Created on 26-03-2008 at 00:00 AM
How times change. Almost exactly 14 months ago, Ottmar Hitzfeld re-took the coaching reins at Bayern after two-and-a-half years out of the game. A day after officially taking charge, Hitzfeld led his men into action against 1. FC Nürnberg. This coming weekend, with nine league matches to play this season, Hitzfeld and his troops again travel to face their Bavarian rivals – but the situation at both clubs ahead of the state derby is dramatically different compared with a year or so ago.
"I knew the job was going to be tough, but I didn't think it would be this challenging," Hitzfeld reflected at the final whistle back then, after watching his listless side collapse to a desolate 3-0 defeat, the beginning of the end of the outgoing champions' hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
"It wasn't very pleasant to watch, we at Bayern Munich disgraced ourselves," Hitzfeld continued in a sobering and blunt analysis. "Now I know just how much work I still have to do.“ The General detected problems in every area of his team: "lack of belief,“ "too many mistakes in defence,“ and "too little creativity“ in midfield. "There are many, many areas we have to improve," the coach concluded.
Fourteen months later, Hitzfeld is a much happier man ahead of his final state derby as a coach. His team, thoroughly overhauled and rebuilt last summer, is comfortably clear at he top of the Bundesliga after 25 matches and remains in the running for three trophies. Nuremberg, who won the German Cup last season, have spent the whole of this term unexpectedly mired in the relegation zone.
No mood for charity
"If we play like we did against Leverkusen, there's no-one in Germany who can hurt us," a beaming Uli Hoeneß declared after Bayern's gala display against Bayer last Saturday. Both the Bayern general manager and Hitzfeld are not contemplating another defeat to FCN: "I don't think we'll slip up at their place again, provided we learn our lessons from Cottbus.“
Nuremberg are struggling in 17th place on just 19 points, but there will be no charitable gestures from their Bavarian neighbours: "Nuremberg have had plenty of chances to take points. We want to win the league, so we have to take points wherever they're on offer," argued Hoeneß, although the official is still hoping FCN avoid the drop. "If they do go down, I'll be one of the saddest guys around.“