The countdown has started to the biggest game in the history of Hoffenheim, and the biggest fixture of the Bundesliga season so far. The league leaders, in their maiden year in the top flight, travel to the most decorated team in German football on Friday. Hoffenheim lead the way by three points from Bayern Munich and a win would guarantee them top spot going into the winter break, regardless of how they fare in their final game of the year.
"It is astonishing that it has come to this, but I am really looking forward to it," the Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness said following his side's 2-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. "A performance like the second half against Leverkusen will be enough against Hoffenheim." But the coach Jurgen Klinsmann has tried to take tension out of the game by playing down its importance. "It would be nice for us to see things from the top, but if that does not happen, then it's not so bad," he said.
Bayern would need to beat Hoffenheim by more than three goals to move to the summit next weekend. Hoeness, meanwhile, said the striker Lukas Podolski could be on his way out of the club - but not until the end of the season. Podolski has been unable to get regular first-team football this season. And Hoeness said: "If we can find a replacement, we will be able to grant his wish of going to Cologne."
The under-fire Schalke coach Fred Rutten said these are "hard times" for the club after they lost their third Bundesliga game in four by going down 2-0 to Stuttgart. * PA Sport