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Spotlight on Klinsmann as Bayern Start Season as Favorites

Bayern Munich expect new coach Juergen Klinsmann to deliver the club's 22nd German league title when the Bundesliga season begins for the 2007-08 league and cup winners at home against Hamburg on Friday.

Jürgen Klinsmann training Bayern Munich

Hopes are riding high on Bayern's newest star, coach Juergen Klinsmann

Bayern start the Bundesliga's 46th season as clear favorites when league play begins Friday, Aug. 15, but the change of coach from the experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld to 44-year-old Klinsmann could provide an opportunity for the Bavarians' leading rivals.

Bayern won last year's title at a trot, enjoying a 10-point gap over second-placed Werder Bremen, and Klinsmann can rely on basically the same set of players with the exception of veteran goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who has retired, has been replaced by the young Michael Rensing.

Unlike last season's 70 million euro ($104 million) shopping spree, Munich have foregone the transfer market for the 2008-09 season. Midfielder Tim Borowski, arriving on a free transfer from Bremen, is the only newcomer of note. Instead the club has splurged on former international striker Klinsmann and his coaching staff.

Stars on the Bayern bench

Klinsmann, who took Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup, wants a swifter, more attacking game from Bayern, but it may take time for his methods to bear fruit and could open up opportunities for the likes of Bremen and Schalke.

Bayern's pre-season form has been patchy, with training marked by injuries and the late arrival of their Euro 2008 internationals.

Bayern's opener against Hamburg on Friday will also be marked by prominent holes in the star-studded lineup..

Franck Ribery and Luca Toni

Bayern stars Ribery and Toni won't be playing against Hamburg

Striker Luca Toni, midfielder Franck Ribery, defenders Willy Sagnol, Martin Demichelis and midfielder Hamit Altintop have all been ruled out against Hamburg while Argentina midfielder Jose Ernesto Sosa and Brazilian defender Breno are away competing for their national teams at the Olympics.

Bayern struggled to overcome third division Rot-Weiss Erfurt in the German Cup on Sunday, but Klinsmann said he was confident of an improvement before his team takes the field against Hamburg.

"We have worked on the mistakes against Erfurt," he said. "We have done a lot in the tactical area and what's only lacking now is the fine-tuning."

Hamburg, who finished fourth last season, also start with a new coach, 52-year-old Dutchman Martin Jol, who played nine games for Bayern in the 1978-79 season.

Jol has to compensate for the loss of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart to Real Madrid, but the northern side have looked solid in pre-season matches and put up a decent show at the recently concluded Emirates Cup in London against Real Madrid and Juventus.

"Bayern have had a few problems with their preparations and we have some good results despite one two small difficulties," Jol said. "We know they've got some player problems. Ribery is out, and Toni, Demichelis and Sagnol are also injured, but we've also seen that they've got other good players."

Bremen confident, Schalke hopes to end drought

Meanwhile Bremen's Brazilian defender Naldo believes the club is better placed than last season to challenge for the title.

"The team is top fit," he told Kicker sports magazine. "Unlike last season we have no injury complaints apart from Per Mertesacker."

Germany defender Mertesacker, who suffered a cartilage injury in training that required surgery, will be sidelined for several weeks. Bremen are also missing Brazil midfielder Diego, who is at the Olympics, for their game Saturday against Arminia Bielefeld.

Schalke, who placed third last season, begin the season on Saturday at home against Hanover under new Dutch coach Fred Rutten. The side will be hoping to end their 50-year title drought -- the last time they lifted a league trophy was in the pre-Bundesliga era.

Gelsenkirchen too may be without Peru striker Jefferson Farfan, a major new signing along with Dutch midfielder Orlando Engelaar, who suffered a shoulder injury in the 1-0 victory Wednesday against Atletico Madrid in a Champions League qualifying match.

All eyes on Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim players and owner Dietmar Hopp

Hoffenheim and its famous millionare club owner, SAP's Dietmar Hopp have created a stir with their promotion

Wolfsburg, who finished fifth last term, take on newly-promoted Cologne at home, having spent more than 25 million euros on new players.

Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund duel under new coaches, with Bruno Labbadia now in charge at Leverkusen and Juergen Klopp on the bench at Dortmund.

In other matches Saturday, promoted Hoffenheim are at Energie Cottbus, and Karlsruhe take on Bochum.

Sunday's matches see Eintracht Frankfurt battle Hertha Berlin while promoted Borussia Moenchenglach meet VfB Stuttgart.

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