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Treble-chasing Bayern set for 25th title

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ALONSO-PORTOBERLIN, April 24- Treble-chasing Bayern Munich could claim their first silverware of the season this weekend with the Bavarian giants poised to become German champions for the 25th time.

With five games left, Bayern are 12 points clear before they entertain Hertha Berlin at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, with nearest rivals Wolfsburg not playing until Sunday, when they face a stiff test at Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Pep Guardiola’s side therefore need only better Wolfsburg’s result to officially wrap up yet another title.

However, even if Wolfsburg win, their hugely inferior goal difference would mean the title race is effectively over anyway.

Bayern are buzzing from their stunning 6-1 drubbing of Porto in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final, second leg which took them through to the last four and kept alive their hopes of repeating their 2013 treble, when they won the domestic double and lifted the European Cup.

However, their current punishing schedule of a game every three or four days shows no sign of relenting as they host Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup semi-final next Tuesday in a repeat of the 2014 final, which Bayern won 2-0 after extra-time.

Injuries continue to leave Guardiola with a thin squad at his disposal, with Franck Ribery, Mehdi Benatia and David Alaba still on the sidelines and Holger Badstuber having been ruled out for the rest of the season with a thigh tear.

However, Spain midfielder Javi Martinez this week returned to training for the first time since tearing the cruciate ligament in his left knee last August, although it is doubtful he will play again this season.

And there is hope that leading scorer Arjen Robben will return either this weekend or against Dortmund next Tuesday after six weeks out with an abdominal injury.

“Arjen is well on his way. We can hope he’ll return soon,” said chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who admitted that he would rather not wrap up the league title because of a slip-up from one of Bayern’s rivals.

“It’s more satisfying to leave the pitch as confirmed champions,” he said before speaking with confidence about Bayern’s prospects on all fronts in the run-in.

“We have difficult matches coming up. We’re in good shape right now. We want to take everything that’s possible.”

With fourth-placed Gladbach battling Bayer Leverkusen for Germany’s third automatic Champions League berth, Wolfsburg are set to name a full-strength side for Sunday’s showdown at Borussia Park.

Indeed, both Germany winger Andre Schuerrle and their star Belgium midfielder Kevin de Bruyne were left out of the squad for Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at Napoli to keep them fresh for the Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, Leverkusen go to near neighbours Cologne chasing an eighth successive win but without Gonzalo Castro, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

– Tense at the bottom –

Elsewhere, with only four points separating the league’s bottom five teams of Hamburg, Stuttgart, Paderborn, Hanover and Freiburg, the battle to stay up is set to go to the wire.

Stuttgart host Freiburg, while Paderborn, who have won just once in eight, entertain Werder Bremen.

After sacking Tayfun Korkut on Monday, Hanover play their first game under new coach Michael Frontzeck at home to mid-table Hoffenheim, who are chasing a Europa League berth.

“The essential thing is to stay calm in this situation,” said Frontzeck, whose new charges are two points above the bottom three.

“I saw some fantastic games from this team in the first half of the season. I don’t know what happened over the winter and it does not interest me.”

Bottom side Hamburg, the only side in the Bundesliga never to have been relegated, are looking to prevent going 10 matches without a win when they host sixth-placed Augsburg on Saturday with Bruno Labbadia set for his second game in charge after last week becoming Hamburg’s fourth coach this season.

Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)

Friday

Mainz 05 v Schalke 04 (1830)

Saturday

Borussia Dortmund v Eintracht Frankfurt, Hanover 96 v Hoffenheim, VfB Stuttgart v Freiburg, Hamburg v Augsburg, Cologne v Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich v Hertha Berlin (1630)

Sunday

Paderborn v Werder Bremen, Borussia Moenchengladbach v VfL Wolfsburg (1530)

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