Berlin: Borussia Dortmund coach Lucien Favre hit back on Thursday at criticism of his team, who will look to keep pace in a tight Bundesliga title race in their tricky test at Freiburg this weekend.
Dortmund remain just a point behind league leaders Bayern Munich with five games to go, but faced widespread criticism after their nervy 2-1 home win over Mainz last weekend, in which Favre's side had to withstand a second half onslaught from the away side to hold onto the three points.
The game also sparked some soul-searching within the Dortmund ranks, with captain Marco Reus saying that the team would have to play "beyond their limits" if they were to win the title.
"Everyone is saying we were bad in the second half, but that is an exaggeration," an animated Favre told reporters on Thursday.
"We had three clear chances in the second half, and we only played badly in the last 10 minutes."
Title hopefuls Dortmund face Freiburg on Sunday, in the first of several potential banana skins between now and the end of the season.
Freiburg are a notoriously hard team to visit, and have already had an impact on the title race by holding Bayern to a draw at home earlier this month.
Dortmund's defence remains ravaged by injury ahead of Sunday's match. Full-backs Lukasz Piszczek and Achraf Hakimi are still sidelined, while Favre confirmed on Thursday that centre-back Dan-Axel Zagadou has picked up a knock to his knee.
Bremen out to end Bayern curse
With rivals Bayern playing a day before, Dortmund will know before kick-off on Sunday whether they have the chance to regain top spot.
The reigning champions host Werder Bremen on Saturday, just three days before meeting them again in the German Cup semi-final.
Ahead of the Bremen double bill, coach Niko Kovac has warned his side not to get ahead of themselves.
"It is an unusual situation (to be facing the same team twice in a row), but we have to concentrate on the first game," he said.
"Bremen are a strong opponent who are in very good form."
Bremen are in good shape: they remain unbeaten in 2019, in a run stretching back 14 games in all competitions and are sniffing around the European places.
Their recent record against the league leaders makes for sobering reading however. Bremen have not beaten Bayern in 11 years, and have lost all of their last 18 games against them. Eight of those defeats were by three goals or more.
Yet coach Florian Kohfeldt believes his Bremen side have what it takes to break the Bayern curse.
"Bayern are the strongest team in Germany at the moment, but we also have our weapons and we can do them some damager," said Kohfeldt on Thursday.
"Our philosophy remains the same: we want to win wherever we go."
Bayern may be without both Mats Hummels and James Rodriguez.
Hummels has been working to recover from a thigh strain, while Rodriguez picked up a muscle injury during Thursday's training session.
Bayern Munich v Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen v Nuremberg v Augsburg, Mainz v Fortuna Duesseldorf (all 1330), Borussia Moechengladbach v RB Leipzig (1630), Schalke v Hoffenheim (1830)
Freiburg v Borussia Dortmund (1330), Hertha Berlin v Hanover 96 (1600), Wolfsburg v Eintracht Frankfurt (1830)