FRANKFURT, Germany — A once discarded striker has come back to rescue Wolfsburg's season, revive his hopes of going to the European Championship and perhaps play a major role in deciding the Bundesliga championship.
Patrick Helmes has scored six goals in his last six games, helping Wolfsburg go on a four-match winning streak.
Borussia Dortmund is the next to visit Wolfsburg and the defending champions could be knocked off the top of the Bundesliga standings if Helmes remains on target and Wolfsburg extends its run.
Dortmund is three points ahead of Bayern Munich, which hosts Augsburg and has a better goal difference.
Dortmund is undefeated in 22 matches, but two draws in the last four games has allowed Bayern to cut the deficit. Last week, Dortmund played to a scintillating 4-4 draw at home to Stuttgart, losing victory in stoppage time.
Bayern visits Dortmund on April 11 and the winner of that match is likely to claim the Bundesliga title.
Bayern may be more concerned with the Champions League since reaching the semifinals, but it is now within striking distance of a treble. Dortmund and Bayern will also play in the German Cup final next month.
Dortmund's most imminent worry will be to stop Helmes and his forward partner Mario Mandzukic. Helmes made 13 appearances for Germany between 2007 and 2010, scoring two goals. But a knee injury put his career on hold and he was released by Bayer Leverkusen to join Wolfsburg, where he stagnated.
Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath sent him to the reserve side earlier this season and Helmes' time at the club seemed to be all but over. The striker had already agreed to personal terms with second-division Eintracht Frankfurt during the January transfer window, only for the deal to fall through when Magath put too high a price on the striker at a reported €6 million ($7.89 million).
Magath must have known something. Renowned for controversial personnel decisions, the coach who led Wolfsburg to the 2009 Bundesliga title all of a sudden returned Helmes to the starting lineup.
Helmes paid back by scoring goals and putting Wolfsburg back into the equation for a place in next season's Europa League. Germany coach Joachim Loew has said he is keeping an eye on Helmes ahead of the Euros.
Wolfsburg is in a four-team tie between sixth and ninth place, with six matches remaining.
Magath's teams have a history of playing strongly in the decisive stretches of the season and this year is no exception after a dismal start and a remarkable shopping spree in January.
"Teams need time to mature," Magath said. "Often, the observing public will not accept that a positive development comes from hard and persistent work and needs time. People expect and demand results as if by magic.
"If it doesn't happen, disappointment spreads quickly. My side is now on a really good path and we function as a team better from match to match. We are focused and the desire for success is bringing us together."
A hamstring problem has been bothering Helmes this week and it remains to be seen if he will be available for the full 90 minutes.
Dortmund has been playing some electrifying football but may have lost a little edge. Young midfield star Mario Goetze is back in training after being sidelined since December with a nagging pubic bone injury but it remains to be seen if he will be in the squad on Saturday.
Bayern finished off Marseille on Tuesday to make the semifinals of the Champions League but cannot afford to slip in the Bundesliga if it wants to keep up with Dortmund.
Also Saturday, it's: Cologne vs. Werder Bremen; Stuttgart vs. Mainz; Freiburg vs. Nuremberg; Kaiserslautern vs. Hoffenheim; and Borussia Moenchengladbach vs. Hertha Berlin.
Schalke hosts Hannover on Sunday, while Leverkusen travels to Hamburg.