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Berlin (AFP)

When Hoffenheim kick off at Schalke in the Bundesliga on Saturday many eyes will be on the fans behind the goals rather than the players on the field.

Last week, away to Hoffenheim, Bayern fans unveiled a banner with 17 minutes to go which halted the match.

When the players returned, they played keep-ball for the rest of the game, which hardly mattered as league leaders Bayern were six goals up.

The key word in the banner was the German for "son of a bitch" which has become a code for Dietmar Hopp, Hoffenheim's 79-year-old billionaire owner.

The majority of Bundesliga clubs are, in theory, fan owned and supporters are hostile to the rich owners who have transformed English, French and Italian football.

Bayern fans were showing support for the ultras at their great rival Borussia Dortmund, who used the inflammatory phrase to describe Hopp and were then banned by the German football federation (DFB) from travelling to games away at Hoffenheim.

Banners insulting Hopp and criticising the DFB for attacking terrace culture were also unveiled by Cologne and Union Berlin fans. The latter led to their game against Wolfsburg being interrupted.

The previous week, the match between Borussia Moenchengladach and Hoffenheim was halted when home fans unveiled a banner showing Hopp in rifle crosshairs.

On Wednesday, when Schalke hosted Bayern in the German Cup, home fans unfurled a banner asking their opponents if they tried the same insult "will you stop playing so we'll get a penalty shootout?" Bayern won 1-0.

Fans of second-division Bochum, a neighbour of both Schalke and Dortmund, moved the debate in a fresh direction in their draw with Sandhausen.

After Arsenal loanee Jordi Osei-Tuti scored they revealed a banner that said: "A son of a bitch is insulted: all of Germany is shocked - Racism on a daily basis: nothing happens."

In February, Hertha's Jordan Torunarigha was sent off after throwing bottles in rage after being racially abused in a German cup game, at Schalke.

On its website, explaining to Hoffenheim fans, who have chanted their support for their owner with often robust language, how to get to Veltins Arena, Schalke made clear banners would be allowed.

"Fans do not require permission to bring flags with a pole that is up to two metres in length or fence banners."

Schalke are enduring another season of unfulfilled promised, mired in sixth but already 10 points off the Champions League places.

Hoffenheim are two points and two places further back, heights that would have been unthinkable 15 years ago.

Many will be anticipating the banners more than the mid-table action.

Player to watch: Jadon Sancho

Borussia Dortmund have won four games in a row while conceding just one goal - scored by Neymar. They warm up for the return against Paris Saint-Germain with a potentially pivotal visit to Moenchengladbach. Dortmund are third in the Bundesliga and 'Gladbach are just behind in fourth.

Last weekend, with one teenage sensation, Erling Braut Haaland, ill and on the bench against Freiburg, Jadon Sancho hit the only goal, scoring for the seventh straight home game and the 11th time in 13 games.

At a club which only lists two strikers - Haaland and Marco Reus - the contribution of the English winger, who is Dortmund's league leader in goals and assists (14 in both), remains crucial.

Key facts

8 - Bayern's unbeaten run, including 7 wins, since the winter break

6 - Goals Bayern scored in 73 minutes in their first game without Robert Lewandowski

22 - Goals Augsburg, Bayern's opponents, have conceded in last eight games

Fixtures

Friday

Paderborn v Cologne (1900 GMT)

Saturday (1430 GMT unless stated)

Bayer Leverkusen v Eintracht Frankfurt, Schalke v Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin v Werder Bremen, Freiburg v Union Berlin, Wolfsburg v Leipzig, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Borussia Dortmund (1730)

Sunday

Bayern Munich v Augsburg (1430), Mainz v Fortuna Duesseldorf (1700)

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