BERLIN (Reuters) - Former Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen, who have spent much of the season in the relegation zone, could complete a sensational comeback with victory at Ingolstadt on Saturday.
A win could move Werder into seventh place, which leads to the Europa League qualifiers, or even sixth spot and an automatic place in the European competition next season.
Unbeaten in their last nine league matches and having won seven of those, Werder have climbed out of 16th place and have the second best points haul with 23 since the winter break, behind only Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich who picked up 27.
Under Alexander Nouri, who took over as interim manager in September before signing a permanent deal, Werder's attacking game has seen them score 15 goals in their last five league games and notch up wins over second-placed RB Leipzig and potential relegation candidates Schalke 04 and Hamburg SV.
"Fans can chant about Europe and we can sort of take a look up the table to see what's happening there but we remain cautious," Werder's Fin Bartels said following last week's 2-1 victory over northern rivals Hamburg.
"Our focus is on the next game and the 40-point mark."
That milestone has traditionally marked safety from relegation, and while few fans now fear Werder will go down, the players are in no mood to spend any time talking about European football next season before they have secured a top flight spot.
"We will go to Ingolstadt brimming with confidence," said former Germany international Max Kruse, who has been successful in reviving his career after a disappointing spell at VfL Wolfsburg following his move from Borussia Moenchengladbach.
"It has worked well in the past weeks to plan from game to game. Only once we have 40 points can we talk about something else," Kruse added.
Ingolstadt are in 17th place but with three wins in their last four matches, they have fought their way up to 28 points, four behind Augsburg, 16th and on the relegation playoff spot with five games left in the season.
Leaders Bayern Munich, on 69 points, eight clear of Leipzig, host Mainz 05 following their bitter Champions League exit at Real Madrid on Tuesday. Leipzig travel to Schalke on Sunday.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Alexander Smith)