BERLIN - Stuttering Borussia Dortmund are in big danger of falling six points behind resurgent champions Bayern Munich when the two German football giants meet in Saturday's Bundesliga topper.
Just over a month ago Peter Bosz's Dortmund were unbeaten and held a five-point lead at the top over Bayern. Three rounds later they find themselves trailing Munich by three and things could be worse come Saturday night.
Dortmund appeared invincible in the first seven games, of which they won six, drew one and had a stunning goal difference of 21-2.
But they always appeared vulnerable in defence which was then exposed in defeats against RB Leipzig (3-2) and Hanover (4-2), a draw against Eintracht Frankfurt (2-2) - and even more in the Champions League where they are on the brink of elimination after 3-1 defeats against Real Madrid and Tottenham and two 1-1 draws with APOEL Nicosia.
Bayern had their own bad spell in September, going winless in three Bundesliga games (drawing 2-2 after being 2-0 up against Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin, and losing 2-0 at Hoffenheim) and coach Carlo Ancelotti having to go after a 3-0 meltdown at Paris Saint-Germain.
But they recalled the treble-winning helmsman from 2013, Jupp Heynckes, and after the Hertha draw in his debut game have won all following six games in all competitions to turn the tide, including a 2-1 at Celtic Tuesday which saw them qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages.
Munich winger Arjen Robben freely admitted that Munich's league lead "didn't seem possible" just a few weeks ago, but like Heynckes said that Dortmund won't be a pushover despite their crisis.
"They are a big rival, this season as well. These are always special games at a high level," Robben said.
Heynckes said that "Borussia are a very good team even though they didn't have good results lately," but added "it is clear that we want to continue our run."
Bayern have turned matters around with Javier Martinez returning into defensive midfield, and Polish striker Robert Lewandowski is to return into the starting 11 from muscular problems against his former club.
Bosz's tactics have been questioned but he has defended his gameplan with high pressing. He was supported by forward Mario Goetze who said the slide "definitely has nothing to do with the system or the philosophy."
Chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke is also upbeat that his team can turn things around in front of a full house of 80,000.
"If a team has managed to make things difficult for Munich in important games over the past years then its Dortmund. There is no reason for us to wear sackcloth and ashes," Watzke said.
Apart from defence, Dortmund are also struggling because their top striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not found the net in the last three games, but Bosz said "I am convinced he can turn it around soon."
Dortmund beat Bayern 1-0 in their last Bundesliga home game 12 months ago while Munich's last win in Dortmund was in April 2015.
Another big game Saturday sees third-placed RB Leipzig host number four Hanover, lowly Freiburg host Schalke, Borussia Moenchengladbach play Mainz, Augsburg meet Bayer Leverkusen, and SV Hamburg will turn to promising youngsters Tatsuya Ito and Jann-Fiete Arp to end a run of eight games without victory against VfB Stuttgart.
On Sunday, bottom club Cologne make another attempt to get their first season win at home against stuttering Hoffenheim, and Wolfsburg want to end a run of six straight draws at home against Hertha.
The round opens Friday with Frankfurt v second-last Werder Bremen, who are also yet to win and have a new interim coach in Florian Kohfeldt after Alexander Nouri had to go on Monday.