Dortmund dismiss favourites tag

BERLIN - Runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund can extend their lead to 13 points in the Bundesliga when they face third-placed Bayer Leverkusen on Friday but coach Jurgen Klopp refuses to accept the favourites tag as the season restarts after the winter break.

Even before a ball has been kicked this year a betting firm has already paid out those who had bet on Dortmund winning the German title.

Klopp said there was much to be won and lost with 17 games still to be played.

"I never understood people who bet. How can I understand people paying up on bets?" he told reporters with a smile ahead of Friday's game. "In any case we are by no means the favourites against Leverkusen.

"It is about one game at a time and we start from zero with 17 games ahead of us," he said. "If we lose in Leverkusen then it is just seven points, if we win it's 13. But all that does not really make any difference at this stage."

Klopp, whose team lost their Bundesliga season opener to Leverkusen before going on a 15-game unbeaten run, will be without sensational Shinji Kagawa as the Japanese offensive midfielder is in action at the Asian Cup.

Kagawa is set to be replaced by Mohamed Zidan, fit after his cruciate ligament injury last April.

"Mohamed is making a very good impression lately, also physically. We will see the best Zidan to date if he plays," said Klopp.

Borussia will also see the return of top striker Lucas Barrios and teenager Mario Goetze, both of whom sustained minor injuries late last year.


Leverkusen have done well to stay in the title hunt and expect to become stronger with the return of Germany captain Michael Ballack.

The 34-year-old could make his first Bundesliga appearance against Dortmund, even for a few minutes, since fracturing his shinbone in September.

Bayern Munich are bracing for a comeback after a rocky first half to the season and have seen Dutchman Arjen Robben return to training during the winter break after a five-month injury break.

Whether he will be ready on Saturday to start at VfL Wolfsburg, who will be without top striker Edin Dzeko after he joined Manchester City, remains to be seen.

"We still have to decide that," coach Louis van Gaal said.

Schalke 04, the other Champions League competitors from Germany alongside Bayern, are eager to pick up where they left off after ending the year on a three-game winning streak.

Schalke are in 10th spot after languishing in the relegation zone and host Hamburg SV.

Second-placed Mainz 05, level with Leverkusen on 33 points, travel to relegation-threatened VfB Stuttgart, who hope to launch a climb up the table under new coach Bruno Labbadia.