Bayern and Hoffenheim To Battle for the Top of the Table | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 04.12.2008
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Bayern and Hoffenheim To Battle for the Top of the Table

Ahead of Friday's match between first-placed Hoffenheim and second-placed Bayern, the David-Goliath comparisons are beginning to induce nausea. But DW's Jefferson Chase says Hoffenheim can beat Munich.

Hoffenheim's Chinedu Obasi, left, and Sejad Salihovic celebrate a goal

Hoffenheim's Chinedu Obasi, left, and Sejad Salihovic have proved to be good purchases

First of all, let's clear up a misconception. Hoffenheim are not a tiny club.

The Southern German town in their name may only have 3000 inhabitants. But this is a professional football club with a billionaire backer and a payroll that's roughly about average for the Bundesliga.

And they've invested that money wisely indeed. Sejad Salihovic, Demba Ba, Chinedu Obasi, Andreas Beck and above all the league's leading scorer Vedad Ibisevic are players that would play a role in any Bundesliga squad -- including Bayern's.

It won't be that huge of a surprise if Hoffenheim triumph in Munich's Allianz Arena. If you want to know why, just read between the lines of what Bayern's potentates have been saying this week.

Team versus talent

As Bayern's commercial manager Uli Hoeness has been pointing out to anyone within earshot the past few days, Bayern Munich do have the better individual players. They should -- they splashed out dearly for the likes of Franck Ribery, Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose.

Munich's Luca Toni celebrates after scoring

Toni's goals have done much to repay his signing-on fee

But when Hoeness asserted that tactics won't decide the match, he was tacitly acknowledging something apparent to anyone who's followed the Bundesliga this season. Hoffenheim play the best team football.

Hoffenheim's one-touch passing game should be able to test Bayern central defense, which has looked shaky on occasion. Ibisevic is a key player here. Not only has he scored 17 goals thus far this season -- he's also got 7 assists, which shows how well Hoffenheim circulate the ball up front.

Most of Bayern's scoring opportunities come from crosses from the wings. So it's also crucial that Hoffenheim keep up the pressure there. If they can make Bayern's resurgent back Ze Roberto play defense, they'll greatly increase their chances of winning.

And watch out for set pieces. There's no one in the league you'd rather have taking a free kick right now than Salihovic, and Bayern's young keeper Michael Rensing hasn't always looked steady.

Talent versus team

Bayern's big advantage is in one-on-one situations, especially if they get the ball to playmaker Ribery.

Munich's Franck Ribery, left, and Schalke's Ivan Rakitic challenge for the ball

Franck Ribery has been a big hit since joining Bayern

The diminutive Frenchman is a nightmare for opposing defenses. Triple-team him and you open up space for other players. Defend him straight up, and you might get punished by one of his special tricks -- and land one or two of your defensive midfielders in psychological counseling.

Philipp Lahm is another player who can decide a game. He'll probably spell Ze Roberto in the back four, and his ability to advance the ball up field and pressure keepers with angled shots is hard to predict or control.

Hoffenheim's one obvious weak spot is keeper Daniel Haas so they'd be well advised to keep Bayern as far away from goal as possible.

Bayern's other big plus is experience. If they assert their physical presence right from the start by winning some challenges, they may be able to shake Hoffenheim's faith that the match is winnable.

Hoffenheim have never played Bayern before -- to say nothing of playing against them in Munich with this much on the line.

Then again, for a while now, a lot of people have been waiting for the surprise league leaders to show some nerves. And they haven't blinked yet.

So no one should fall off his chair if Hoffenheim are the ones who end up celebrating Friday night, and mighty Bayern are left scratching their heads.

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