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Bayern's Klinsi Bounce

Nick AmiesJanuary 20, 2008

It says much about Jürgen Klinsmann that the title race has become about him even though he doesn't take over in Munich until July. While Bayern may profit, the others may rue the day he announced his return in Germany.

Jürgen Klinsmann took Germany's national soccer team all the way to the World Cup semi-final in 2006
Clean-cut Klinsi took Germany to the World Cup semi-final in 2006Image: AP

The Bundesliga teams should be well warmed up by the time the winter break ends and the championship race begins again in earnest on Feb. 2. As hostilities resume once more, the main question remains whether Bayern Munich's expensively assembled squad can keep ambitious Werder Bremen at bay to capture their 21st title.

However, this question has taken on a new dimension during the seasonal pause. Before the break, Bayern had lost some of their sparkle and looked in need of a breather. While a few weeks off appears to have sharpened their senses and eye for goal once more -- the 7-2 demolition of the Chinese national team serving as Exhibit A -- another factor can be attributed to their rediscovered form.

The appointment of Jürgen Klinsmann as the successor to departing coach Ottmar Hitzfeld in the summer has sent a feel-good factor rippling not only through Munich but the country as a whole. Even those who want their own team to win the league afforded themselves a warm smile at the return of the former Germany coach. The man brings a glow with him, wherever he goes. As a DW colleague quite rightly lamented after the appointment was announced, "Klinsi is going to make it so hard to hate Bayern."

Klinsi's charisma gives Bayern a boost

All smiles on Friday, Jan. 11, when Klinsmann said he would be Bayern's coach as of July
All smiles on Friday, Jan. 11, when Klinsmann said he would be Bayern's coach as of JulyImage: AP

Klinsmann's appointment, while not having any hands-on effect in regard to the team itself before the 2008/09 season, has surely given the worn-out stars of Bayern a boost. In that respect, it has been a masterstroke of motivational management to reveal him now. After leading Germany to third place at the 2006 World Cup, Klinsmann breeds optimism.

The nagging doubts as to whether he can turn that enthusiasm and hope into trophies is something to worry about for another day. Right now, knowing Klinsi is coming could be the edge Bayern need to recapture their early scintillating form. Whether the "Klinsi Bounce" will be enough to sustain the Bavarian giants through to a championship-winning party in May, however, remains to be seen.

In contrast, his appointment must have been cursed by all those other coaches attempting to get their hands on the championship shield, albeit curses muttered from behind a resigned grin.

Not one to break into rapturous laughter at the best of times, Bremen's Thomas Schaaf must have been particularly peeved. Werder, like the rest of the league, were well adrift of Munich in the early stages of the season, chasing a gap of between four and six points for most of September and October.

But then Bremen hit their top form, courtesy mainly of their inspired playmaker Diego. Towards the end of November, both Bremen and Hamburg had slashed the lead to a point. As Hamburg faltered in December, Bremen stepped on the gas, dropping just three points of a possible 18, pulling away to end the first half of the season joint top with Bayern, second only on goal difference.

Bayern and Bremen battle wills

Bremen's Diego after he scored during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Werder Bremen and VfB Stuttgart in September
Bremen's Diego after he scored against VfB Stuttgart in SeptemberImage: AP

While the dispirited and lackluster Bayern looked longingly at the winter break, Bremen lamented the enforced curtailment of their momentum. Had the season gone on unhindered, it would have undoubtedly seen Werder build their own lead at the top while Munich searched for ideas and cohesion. Unfortunately for everyone -- Bremen in particular -- Bayern have had time to regroup and have been give a moral boost in the form of their new and dynamic coach waiting in the wings.

First to get the taste of Bayern's second wind will be 15th-placed Hansa Rostock. Rostock were the unlucky recipients of Munich's first wind, blown away 3-0 in the opening game of the season. With things now settled behind the scenes at the Allianz Arena, a Bayern team at ease with itself should record its first win of 2008 away to the northern strugglers.

Second-placed Bremen will hope to keep pace by beating VfL Bochum on their return to action. The Ruhr Valley team hit the skids before the break and now sit in 13th after a brief spell in the top five. If Bremen are still in possession of their pre-winter scoring boots, nothing much could change at the summit except their "goals for" tally.

Bringing up the rear

Hamburg will want to make up some ground on the top two by beating seventh-placed Hanover but could find themselves slipping further off the pace if they lose and fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen beat second-from-bottom club Cottbus. In that event, Leverkusen would leapfrog HSV into third.

Hansa Rostock and FC Schalke 04 battled it out last October
Hansa Rostock and FC Schalke 04 battled it out last OctoberImage: AP

Schalke 04, currently in fifth, face reigning but spluttering champions VfB Stuttgart in their first game of the New Year. While Stuttgart briefly flirted with the relegation places in the worst start by a title-holding team in Bundesliga history, the champions will not roll over for the Royal Blues and the first game back will prove a test of mettle for both teams.

At the other end of the table, bottom club Duisburg face a tough local derby against Borussia Dortmund. BVB are having a wildly erratic season, even by their own chaotic standards, and are quite capable of thrashing Duisburg or being undone by them -- as they were on the opening day of the season.

Nuremberg, the third team in the relegation zone, travel to surprise package Karlsruhe hoping for a win to take them out of the bottom three. If Rostock fall to Bayern, a win over the over-achieving promoted side will give Hans Meyer's team a leg up out of the basement.

In one of the closest and most exciting Bundesliga seasons in years, there is still much to do and much at stake at both ends of the table.