Created on 26-04-2008 at 00:00 AM
While Werder Bremen and Schalke 04 were battling to preserve their lingering Bundesliga title hopes on Saturday afternoon, Bayern were busy on the training ground, starting the day's workout at the same time as kick-off in the league, and returning to the dressing room just as the final whistle was blowing at stadiums up and down the country. As it turned out, Bremen drew 3-3 in Karlsruhe and Schalke won 1-0 in Hamburg, so the men from Munich cannot mathematically claim the shield just yet.
However, victory over VfB Stuttgart on Sunday (Live in English from 4.45pm on FCB.tv Web Radio) would see the Bavarians move 12 points clear of their two closest rivals with just four games remaining. Throw the leaders' vastly superior goal difference into the mix, and the chance of them not claiming the title is only theoretical. "We're utterly determined to take all three points and get even closer to the shield," commented Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Bayern's revenge mission
Sunday's match is anything other than a workaday fixture. It is the meeting between the leaders and the reigning champions, the best and second-best teams since the midpoint of the campaign (FCB and VfB respectively), and the joint highest scorers since Christmas (24 goals each).
And there is the small matter of the reverse fixture, a 3-1 defeat for Bayern last November, their solitary loss in the first half of term. "Obviously we have a score to settle," commented Hitzfeld, "we're determined to make amends.“ However, there is the next small matter of the UEFA Cup semi-final return in St. Petersburg, just four days after the league clash.
Understandably, Hitzfeld is set to introduce a few pairs of fresh legs on Sunday. "I'll spare one or two players the extra burden," the General explained, "it's a chance for those who come off the bench. It matters to me that they get another opportunity.“
A new round of rotation is a necessity for reasons both of freshness and fitness. Philipp Lahm (muscle strain) and Oliver Kahn (back) are doubtful, and Lucio also sat out the final training session. Surprisingly, Miroslav Klose (broken nose) joined in the workout, even though Hitzfeld had ruled him out of contention the day before.
Top strikers head-to-head?
Luca Toni, suspended in the UEFA Cup last Thursday, is a definite starter. The Italian is out on his own in the Bundesliga scoring charts on 20 goals, followed by Stuttgart's 15-goal man Mario Gomez, although the Germany international only resumed training after injury on Thursday, and VfB boss Armin Veh may feel it is too early to bring him back.
Stuttgart are definitely without Fernando Meira (shoulder), Sami Khedira (sprain), and former Aston Villa dynamo Thomas Hitzlsperger (knee). His players would have respect but no fear, Veh insisted, "although there's no doubt Bayern will win the league.“ However, the champions will be fired up at the prospect of a prestige victory over the champions-in-waiting. Hitzfeld duly warned his men to expect "a tough match.“
FCB on a roll
The record books point firmly to a Munich win. Bayern are undefeated in their last 15 home fixtures, and have not lost any of their last 19 matches on a Sunday. Moreover, VfB Stuttgart have not won in their last three away matches. "We have another full house, we want to entertain our supporters and take all three points,“ Hitzfeld declared, as the title moves firmly into view.