Bayern eye top spot without Ribery

BERLIN - Bayern Munich could go top of the Bundesliga for the first time since the end of the 2008 season with a win against visitors Hoffenheim on Friday but they will have to do it without playmaker Franck Ribery.

Bayern, in third place on 33 points from 17 games, two behind undefeated leaders Bayer Leverkusen, are hoping they can pick up where they left off before the winter break, with a six-match winning streak in all competitions.

"I do not think we have lost any of our punch in this short (three-week) break," Bayern striker Ivica Olic told reporters.

"We want to pick up where we left off, with lots of chances and lots of goals. This is what all of us want."

While Frenchman Ribery, fully recovered from a knee injury, will still be missing as he builds up his stamina, Dutch midfielder Arjen Robben is expected to play against seventh-placed Hoffenheim.

"Franck did not train for two months so he needs to build up his stamina and he will do that this week," Bayern coach Louis van Gaal told reporters, adding he could be ready for next week's clash against Werder Bremen.

"I believe that Robben will be fit to play (against Hoffenheim)."


Bayern, who have not topped the standings since winning the 2007/8 title, are the team to watch after strong performances at the end of the year, including a 4-1 away win over Juventus to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Leaders Leverkusen, who have 35 points and are a point ahead of Schalke 04, host Mainz on Saturday with victory keeping them in first place.

While Bayern opted for a one-week training camp in sunny Dubai during the winter break, Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes kept his players in snowy Germany, grinding out training sessions in freezing temperatures.

Schalke, who have been the most active of the Bundesliga teams in the transfer window and snapped up gifted midfielder Alexander Baumjohann from Bayern, entertain relegation-threatened Nuremberg on Sunday.

Bottom-placed Hertha Berlin resume their fight to avoid relegation against Hanover 96, having bolstered their team with Greek striker Fanis Gekas, on loan from Leverkusen, Levan Kobiashvili from Schalke and Roman Hubnik on loan from FC Moscow.