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‘Winter championship’

Reds require draw to hit mid-term target

Oliver Kahn and Luca Toni will be missing, but Bayern will complete the first half of the Bundesliga programme away to Hertha BSC Berlin on Saturday (Live in English from 3.15 pm on FCB.tv Web Radio ) determined to retain top spot and claim the so-called winter championship. “The time has come to say: we’re Bayern Munich football club - and that’s what we’ll do tomorrow,” Mark van Bommel declared on the eve of the fixture.

The Dutch ace will stand in as captain for the suspended Kahn at the Berlin Olympic stadium. “I’m proud I’ve been asked to wear the armband,” Van Bommel observed, delighted at the faith shown in him by coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, but simultaneously insisting the captaincy was not a priority. “What matters is winning and taking the winter championship. The name of the captain isn’t that important.“

Looking for maximum points

The title of winter champions, unofficially but ubiquitously bestowed on the side leading the league at the halfway point in the campaign, has long been Bayern’s declared target. A draw in Berlin would realistically secure that goal. Werder Bremen, two points off the leaders and at home to Leverkusen on Saturday, could theoretically overtake if Munich only draw, but the northerners’ goal difference is a full eight goals inferior to Bayern’s. In any case, the Bavarians are looking for more than a single point. “It wouldn’t be enough,” Van Bommel insisted, “we want all three points.“

Victory would see Bayern spend the mid-season break a minimum of two points clear in top spot, occupied by the men in Red since opening day. “And I want us to stay top until the end,” Van Bommel commented, hoping for a ‘lights-to-flag’ march on the title. Winning the winter championship has been a good omen in the past. Bayern have been top at Christmas 15 times in their history, going on to win the league on 13 occasions.

Fraught with danger

However, the points are not in the bag yet. “It’s always hard work in Berlin,” Philipp Lahm warned. Hertha have slumped to twelfth in the standings after three defeats in a row, and were knocked out of the German Cup by Bayern’s next opponents Wuppertaler SV, “but every team sees Bayern as a chance to turn things around. That makes it a very dangerous match,” Lahm continued.

Van Bommel felt Hertha would be in the mood to attack after failing to beat the Reds in the last eleven meetings between the clubs. “Berlin are at home and won’t want to let their supporters down, so they won’t just drop deep and defend,” the Dutchman argued. Added Lahm: “If we concentrate and show the necessary desire, we’ll definitely win the match.“

Toni and Sagnol sidelined

The turmoil surrounding Kahn’s midweek suspension could even work in Bayern’s favour, Van Bommel felt. “I think it’ll have a positive effect,” he suggested. Michael Rensing, yet to lose a top flight match with Bayern, deputises for Kahn in Berlin. “It’s another chance for him to show what he’s made of,” Hitzfeld observed.

The Bayern line-up will reflect other enforced changes too. Apart from long-term casualties Hamit Altintop and Marcell Jansen, and the suspended Lucio, both Luca Toni (hamstring) and Willy Sagnol (back pain) have pulled out of the squad.

League Cup tactics

The impression from final training was that Hitzfeld is planning a tactical switch, with Miroslav Klose as a lone striker ahead of an attacking midfield trio comprising Schweinsteiger, Ribéry and Podolski, the formation which comfortably won Bayern the pre-season League Cup. “Our target is the winter championship, because then we’d go into the mid-season break with everybody happy,” concluded Lahm, “we’re the leaders, and our fate is in our own hands.“

Probable line-ups:

Hertha BSC Berlin: Drobny - Friedrich, von Bergen, Simunic, Fathi - Mineiro, Dardai - Lustenberger, Grahn, Gilberto - Pantelic

Bayern Munich: Rensing - Lell, Van Buyten, Demichelis, Lahm - Zé Roberto, Van Bommel - Schweinsteiger, Ribéry, Podolski - Klose
Also in matchday squad: Dreher, Hummels, Ottl, Sosa, Kroos, Schlaudraff

Referee: Dr Markus Merk (Otterbach)

Bayern’s record in the fixture: P24 W7 D11 L6 F43 A36