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‘It’s high time’

FCB vow to banish curse of the Arena

There is no other team in the Bundesliga with a better home record against Bayern than Saturday’s opponents Schalke 04. Of 37 meetings in Gelsenkirchen, just eight have finished in a win for Munich, with 18 draws and 11 victories for the Royal Blues. Indeed, you have to go back almost nine and a half years for Bayern’s last success away to Schalke, a 3-1 triumph on 17 October 1998.

Matters hardly improved from a Bavarian point of view after Schalke quit the venerable Parkstadion in summer 2001 for their magnificent new stadium on the same site. Some would say a curse lies over Bayern’s trips to the Veltins Arena, where the Reds have played six, lost four and drawn two, scoring just four goals and conceding 12.

Four defeats for Hitzfeld

“We’ve never won there, so it’s high time we did,” coach Ottmar Hitzfeld declared in the build-up to Saturday’s showdown. The General has presided over nothing but defeats at the Arena, losing with FCB on four separate occasions. The weekend clash is his last opportunity to set the record straight. “In terms of probability, our first win there must be coming closer,” Hitzfeld commented wryly. “Bayern will definitely be fired up by the idea of leaving the Veltins Arena with three points for once,” agreed S04 general manager Andreas Müller.

Lifting the curse of the Arena is only part of Bayern’s mission this weekend. “We want to maintain our lead,” Hitzfeld advised. After 21 matches, the General’s men lie four points clear of Werder Bremen, and six ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburger SV. Both of the northern clubs are at home this weekend: Werder entertain Borussia Dortmund on Saturday, with Eintracht Frankfurt visiting HSV and Leverkusen away to VfL Bochum on Sunday.

Ribéry to enliven attacking moves

“I’m really not interested in what happens behind us. What I want is a good performance from my team,” commented Hitzfeld, brushing aside the fear his players might suffer a backlash from 120 pulsating Cup minutes against TSV 1860 in midweek. “It was hard work physically, but it ended happily from a psychological point of view. That’s a real boost.” In any case, the coach will introduce one or two fresh faces on Saturday, “so we’ll definitely be up to the job.“

Bayern are aware they will need all the determination and resolve they can muster. “We know we’ll come up against severe resistance,” Hitzfeld acknowledged. Franck Ribéry is expecting “a very hard-fought match.“ After coming on as a sub in the last two games, the Frenchman will start on Saturday. Hitzfeld believes Ribery’s return can inspire his side to recapture the flowing attacking football which brought so much success at the start of the campaign: “There’ll be a few changes because of him."

Too many long balls

The Bayern coach criticised his men for relying too much on long balls out of defence recently. “And I’m not happy with our crossing and final passes either. We have plenty of room for improvement down the flanks. I want to see us make progress,” the General admonished.

Bayern will set off for Gelsenkirchen on Friday with few selection concerns. Mark van Bommel is suspended, but Martin Demichelis returns to the matchday squad after recovering from a torn muscle. Miroslav Klose is also expected to shake off a foot injury. Hitzfeld is keen for his players to exploit an ongoing bout of unrest and turmoil at Schalke, prompted by consecutive league defeats and growing dissatisfaction with coach Mirko Slomka. “It’s a chance for us to come away from Schalke with more than a point. We can go there and win,” the Munich supremo declared.