BARCELONA – Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will return to Schalke on Sunday for the first time since he left to join what he called ''the best club in Germany.''
Neuer's claim particularly rankled in Gelsenkirchen, where he had played since the age of 4.
''I think he'll have to deal with whistling on Sunday and he's aware of that,'' Schalke captain Benedikt Hoewedes told Kicker magazine Thursday. ''But I still maintain Manuel doesn't deserve hostility, because he always gave very good, even sensational performances for us.''
The arrival of Neuer at Bayern, along with defenders Jerome Boateng and Rafinha, has shored up a defense that leaked 40 goals last season. In comparison, champion Borussia Dortmund only let in 22.
Under new coach Jupp Heynckes, Bayern has only conceded one goal in five league games to take it to the top of the table.
The added security at the back has increased confidence in going forward. In its last three league outings, Bayern has beaten Hamburger SV 5-0, Kaiserslautern 3-0 and it demolished Freiburg 7-0 last week.
''What pleases me the most is that all the players are working on defense, but I'm still convinced we can play better football, especially when we face stronger opponents,'' the 66-year-old Heynckes said. ''And we know we'll have to keep on improving, because we have a packed and intense program over the next few weeks.''
There was another clean sheet in Bayern's 2-0 win at Villarreal in the Champions League Wednesday.
''If we keep our focus, the future looks rosy,'' captain Philipp Lahm said.
Striker Mario Gomez and defender Daniel van Buyten are doubtful for Sunday's game after picking up injuries in Spain.
''Van Buyten has an Achilles problem. Gomez has a groin problem which has flared up again today. We'll have to wait and see,'' said Heynckes. ''Both had the same injuries even before the international break.
Neither player faces a long injury lay off, but Dutch winger Arjen Robben remains sidelined with no date set for his return after a season start plagued by back and groin problems.
''It's impossible to make an accurate prediction at the moment,'' said Bayern doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt, while club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he didn't know ''if it'll be two, three or four weeks.''
If Gomez does play, the league topscorer will hope to add to his tally of eight goals, while French winger Franck Ribery is enjoying a rich vein of form after putting his injury problems behind him.
Schalke's replacement for Neuer, Ralf Faehrmann is doubtful for Sunday's clash after tearing an ankle ligament in the 2-1 defeat at Wolfsburg last week. However, the 22-year-old did travel with the rest of the squad for Thursday's Europa League opener at Steaua Bucharest.
Also Sunday, Borussia Dortmund travels to Hannover, hoping to bounce back from its 2-1 loss to promoted Hertha Berlin last weekend. It was Dortmund's first loss at home in 19 games.
The defending champion is currently 11th after only two wins, and can ill afford any more dropped points with Bayern in such good form.
Playmaker Mario Goetze believes Tuesday's battling performance against Arsenal - when Ivan Perisic volleyed in a late equalizer to earn Dortmund a deserved 1-1 draw - marks the turning point after a lackluster start.
''We showed what we are capable of. If we now start taking our chances, then we are on the right track,'' the 19-year-old Goetze said.
However, Goetze is suspended for the trip, as is Sebastian Kehl, and Kehl's defensive midfield partner Sven Bender has been ruled out with a hip injury, leaving coach Juergen Klopp short of options in midfield.
Stuttgart gets the weekend's action under way Friday at Freiburg.
On Saturday, Bayer Leverkusen hopes to recover from a 2-0 Champions League defeat by Chelsea against Cologne, Hamburg hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach, Werder Bremen travels to Nuremberg, Hoffenheim takes on Wolfsburg, Kaiserslautern hosts Mainz and Hertha Berlin hosts Augsburg in a clash between promoted sides.