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Bayern, Hoffenheim Battle for Winter Bragging Rights

Leaders Hoffenheim and champions Bayern Munich are vying to end the year top of the Bundesliga before German league football takes its winter break.

Hoffenheim striker Vedad Ibisevic

Hoffenheim's talisman Vedad Ibisevic will need to be on target this weekend

Bayern travel to Stuttgart on Saturday in a sentimental journey for coach Juergen Klinsmann, while Hoffenheim are at home to Schalke 04 on Sunday in the battle for the honour of "autumn champions."

"It is extremely important we round off the year with success," said Klinsmann.

There is no trophy at stake, but finishing top at the halfway stage of the season is a coveted unofficial prize. In 45 Bundesliga seasons so far, 31 of the teams who led at the winter break have gone on to take the league title.

A third team is also in the running. If both Bayern and Hoffenheim slip up, Bayer Leverkusen -- which sits three points adrift -- have a chance of going top with a win at home to struggling Energie Cottbus.

Confidence is high at Bayern whose 3-2 win at Olympique Lyon in the Champions League on Wednesday evening extends to 15 their run of games without defeat in all competitions.

Stuttgart hurdle for Bayern

Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann

Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann wants to end 2008 on a high

Klinsmann's side drew level on 34 points with Hoffenheim after defeating the promoted side thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Luca Toni last Friday.

Now mid-table Stuttgart stand in Bayern's way. A couple of weeks ago the trip would have engendered little trepidation, but two successive league wins under new coach Markus Babbel have made the Swabians a tougher prospect.

Babbel, 36, now has the opportunity to show his former club why the appointment, initially until the end of the season, should be made a more permanent one.

"When I go on the pitch I want to win. Just because the opponent is Bayern Munich I am not going out there to be happy with just one point," he told German news agency DPA.

"That's something I want to get across to the boys. You have to go out there with this attitude and with this self-confidence.

"The boys are good, they have a lot of quality and they have to show what they can do in the team. We have to make sure we work as a team and not be overawed by big names."

For Klinsmann, who played with Babbel for two seasons at Bayern, Stuttgart will be something of a homecoming. The former striker hails from near the city and began his playing career at Stuttgarter Kickers before joining VfB Stuttgart for five seasons in the 1980s.

Mueller talks down Schalke resignation

Schalke manager Andreas Mueller, right

Schalke manager Andreas Mueller, right, is confident his job is safe

Hoffenheim will be tested by seventh-placed Schalke, whose 1-0 win last weekend over Hertha Berlin has provided some respite to Dutch coach Fred Rutten and general manager Andreas Mueller.

Mueller, who has borne the brunt of fan anger at the side's indifferent season, hit back this week at criticism of his player signings and dismissed any talk of resigning.

"I am a fighter. I will still be manager of Schalke at the end of the season," he said.

"We had good talks with the supervisory board on Monday and we have their full support."

Elsewhere, fourth-placed Hertha Berlin take on lowly Karlsruhe, while fifth-placed SV Hamburg -- level on 30 points with Hertha -- entertain Eintracht Frankfurt.

Olic transfer rumours

Ivica Olic pursues a ball

Ivica Olic could be Bayern bound

Hamburg are in a fight to keep striker Ivica Olic who is being courted by several clubs including Bayern Munich. The 29-year-old Croatian could leave on a free transfer at the end of the season, and Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said late Wednesday: "Our cards aren't so bad. He is a forward who would fit in well with us."

In other games Saturday, Werder Bremen -- buoyed by a 2-1 Champions League win over Inter Milan but without suspended pair Diego and Claudio Pizarro -- face sixth-placed Wolfsburg. Hanover meet Arminia Bielefeld and second-to-bottom Bochum entertain Cologne.

Bottom side Borussia Moenchengladbach visit Borussia Dortmund -- unbeaten at home this season -- on Friday evening.

League matches resume at the end of January.

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