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Bundesliga title race

FCB 'a long way from home and dry yet'

The chant of “We’re gonna win the league!” started after 67 minutes, initially on the south terrace, before spreading to the entire Allianz Arena. Bayern had just taken a 2-0 lead over Karlsruher SC, while second-placed Werder Bremen were conceding two goals in as many minutes against VfB Stuttgart. The Munich crowd saw that matchday 23 could be a milestone on the way to the league title.

“We watched events unfold in Stuttgart with a broad smile," confessed Bayern boss Ottmar Hitzfeld following the champions’ 6-3 victory over Werder. The Bavarians’ 2-0 success against KSC took the men in red seven points clear at the top of the standings “It’s been a nice afternoon,” said a beaming Uli Hoeneß.

33 points still to play for

Nevertheless, no-one in the Bayern camp was prepared to describe the day’s events as anything more than another step on the road to the trophy. “It’s a reassuring lead, but nothing’s decided yet. We’re a long way from home and dry yet. Bremen and Hamburg could still win the league,” said Hitzfeld, firmly dampening any signs of complacency. “It’s by no means over, but it’s a reasonable gap back to second place,” Hoeneß offered.

Oliver Kahn agreed wholeheartedly. “I’ve been through so much, and experienced countless title races. There are 11 games to go, and that’s a long, long way,” the skipper intoned. The Bundesliga clubs all have 33 points still to play for. “Teams have thrown away bigger leads before now,” Kahn warned.

Kahn believes in the squad

However, Kahn does not believe Bayern will join that group: “I just don’t have that feeling with our team at the moment.“ The captain’s team-mates provided plenty of convincing evidence against Karlsruhe. The Bavarians triumphed at home for the first time since Christmas, comfortably enough without ever sparkling, and have now won their last four matches in all competitions.

“It wasn’t exactly perfect today, it left a lot to be desired. But these are the games you have to win if you want to end up as champions,” analysed Hoeneß. Luca Toni’s excellent finish on 41 minutes and a world-class effort from the (yet again) outstanding Franck Ribéry (64) saw the Reds complete an ultimately routine victory. “We weren’t any worse in recent home games, but we hit the target this time,” declared Kahn, also praising another solid defensive performance on the day.

Strength in depth

In truth, Karlsruhe failed to create a chance worthy of the name. “I think we’re playing to our strengths at the moment: confidence, experience and authority,” mused Hoeneß. Less than 48 hours after the trip to Anderlecht, and despite another six changes to the starting line-up, the result was never in serious doubt. “Karlsruhe pushed us to the limit today. We had to cover a great deal of ground. We wouldn’t have won with the same line-up we had in Anderlecht,” Master of Rotation Hitzfeld insisted.

Bayern’s decisive advantage may not be restricted to one-off talents such as Ribéry and Toni, but also their large and fundamentally well-balanced squad. “Yes, that’s our strength at the moment,” Kahn agreed. No matter how many changes Hitzfeld makes, the team functions as a unit. Miroslav Klose felt able to draw only one conclusion: “The only team who can beat us is ourselves.“

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