4 December 2003
FRANKFURT – Champions Bayern Munich enter a week of truth on Saturday when they visit high-flying Werder Bremen for an intriguing Bundesliga duel on Saturday.
Munich have been playing an indifferent season, and a good result in Bremen and the following week against current leaders Stuttgart is essential in an effort to make up ground on the leaders.
In-between, they must beat Anderlecht next week to reach the next round in the European Champions League.
At the same time Saturday, Hertha Berlin and their new caretaker coach Andreas Thom, who took over from Huub Stevens on Thursday, face a tough test at Borussia Dortmund.
Hertha are enjoying their worst season since being relegated in 1991. They are languishing in 17th place and a midweek 6-1 cup humiliation in Bremen finally put an end to the reign of their Dutch coach.
Bremen only confirmed their outstanding form with the cup victory and have no reason to fear Munich.
“Why should we be afraid?,” asked Bremen defender Fabian Ernst.
“We beat them in both games last season, are placed second now and have played better than them,” said Ernst.
Bremen boast the league’s best attack with 38 goals and Bundesliga top scorer Ailton will like to improve on his 13 goals against Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn.
Bayern were the centre of criticism after being held 2-2 against bottom club Cologne last weekend, but at least partly made up for it with a 3-0 cup win against Hamburg.
“This victory should give us confidence,” said manager Uli Hoeness.
But the Bavarians are yet to find the right balance between attack and defensive work, the latter being their main problem all season.
“We can not attack the opponent 80 metres in front of our goal but should do it 40 metres away. We don’t know where on the field to put pressure on the opponent,” said defender Willy Sagnol.
Playmaker Michael Ballack is doubtful with a heel injury, and Sagnol and Bixente Lizarazu are also not fully fit.
The game in Dortmund, meanwhile, brings together two teams who have played below par this season.
The 2002 champions Dortmund rank fifth, 11 points behind Stuttgart. They have enjoyed a string of bad luck in the form of a huge injury list but have also shown mixed performances.
“We still have the aim to play in the Champions League next season,” insisted club boss Gerd Niebaum, who hopes that matters will improve after the winter break.
Dortmund are heavily favoured, given that they have won all their home games, and even more in light of Hertha’s disastrous form.
Hertha have won just twice all season and Andreas Thom, who on Thursday was named care-taker coach, must first inject some confidence into the team.
Stuttgart, meanwhile, look to keep up their unbeaten run and a two-point lead over Bremen when they host SV Hamburg.
The other games Saturday are VfL Wolfsburg vs. Kaiserslautern, Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Hanover 96 and 1860 Munich vs. Hansa Rostock.
On Sunday, third-placed Leverkusen visit neighbouring Cologne while Schalke host Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Subject: German news