5 March 2004
HAMBURG – Champions Bayern Munich will for once hope for a victory by their crosstown rivals as 1860 Munich host runaway leaders Werder Bremen at the weekend in the Bundesliga.
Bremen are unbeaten in 13 matches and hold a seven-point lead over Bayern.
But if Bremen lose and Bayern win at crisis-ridden Bayer Leverkusen, then the two sides will be separated by just four points.
Bremen have lost the last four games at 1860 Munich, but this time around the hosts are having a mediocre season, placed 12th just four points above the drop zone.
Last weekend’s 3-1 win at bottom club Cologne could boost 1860’s morale, but Bremen are also in an upbeat mood after the midweek signing of Germany striker Miroslav Klose from the summer on for a club record EUR five million.
“This is a positive sign,” said French playmaker Johan Micoud.
The statement was echoed by midfielder Fabian Ernst: “This is a necessary step in the right direction.”
Micoud and Ernst had reportedly recently pondered their respective futures at the club if no adequate replacements were found for departing top scorer Ailton and Mladen Krstajic.
Micoud has not spoken publically about his future but rather said that “the only thing that counts is the championship”.
Bayern, for their part, have been far from glorious in the league this season.
But a victory in Leverkusen is important for two reasons: staying on Bremen’s heels and getting some confidence for the difficult Champions League return leg at Real Madrid next week.
“Looking at the Bundesliga,” club manager Uli Hoeness said: “We must put pressure on Bremen and stay on their heels if they drop points.”
The weekend schedule could play into Bayern’s hands as they play on Saturday and Bremen on Sunday.
Apart from the long-term absentees Sebastian Deisler and Mehmet Scholl, Bayern will miss French defender Bixente Lizarazu, who has a thigh muscle injury, and Martin Demichelis through suspension.
Leverkusen were just four points behind Bremen heading into the winter break, but are yet to win in 2004 and are now 16 points adrift of the top.
Coach Klaus Augenthaler expressed his hope that a team meeting last week and a victory on Saturday could change things for the better.
“We must act as a unit,” said Augenthaler.
Just like Leverkusen, long-time leaders VfB Stuttgart have been below par in recent weeks with just one victory in their last nine games.
The third-placed team now faces a tough trip to sixth-placed Borussia Dortmund, who need a victory themselves to keep alive their Champions League ambitions at least through a place in the qualifying round (for which third place in the Bundesliga is required).
The other games are Borussia Moenchengladbach vs. Hanover 96, Kaiserslautern vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, Schalke vs. SC Freiburg, Hansa Rostock vs. SV Hamburg (all Saturday) and VfL Wolfsburg vs. Cologne (Sunday).
Subject: German news