- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) - As Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang battle for top scoring honors, the midweek Bundesliga round is only a prelude to their showdown at the weekend.

Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich hosts Mainz on Wednesday and Aubameyang’s Borussia Dortmund visits Darmstadt. But the attention is already shifting to Saturday, when Dortmund hosts Bayern in the match of the season.

The two strikers have marked the season so far, with Lewandowski scoring 23 goals and Aubameyang notching 22.

Bayern holds an eight-point lead with 11 matches remaining and no team has squandered such an advantage at this stage of the season to lose the title race.

Dortmund’s priority is to keep a safe distance to third-place Hertha Berlin, but if it can beat Bayern and reduce the gap it will inject some interest back into the championship.

Before, however, Dortmund has the tricky trip to promoted Darmstadt, while Bayern should have an easier job at home against Mainz.

Here are some things to know ahead of the 24th Bundesliga round:

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NO THREAT AT HOME

Darmstadt, a team with limited means, is playing a solid season and is hovering above the relegation zone. But that’s more due to its success on the road than to strength at home.

Darmstadt has won only one of 11 matches at home, while winning five on the road.

It has earned 18 of its 25 points away from home - including a 2-2 draw at Borussia Dortmund.

Darmstadt’s rugged style could trouble Dortmund, which struggled before overcoming 10-men Hoffenheim with three late goals on Sunday - its eighth win in nine matches across all competitions in 2016.

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DECISIVE DAYS

Bayern’s outgoing coach Pep Guardiola has described the current busy period as the decisive stage of the season.

Bayern began with a 2-2 draw at Juventus - after blowing a 2-0 lead - in the champions League, then beat Wolfsburg 2-0 with relative ease.

“Big points! These are big points,” forward Thomas Mueller said in Wolfsburg.

Now comes Mainz, which dispatched Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 on Sunday, and then Dortmund. Should Bayern win both, an unprecedented fourth straight Bundesliga title should be a formality.

“The victory was very, very important for us today. We absolutely wanted the three points,” David Alaba said after Saturday’s win in Wolfsburg.

“There are easier away matches, and it’s a decisive week for us with games against Wolfsburg, Mainz and away to Dortmund. So it was crucial to start with three points in Wolfsburg,” captain Philipp Lahm said.

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HOFFENHEIM HOPES

Hoffenheim, which was at a numerical disadvantage for more than half an hour after goalscorer Sebastian Rudy was sent off, played well until Dortmund’s late three-goal flurry.

Hoffenheim’s problem remains protecting a lead - it has won only three of 12 matches it has gone ahead in.

It was Hoffenheim’s first defeat in three matches under the new, 28-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann, but the team appears to be playing with more confidence and a win on Wednesday against Augsburg could lift Hoffenheim from the relegation zone.

One of Hoffenheim’s three wins this season was a 3-1 triumph over Augsburg.

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NO COACH, NO WIN

The first match without suspended coach Roger Schmidt went badly for Leverkusen, which lost 3-1 in Mainz. Schmidt is serving a three-match ban because he refused to leave the touchline when shown a red card in the loss to Dortmund the previous week.

The defeat also meant that Mainz leapfrogged Leverkusen into fifth place.

Leverkusen next hosts Werder Bremen, which needs points to escape from the danger zone.

Another setback could see Leverkusen fall out of the Europa League berths.


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