Berlin: Bayern Munich are feeling bullish in their bid to charge down Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund as the German champions kick off the second half of the season with Friday’s trip to Hoffenheim.
For the first time since January 2011, Bayern are not top of the league after the winter break as they trail Dortmund by six points, but Niko Kovac’s side are confident they can overtake their rivals and win their seventh straight Bundesliga title.
“There is no one here who is not convinced we will be champions — six points is not the end of the world,” said defender Niklas Suele, who is likely to partner Jerome Boateng at centre-back at Hoffenheim at the expense of the out-of-favour Germany defender Mats Hummels.
Captain Manuel Neuer said that “nothing else interests us” but winning the league after Bayern beat Borussia Moenchengladbach on penalties in the final of a four-team mini tournament in Duesseldorf, while Bayern’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic boasted that “experience is often important and we have a team who have experienced everything”.
Former Germany captain and Bayern great Lothar Matthaeus said the title will be decided by which team best adapts to their new role in the title race.
“Dortmund are the hunted and Bayern are the hunters,” he said. “That is a new role for both teams — whoever can handle it best will win the title.”
In the Bundesliga warm-up, 18-year-old Canadian rising star Alphonso Davies made his Munich debut after his $13 million (11.4m euros) signing from MLS team Vancouver Whitecaps, a sign of Bayern’s transfer policy of seeking youngsters to replace their ageing stars and bolster their squad.
France World Cup-winner Benjamin Pavard, 22, is already confirmed as joining from Stuttgart in July, and Bayern are also chasing Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, 18, defender Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig’s Germany striker Timo Werner, both 22.
Dortmund face a tricky away tie in Saturday evening’s big match at fourth-placed RB Leipzig, but are taking Bayern’s public display of confidence in their stride.
“It’s just one game — nothing more. What else should Bayern say in their situation?” said Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel.
“You have to see the thing through, on every occasion, and stay cool in every situation.”
Hoffenheim v Bayern Munich (11.30pm)
Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Stuttgart v Mainz, Eintracht Frankfurt v Freiburg, Augsburg v Fortuna Duesseldorf, Hannover v Werder Bremen (all 6.30pm), RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund (9.30pm)
Nuremberg v Hertha Berlin (6.30pm), Schalke v Wolfsburg (9pm)