Created on 28-01-2008 at 00:00 AM
During the 22-day mid-season training period, Bayern beat Augsburg 2-1, the China Olympic team 7-2, and Fortuna Düsseldorf 3-2, before drawing 1-1 with TSV 1860 Munich on Saturday. However, the first real test of the Reds’ form is Tuesday evening’s DFB German Cup Round of 16 tie away to Wuppertaler SV. “Warm-up games always lack intensity,” observed Ottmar Hitzfeld, reporting a renewed sense of anticipation in the dressing room ahead of the first competitive fixture since Christmas. “You can tell the players have set their sights high for the remainder of the season. We’ll make a start tomorrow.“
“We’re off again at last,” enthused Mark van Bommel, although the men from Munich may have mixed feelings about the venue for their return to meaningful action. The Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen rates as Bayern’s unhappiest destination over the last six seasons: the Bavarians have drawn twice and lost five times to Schalke since the stadium opened in summer 2001. However, against third division Wuppertal, the chances of a first win would appear better than ever before.
Pace to unpick packed defence
“Obviously we’re expecting to win,” Uli Hoeneß declared, but Van Bommel, recalling the first round where the Reds needed penalties to eliminate third division Wacker Burghausen, also issued a warning: “Naturally, we’ll have to earn it. Burghausen showed us how difficult beating a third division side can be.”
As in the first round, or in the warm-ups against 1860 and Düsseldorf, the Bundesliga leaders must deal with eager opponents prepared to fight for every inch of ground. “They’ll defend in depth,” Hitzfeld predicted, “so we’ll have to unpick them. We’ll need a very high tempo to exploit any weaknesses.“
An early goal would make Bayern’s task immeasurably easier. “I want total concentration, a great deal of patience and determined attacking,“ Hitzfeld demanded. The head coach has already settled on his starting line-up, where Willy Sagnol and José Sosa appear to have won the battle for the disputed positions on the right of defence and midfield respectively. Six men will definitely not feature in the match: long-term absentees Lukas Podolski and Marcell Jansen, plus Andreas Ottl (hamstring), Michael Rensing (back), Breno and Stephan Fürstner (both omitted from the squad).
After the switch in venue away from Wuppertal’s half-renovated Zoo stadium, one intriguing question on Tuesday will be the nominal home side’s ability to cope with a 61,482 sell-out crowd at the Veltins Arena. The vast throng, some ten or more times larger than WSV’s third division norm, could put the minnows off or inspire them to new heights, mused Van Bommel, hoping for a sizeable Bayern contingent in the Ruhr valley: “We have fans everywhere.“
WSV aiming for upset
“We mustn’t freeze, despite the vast stadium and crowd,” urged WSV keeper Christian Maly. A place in the Round of 16 represents his club’s best Cup performance since 1963. After overcoming Hertha BSC Berlin 2-0 in the previous round, and defeating VfL Bochum 2-1 in a friendly last week, the underdogs boast a proven track record in upsetting top flight opposition on the day. Why should Bayern be any different, Maly argued: “We’ll certainly try and win the match.”
WSV boss Wolfgang Jerat has turned to unusual methods in an effort to prevent his men showing the Bundesliga leaders too much respect, ordering one of the teams in a training ground match to wear Bayern shirts. “I wanted the lads to get a feel for their opponents,” he explained. The third division north leaders will certainly not give in without a fight. “We basically don’t stand a chance against Bayern, but we want to give a decent account of ourselves and not end up as Bayern’s plaything,” Jerat insisted.
FCB target trophies
“It’s our game of the century,” declared WSV president Friedhelm Runge, but despite the minnows’ resolve, the men from Munich have the trophy in their sights and intend to book a place in the last eight. “This is the ‘easiest’ trophy, because you have to win the fewest matches,” Hitzfeld opined, and winning trophies is Bayern’s declared aim this season.