(Reuters) - The season may only be 10 matchdays young but Hertha Berlin and Sunday's league opponents Schalke 04 are already firmly locked in a battle for survival in the Bundesliga.
Both clubs' pre-season expectations were far different with Hertha hoping that a 375 million euro investment in the past years by businessman Lars Windhorst would finally start yielding tangible results on the pitch.
Schalke's return to the Bundesliga after a year in the second tier was supposed to see them establish themselves in the league again, like a sleeping giant who was now awakening.
Instead the Ruhr valley club is anchored in 17th place after managing just one league win so far.
Schalke's disappointing run included a derby loss to local rivals Borussia Dortmund and a current four-game losing streak.
Tuesday's 5-1 defeat by Hoffenheim in the German Cup led to the sacking of coach Frank Kramer the next day.
Despite being close in the table with 15th-placed Hertha, who are two points ahead of Schalke, the atmosphere in the Berliners' camp could not be more different.
Even an internal rift between club bosses and investor Windhorst does not seem to have spoiled the mood in coach Sandro Schwarz' team.
He looks firmly in the driving seat despite picking up only one win in their last six matches. They have lost one and drawn four of their most recent matches but for Schwarz the team is performing well.
"We should have more points at this stage based on our expectations," Schwarz said. "The next chance is against Schalke and knowing that we can deliver a good performance. We need to be seriously prepared for that. We need intensity in our game. That is the anchor to play successful matches.
"The focus (in training this week) has been our build-up game and spaces, especially precise passing."
There was good news during the week with Jean-Paul Boetius returning to training less than a month after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
"We are all very happy that he is back with us," Schwarz said. "We will now see how fast we can raise the level in training and what the data says."
At the other end of the table, leaders Union Berlin, with a four-point gap, travel to VfL Bochum while second-placed Bayern Munich face Hoffenheim a day earlier. Borussia Dortmund, who have dropped to eighth, host VfB Stuttgart.