Borussia Dortmund are desperate to trim a five-point deficit with Bayern Munich, the league leader, who have old scores to settle.
More than a point to prove in Bundesliga
So now it is official. Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund is "the hottest rivalry" in the Bundesliga. Or at least that's what Bild, Germany's biggest-selling newspaper, has declared.
Television audiences this evening will probably support that view, and the big, brash red-top daily has a point. Schalke 04 fans might grumble at a perceived loss of status, and their duels with Dortmund can certainly claim to be the country's feistiest neighbourhood derby. But in the TV age, locale seems less important in building up enmities, in generating an edge.
Viewed from Bavaria, where the regional capital's second club, 1860 Munich, are marooned in the second division, Dortmund have become a more significant rival than anybody with a similar postcode to Bayern's, and more of a regular threat to their pre-eminence than Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen, Schalke or, sorry, struggling Hamburg.
It still hurts Bayern that Dortmund won a Champions League in Munich, albeit fully 14 years ago; that Dortmund are the only other German club to have seized that trophy in the time since the European Cup became known as the Champions League. It bothers Bayern that in the past 16 years Dortmund have taken the national title four times, more than anyone except Bayern, who are currently on course to claim a 11th championship in 20 years.
Dortmund, second to Bayern in the table this morning and the holders of the Bundesliga shield, represent the likeliest alternative.
How to measure the heat of a rivalry? In tempers lost? Bayern versus Dortmund has had many Krakatoa moments.
Rewind to the end of the 1996/97 season in which Dortmund won the Champions League in Munich. The previous month, Bayern went to Dortmund eager to ensure that at least the league title, in which the Bavarians were setting the pace, would be theirs.
This was the period when Bayern were labelled FC Hollywood on account of the larger-than-life personalities who populated their squad. Bayern's Lothar Matthaus produced a silver-screen cameo, theatrically pretending to wipe tears from the cheeks of Andy Moller as the Dortmund player let show his disappointment at gaining only a 1-1 draw. "You crybaby," jeered Matthaus at Moller, who struck out angrily at his taunter.
Bayern would win the Bundesliga again two seasons later, but were facing a setback at 2-0 down against Dortmund.
That was the cue for Oliver Kahn, the Bayern goalkeeper, to unleash his wild side: a kung-fu style kick at Stephane Chapuisat, a pull on Moller's ear and, most infamously, a bite to the neck of Heiko Herrlich. Bayern clawed back to 2-2.
Two years on, with Bayern on the way to a Bundesliga and Champions League double, a 1-1 draw featured three red cards and 10 bookings.
The clubs were by that stage in conflict off the field, too, over the transfer of Sebastian Kehl, then a bright prospect at Freiburg. Kehl had led Bayern to believe he would be joining them only to accept an enormous offer from Dortmund. Kehl little suspected that his chosen club were borrowing so heavily to finance purchases like his that they would teeter, by 2005, on the verge of bankruptcy.
Revenge arrived for Kehl, in the form of a brutal foul from Bayern's Hasan Salihamidzic. The midfielder needed six months to recover. Kehl still gets booed by Bayern fans, and will be on Saturday as he leads the champions out into the Allianz Arena.
Dortmund, after a shaky start to the campaign, have recovered some of last season's confidence and flair, at least domestically. They have registered 17 goals and taken 13 points from their past five Bundesliga outings. That's better recent form than the table-toppers, whose lead over their "hottest rivals" would be cut to just two points should Dortmund win on Saturday night.
Lazio first for Napoli
Edinson Cavani, the Napoli striker, says his side will not be distracted by their Champions League game with Manchester City when they host Lazio on Saturday. Naples take on City at a sold-out San Paolo stadium on Tuesday with both sides looking to take a giant step towards the knockout stages of the competition.
Despite the obvious attraction of next week’s clash, Cavani believes his side’s only focus right now is on the domestic front. Napoli, who are coached by Walter Mazzarri, are sixth in the Serie A standings, and are seven points behind Lazio but have a game in hand. “If we look at the standings, Lazio are firm favourites,” Cavani said on Friday. “But we are determined to get a good result and we will not go down without a fight.”
Gillot keen to return
Francis Gillot, the Bordeaux manager, is hoping his side can pick up where they left off before the international break when they visit Dijon on Saturday. Les Girondins won 2-0 at Ajaccio and then earned a point in a 1-1 draw with big-spending Ligue 1 leaders Paris St-Germain before the two-week hiatus and Gillot is keen the momentum is not derailed.
“When you have a break it is important to end on a good note,” he said. “If we had lost against Paris we would have been happy to have had another game immediately.
“We used the break and took the opportunity to work well. It’s true that we cannot automatically assume the good momentum will continue. The break was annoying but it was the same for a number of teams.” He added that his 14th-placed team “can’t simply rest on two games”.
Barca line up issue
Javier Aguirre, the Real Zaragoza manager, expects Barcelona to be at full strength on Saturday despite talk the champions may rest some of their international players.
Barcelona have been one of the hardest-hit teams in the wake of the international break after a number of their key men returned to the Catalan capital at the last minute following long-haul flights.
Barca’s Spain players were in action in Costa Rica in midweek, following a 1-0 defeat to England, while Lionel Messi complained of fatigue after Argentina’s World Cup qualification double-header.
With Barca facing a key Champions League clash with AC Milan in midweek there had been speculation that the manager Pep Guardiola would seek to give his stars a breather against Zaragoza. But Aguirre said: “I am expecting the best Barcelona.”
Ajax eye Chivu
Frank de Boer, the Ajax manager, said that he is considering a move for Cristian Chivu, the Inter Milan defender, should Jan Vertonghen depart the club in January. Chivu, 31, spent four years with Ajax before leaving to join Roma in 2003, and his future at Inter is far from certain with his contract due to expire at the end of the season. De Boer accepts that Vertonghen, the Belgian international who attracted the interest of Manchester City during the summer, may soon move on, and he believes Chivu could be the man to replace him.
“He is certainly a serious option,” De Boer told the newspaper, De Telegraaf. “Last summer, we looked at Chivu as a possible replacement for Jan Vertonghen, who was at that time subject to a lot of interest. “Joris Mathijsen was also in our sights, but he decided to join Malaga. After that our choice was Cristian”, adding that “we’ve never forgotten about him”.