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Bayern Looking to Eliminate Berlin From Title Race in Crunch Game

Champions Bayern Munich will be looking to put a rival behind them when they visit third-placed Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Bayern's Franck Ribery, left, and Berlin's Gilberto challenge for the ball during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha BSC Berlin and FC Bayern Munich in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007.

Bayern and Berlin will do battle again but this time Hertha have designs on the title

Bayern are a point ahead of Hertha in second place but still one behind promoted side Hoffenheim (39 points) who face visiting Bayer Leverkusen on Friday evening in another top game of the weekend program.

Last weekend, Bayern were the only side in the top five to win, after two late goals by Miroslav Klose gave them a 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund.

They have been playing catch-up all season, but are hoping they could on Saturday go top for the first time this term.

"It's only a matter of time. We'll pass them soon," a confident coach Juergen Klinsmann said. "We've closed up to Hoffenheim. We'll not leave them in peace now, and we want to overtake them in the next few weeks."

Hertha are themselves hoping to hit the summit after winning five of their last seven league games and gaining new-found consistency under Swiss coach Lucien Favre.

"He makes players better, especially tactically," club general manager Dieter Hoeness told Kicker magazine, explaining one of the reasons for the successful season so far.

Hertha hope to have captain Arne Friedrich back in defense after he missed Germany's 1-0 home defeat against Norway with a back problem.

But striker Marko Pantelic remains a doubt after suffering knee and ankle injuries almost two weeks ago.

The Serbian, whose future at the club remains in doubt, said he would be doing his best to be fit for the game.

"My ankle is OK but I still have some inflammation on the knee. But I'm ready to grit my teeth for Hertha," he said. "This game will show us where we stand and will mean a lot for where we finish up at the end of the season."

Hoffenheim struggled last week when they snatched a late draw at bottom club Borussia Moenchengladbach and it still remains to be seen whether they can compensate for the loss of injured striker Vedad Ibisevic.

Hildebrand expected back in goal for Hoffenheim

Timo Hildebrand in training

Hildebrand is back in training for Hoffenheim's title push

Timo Hildebrand is expected to be back in goal for the visit of fifth-placed Leverkusen, who were 5-2 winners over Ralf Rangnick's side earlier in the season.

"We want to put that right and show that the team has developed since then," Rangnick told the club's homepage.

Rangnick can call again on Brazilian attacking midfielder Carlos Eduardo following suspension and Nigerian striker Chinedu Obasi who made a brief comeback following injury last week.

"We have the opportunity of putting a direct rival for the international positions nine points behind us," Rangnick said.

"Leverkusen are aiming high and will be going out to win. Compared to our last games we will have to step up a gear."

Fourth-place SV Hamburg are meanwhile at home Sunday to lowly Arminia Bielefeld hoping to bounce back from a 3-2 defeat at Karlsuhe after leading 2-0.

Schalke 04 visit neighbors Bochum trying to turn their season round and keep in touch with the leaders.

The club's latest headache in a season full of problems was dealing with a breach of the club's website by computer hackers who on Wednesday posted a report that striker Kevin Kuranyi had been sold.

The weekend's other matches are: Eintracht Frankfurt-VfL Wolfsburg, Cologne-Karlruhe, Werder Bremen-Borussia Moenchengladbach (all Saturday), and Borussia Dortmund-Energie Cottbus (Sunday).

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