the feeling Felix [Magath] – I know him well – is using it as a means to an end to compensate for the deficits in his team.”

Louis van Gaal welcomes back Arjen Robben for the trip to Schalke after the Dutch winger and player of the season in Germany so far, missed the first leg against United through injury. Bastian Schweinsteiger also returns after he was suspended for the match against the English champions. (Draw/Bayern is 5.47.)

The Dutch tactician will though be wrestling with his team selection at the start of what is an enormous week for Bayern. Next Wednesday they travel to Old Trafford to face a Wayne Rooney-less Manchester United in the second leg and then on Saturday they face third placed Bayer Leverkusen in another match that will go a long way to deciding who will end up as German champions.

For the surprise home defeat to Stuttgart last week, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben came on as a second half substitutes and the Dutchman picked up an injury. If Robben does start it seems likely that Ribery could be saved for the trip to Manchester. Mario Gomez is also fit again so could come in for Ivica Olic, depending on who is set to lead the line in England.

Schalke meanwhile will be confident of going five points clear at the top of the Bundesliga having already secured a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena in November. Yet again Magath seems to have built an incredibly well organised team who boast the meanest defence in Germany having conceded just 22 goals in 28 games.

The Royal Blues produced a brilliant 2-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen last week and have a host of players Bayern envy, not least one of the hottest young goalkeepers in European football, Manuel Neuer. Further up the pitch, Ivan Rakitic and Jefferson Farfan are quality players who could trouble the Munich defence and provide the ammunition for the Bundesliga’s top goal scorer Kevin Kuranyi.

The 28-year-old striker has dominated the build-up to this encounter as calls are growing louder for Kuranyi to be included in Germany’s World Cup squad. A brace last week, to take his tally to five goals in his last four games has meant he could well return to Jogi Low’s thoughts for South Africa and the Germany national team coach is expected to be in attendance on Saturday.

Besides Kuranyi’s personal ambition, Felix Magath’s influence spreads heavily around this match. Quite simply the 56-year-old is a magician who Bayern should never have sacked in January 2007. If two successive doubles were not enough at Munich, subsequent league success at Wolfsburg and now Schalke’s title challenge means the Bavarian giants are wary of Magath, which is hinted at by Hoeness’ quote above.

There are a number of variables coming into this match, not least which team Munich field with such big games to come. Schalke though have had a full week to prepare and a striker desperate to impress. Combined with their recent league form (one defeat in 13) and it would take a brave man to bet against the home team and Felix Magath.

101gg predicts: Schalke 2 – Bayern Munich 1 (8.31)

Schalke 2.64; Draw 3.18; Bayern Munich 2.54