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Bayern have it all to lose as Bundesliga resumes

Thursday 17 January 2013 13.10 CET
Bayern have been in fine fettle in the Bundesliga this season

Its competitiveness is often touted as one of the Bundesliga's biggest assets, especially abroad – every year a number of different clubs vie for the title, for European qualification and to avoid relegation.

Ahead of Friday's resumption following the winter break, it may appear things are different this season; the bottom three seem to be cut adrift, while frontrunners FC Bayern München are nine points clear of Bayer 04 Leverkusen and 12 ahead of reigning champions Borussia Dortmund. However, the unpredictable nature of the German top flight has been seen time and again. Is there time for a sting in the tail?

Not at the top, according to BVB coach Jürgen Klopp. "You cannot wrestle this championship from Bayern," he said. "Only they can squander it, and I fear they won't." Double winners in 2011/12, Dortmund have saved their best form for the UEFA Champions League this term. "Second place [in the Bundesliga] would be super, third place more than acceptable," added Klopp. "Then we enter territory where we don't really feel comfortable. However, we will not change our general approach – for us it makes more sense and is more enjoyable to watch 19-year-olds win the double. That doesn't happen very often."

Leverkusen's ambitions are even more moderate than Dortmund's. Coaches Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski could scarcely have expected such a successful first half of the season, though a title tilt looks to be premature. "I cannot say we will chase Bayern in the second half of the campaign," said Hyypiä, while Lewandowski added: "It is extremely unlikely that any hunter will be able to hurt Bayern." Leverkusen, recent advocates of three holding midfielders and a counterattacking approach, may settle for a UEFA Champions League qualifying berth.

Jupp Heynckes, of course, is not counting his chickens yet. The rest of the division may have already crowned Bayern, but their 67-year-old coach is imploring his charges to show the same "hunger and greed" that they did in their first 17 league fixtures. "We must showcase everything that made us strong in the first half of the campaign," said Heynckes, who is looking for a glorious farewell after Wednesday's announcement that he will retire in the summer and be replaced by Josep Guardiola.

Last summer's acquisitions of Dante, Javi Martínez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Mario Mandžukić have all been a success, helping Bayern to bounce back from the distress of losing last May's UEFA Champions League final on home soil. "Of course 2012 was disappointing as we did not win a trophy," said midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. "Our squad is stronger today. Also we are winning matches by showing patience and that is a quality in itself."

Despite Bayern's apparent march to the championship, there is intrigue aplenty elsewhere. For example, promoted Eintracht Frankfurt's refreshing brand of football has not only attracted plaudits, but also earned them as many points as Dortmund, leaving them fourth. Will their 2012/13 fairy tale continue? Can SC Freiburg, who have quietly snuck into fifth, maintain their unlikely ascent? What of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in sixth?

All these teams are sure to be put under pressure by clubs such as VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, VfB Stuttgart and Hamburger SV, who will still be hopeful of European qualification. There is, therefore, plenty of excitement ahead. To quote SV Werder Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf: "Everyone has something to gain. Only Bayern have something to lose."

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