Fourth takes on third in the 2. Bundesliga this Sunday, in what could be a deciding game in the race for the Bundesliga. The Wildparkstadion will host Karlsruher SC and 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the Südwestderby, with promotion and pride to play for for.
The hosts blew the second divisions' title race wide open at the weekend. Rouwen Hennings scored two late goals to secure a 1-3 win over table-toppers FC Ingolstadt, after they had weathered die Schanzer's second-half onslaught. Those three points maintained the gap between themselves and Kaiserslautern, but brought them to within five of Ingolstadt. It also meant that they had ended a run of three straight draws and stretched their unbeaten run to seven games.
Though the majority of the spotlight was on Hennings' brace, the efforts of Dirk Orlishausen and his defence can not be underestimated. In addition to Daniel Gordon's fantastic performance, the former BVB defender scored the opening goal was a bullet header.
Dmitri Nazarov summed up the feelings in the camp ahead of their final nine games, "The mood in the team is very good. We push each other and stick together. There are no small groups and you can also see that week after week on the pitch."
He continued to refer to a collective effort, rather than multiple smaller shifts: "We may not have the best individual players in the league, but the team works." Obviously having players like Hiroki Yamada, Hennings, Orlishausen and Reinhold Yabo, some of the elite in the division, also helps.
However, it does sum up head coach Markus Kauczinski's methods. The team effort put in to overcome Ingolstadt was immense and provided the basis for Hennings to show off his ice-cool finishing skills.
For Kaucinski's opposite number Kosta Runjaic, he too has enjoyed a good run of late. Like Karlsruhe, Kaiserslautern have only lost once in their last eight league games and recorded a win at the weekend.
They beat 1. FC Nürnberg by two goals to one, after surviving a late scare through Alessandro Schöpf. Apart from that moment, the Red Devils controlled the game comfortably and could easily have scored more than they did. Alexander Ring and Philipp Hofman had given them a commanding lead in the first period, although a determined defensive effort from Nürnberg prevented them from adding to their tally.
Markus Karl has been a key figure in Kaiserslautern's promotion campaign and he doesn't seem nervous at all, he says: "The previous derbies have been great fun. With the current situation in the table, it is even more explosive."
Runjaic took the battling midfielder off after an hour in their weekend win, knowing another yellow card would have seen him banned for this game. He knows just how important the clash is, "It plays into our hands, that they are not too far behind and because they know that they no longer have it in their own hands if they do not win against us."
Karlsruhe remain without Dennis Kempe (calf), Jan Mauersburger (thigh) and Sascha Traut (rehabilitation). They should remain unchanged from the win against Ingolstadt, although it remains to be seen whether Gaetan Krebs plays out wide or beside Jonas Meffert in central midfield.
The absence of Dominque Heintz and now Willi Orban could greatly affect the Red Devils' chances of getting a strong result on Sunday. Orban (ankle problems) and Heintz (torn muscle) are joined by other key first-team players. Marcel Gaus (rehabilitation), Ruben Jenssen (broken metatarsal) and loanee Erik Thommy (shoulder) remain out. There are still doubts over Simon Zoller's fitness, although he did train with the team on Thursday.
There are four players that could be banned, should they pick up a booking, for their respective club's next game. Jan Zimmer, Manuel Gulde and Alexander Ring have all accumulated four yellow cards, while Markus Karl (nine) could possibly face a two game ban should he see yellow on Sunday.
Knut Kircher will be the man in the middle for Sunday's derby showdown. The 2010-11 Referee of the Year, in Germany, has been in charge of 118 2. Bundesliga games and 222 in the top division. He has refereed Karlsruhe and Kaiserslautern this season, handing out six yellows and one red in the process.
Karlsruher SC: (4-2-3-1) Orlishausen; Valentini, Gordon, Gulde, Max; Meffert, Krebs; Torres, Yabo, Yamada; Hennings.
1. FC Kaiserslautern: (4-2-3-1) Sippel; Schulze, Heubach, Schindele, Löwe; Karl, Ring; Matmour, Demirbay, Zimmer; Hofmann.
Quotes via Karlsruhe's official website and kicker.