The Bundesliga's two top teams don't play until Friday, but the mind games are already underway. Bayern's coach Juergen Klinsmann says Hoffenheim are legitimate contenders, but commercial manager Uli Hoeness disagrees.
A win against Bayern would ensure Hoffenheim spend the winter break in first
When the Bundesliga scheduled Bayern's home match against Hoffenheim in the league's unloved Friday night slot, they probably didn't imagine that it would turn out to be the match of the first half of the season.
Indeed, few experts or fans thought that Hoffenheim, a first-division debutante located in a southern German village with 3,000 inhabitants, would give mighty Munich a run for its money.
But it's the first week of December, and Hoffenheim top the table by three points. They also have a much better goal difference than their second-placed rivals -- and that has drawn praise from Bayern's coach, Juergen Klinsmann.
"I have the highest estimation of Hoffenheim because they've built the squad very ambitiously, rationally and with very good players," Klinsmann told DPA news agency. "They can be proud of that."
Klinsmann said he thought that the club could establish itself among the top three or four sides in Germany in the years to come and qualify for international competition next season.
Bayern have recovered from as poor start with a series of wins
He also had words of praise for Hoffenheim's software billionaire patron, Dietmar Hopp, whose money has funded the club's ascent.
"There's nothing negative about it," Klinsmann said. "He used to play for the club, is a soccer man through and through and helped the team get on its feet."
Some fans have criticized Hopp and Hoffenheim for paying inflating salaries and luring talent away from other clubs instead of developing homegrown players. In fact, Hoffenheim's official salary budget is about average for the Bundesliga.
Hoeness sounds his horn
Klinsmann and Hoeness have been playing good cop/bad cop
But while Bayern's coach was praising his opponents to the skies, Munich's commercial manager Uli Hoeness has been trying to play with their heads.
On the heels of Bayern's convincing win over Leverkusen last weekend, Hoeness is back to taunting rivals.
"The performance we showed in the second half against Leverkusen will be enough against Hoffenheim," Hoeness told the German soccer magazine kicker.
Hoeness also dropped a none-too-thinly-veiled hint that Hoffenheim's personnel expenditures were far higher than the officially released figures and scoffed at the idea that strategy would determine the outcome of Friday's match.
Rangnick says it's all business as usual
"Games are decided by the better players, not by tactics," Hoeness said. "And of course, we've got better players than Hoffenheim."
But that particular verbal attack may represent some wishful thinking of the manager's part. Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick is one of only two current Bundesliga skippers with a winning record against Munich.
Rangnick, whose team cruised past Bielefeld last weekend to keep Bayern three points back, reacted to Hoeness' remarks with a shrug.
"We're preparing for Munich exactly the same way we did against Bielefeld," Rangnick said.
In any case, soccer fans in Germany know what they'll be doing Friday evening -- finding a bar with cable sports television to watch a top match that no one, before the start of the season, would have considered possible.