Bayern eye summit before winter break

BERLIN - Bayern Munich could head the Bundesliga standings for the first time this season and go into the break as winter champions if they win at Stuttgart on Saturday.

After a rocky start to their season, the champions have found their form since the return of inspirational midfielder Franck Ribery in October and are now hot on the heels of league leaders Hoffenheim after beating them 2-1 last week.

"It is extremely important we round off the year with success," said Bayern coach Juergen Klinsmann.

Stuttgart have won their past two league matches under new coach Markus Babbel, who took over in late November and are eager to climb up from ninth place.

Bayern keeper Michael Rensing said the team wanted a win against in-form Stuttgart.

"We want to go into the break with our foot on the gas," he told the team website.

League matches resume at the end of January.

Hoffenheim have been the surprise of the season. The newly promoted club from a small village, has taken the league by storm and are leading the title race, with Bayern second on goal difference.

They have scored more goals than any ther team with entertaining soccer and even their defeats have been high-scoring affairs.

Hoffenheim host Schalke who last week ended their miserable run of five defeats in six competitive matches with a hard-fought win over Hertha Berlin.

Third-placed Bayer Leverkusen, with one of the league's most effective attacking partnerships in Stefan Kiessling and Patrick Helmes, should have an easier afternoon than the other title contenders when they take on relegation-threatened Energie Cottbus.

Kiessling and Helmes have already netted 20 times this season and they will be looking for Bayern and Hoffenheim to stumble, allowing Leverkusen to cut the three-point gap to the top of the table.

Fifth-placed Hamburg, who unlike Schalke have qualified for the next stage of the UEFA Cup and last week comfortably beat Cologne, will host mid-table team Eintracht Frankfurt, fresh from a 4-0 demolition of Bochum, with a win lifting Martin Jol's team closer to Champions League territory.