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Ballack-less Bayern face Bochum test

13 February 2004

HAMBURG – Champions Bayern Munich face a tough away game at in-form VfL Bochum on Saturday which will be a good indication whether they can challenge Bundesliga frontrunners Werder Bremen.

Bremen, for their part, host troubled Kaiserslautern on Sunday and on the side may convince Kaiserslautern’s star striker Miroslav Klose to join them in summer.

Bremen lead the way with 45 points and can’t seem to do anything wrong, having won their first two games after the winter break.

Munich follow on 39 points while long-time leaders VfB Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen are losing ground on 38 and 35 points, respectively.

Fifth place is occupied by surprise package Bochum, who are also not afraid of Munich, especially because the visitors’ playmaker Michael Ballack is suspended following a sending off last week.

“Ballack does make a difference. But Munich still have 11 classy players without him. However, so do we,” said Bochum’s German international Paul Freier.

“We play confident attacking football, regardless whether we play against Munich or someone else,” he added.

Peter Neururer’s team have done astonishingly well, but even with Ballack sidelined the odds are firmly on Munich’s side as they have not lost in the Ruhr stadium since 1985.

Munich started indifferently into 2004 with a draw in Frankfurt and a cup defeat at second division Aachen before a 3-1 win against Hanover at least partly restored peace at the Bavarians.

Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is yet to decide whether teenager Bastian Schweinsteiger or veteran Jens Jeremies will take Ballack’s role in midfield.

Bremen are on a roll and with the two league wins plus a cup semi- final berth have shaken off the ghosts of the past two years where they faltered badly after the winter break.

On Saturday they are strong favourites against struggling Kaiserslautern and the transfer of Klose also seems to be on the way to becoming a reality.

“As soon as the financing is water-tight, we (the board) will approve it,” said Bremen board member Willi Lemke of the likely EUR five million transfer of the Germany striker Klose.

Klose said “I want a final decision on the issue as soon as possible”, but insisted that his loyalty was only with Kaiserslauern on match day.

“I hope to leave the pitch as winner,” said Klose.

Leverkusen, meanwhile, must pick up the pieces after two straight defeats when they visit Hanover amid threats from officials to cut player salaries by 50 per cent over the next two years, especially if the players fail to win a place in European competition.

But Striker Oliver Neuville said that the discussion will subside “as soon as we win matches again”.

Stuttgart host Borussia Moenchengladbach as they aim to rebound from a 1-0 defeat at bottom club Hertha Berlin, SV Hamburg host VfL Wolfsburg while Hertha look for another win when they visit SC Freiburg.

Cologne host Schalke 04, Eintracht Frankfurt take on Hansa Rostock while Borussia Dortmund visit 1860 Munich in the other Sunday game.

Subject: German news