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First v second

Leaders vow to shake off rivals Bremen

With the meteorological office predicting glorious late winter weather and the hallowed turf freshly re-laid, the Allianz Arena is set to provide a magnificent stage for a cracking Bundesliga clash on Sunday (Live in English from 4.45 pm on FCB.tv Web Radio) when leaders Bayern, boasting the league’s meanest defence, meet second-placed Bremen, the top scorers in the section. “It’s a chance to put distance between ourselves and a dangerous rival,” declared Ottmar Hitzfeld, “there’s a lot at stake. The chance might not come again, so we’ll try and take it with everything we have.“

Victory would see Bayern pull six points clear of what Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described as “our closest rivals at the present time.” It would also hand Munich the psychological edge, Hitzfeld reasoned. “It would give us a great position from which to defend our lead. There’d be no panicking, and we could rotate the squad in the busy phase coming up next.“

Pressure on Bremen

On the other hand, an away win would see Bremen draw back level with the leaders on points – and should Werder win by four clear goals, they would go top. “Bremen are a superb team,” Oliver Kahn warned. Sunday’s visitors have lost both competitive games in 2008 so far, but a win at the Allianz Arena would more than make amends for the poor start.

However, Werder are undoubtedly under more pressure than FCB. “They know that if they lose, they can say goodbye to top spot for a while,” commented Kahn. “It’s more than just any old game for Bremen. It’ll set the tone for the rest of the season for them,” Hitzfeld agreed, “but we’ll need to take care. Teams pull together in situations like that.“

Hitzfeld demands improvement

Bayern are preparing for a physical battle. “It’ll be a fight for every inch of ground,” Hitzfeld remarked, “they’ll be aggressive, and we’ll have to resist.” The coach called for an improvement on last week’s trip to Rostock. “We lost too many challenges in Rostock. We have to keep it a great deal tighter.“

Munich are all too well aware of Bremen’s attacking strength. Werder have amassed 43 goals in 18 league fixtures so far, and the potent forward line orchestrated by playmaker Diego will be the visitors’ main weapon at the Allianz Arena. “They’re an attacking side. I don’t believe they’ll come here on Sunday and defend,” former Werder goal-getter Miroslav Klose observed.

Vulnerable at the back

“Bremen look to get forward, but that could help us,” mused Hitzfeld, hoping for an open game. “We need to break rapidly and accurately out of defence,” he continued, urging his men to go after Werder’s one obvious area of weakness. The men in green have conceded 26 goals this term, only three shy of bottom club Duisburg. “They’re incredibly dangerous up front, but vulnerable at the back,” Hitzfeld summarised.

Bremen are without forceful defender Naldo and striker Hugo Almeida (both suspended), with injury accounting for Torsten Frings, Clemens Fritz and Ivan Klasnic, although Munich-bound Tim Borowski has passed a fitness test and will play. Hitzfeld also expects the Bremen squad to include Boubacar Sanogo, despite the striker’s goalscoring exploits for Cote d’Ivoire against Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations third-place play-off on Saturday.

Zone marking for Diego

Munich are not without injury problems either, for although Hitzfeld said he was picking from “almost a full squad,” the loss of Franck Ribéry (hamstring) rates as a setback. The Bayern boss has yet to reveal how he intends to cover for the Frenchman’s absence, but did unveil his plan for neutralising Diego: Mark van Bommel and Zé Roberto will zone mark the gifted Brazilian. “It worked very well at their place,“ the coach pointed out.

Bayern memorably won the late summer encounter at the Weser stadium 4-0. “But that’s ancient history,” Zé Roberto warned. Kahn agreed: “Our 4-0 win back then tells us nothing about this weekend.“ Indeed, the only lingering consequence could be a visiting side bent on revenge. “We weren’t worthy of the name ‘opposition’ in that match,” insisted Werder coach Thomas Schaaf, “but we’ll be proper opponents on Sunday. Our efforts to resist will be very different.“

Long way to go

Bayern have still declared victory as their target, although no-one believes Sunday’s outcome will have much bearing on the title race. “Nothing’s decided as a result of the match,” confirmed Hitzfeld, “with three points for a win, things can change very fast. You can get unlucky with injuries or refereeing decisions.“ For all that, Sunday could be a milestone in the 2007-8 championship contest. “There are plenty of games to go, but this is a very special match,” Zé Roberto concluded.

Bayern squad: Kahn, Sagnol, Lucio, Demichelis, Altintop, Toni, Podolski, Zé Roberto, Ottl, Van Bommel, Klose, Schlaudraff, Sosa, Lahm, Rensing, Lell, Schweinsteiger, Kroos

Unavailable: Ribéry (hamstring), Van Buyten (flu), Jansen, Breno (fitness), Dreher (omitted from squad)

Referee: Thorsten Kinhöfer (Herne)

Bayern’s record in the fixture: P41 W27 D8 L6 F95 A42

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