Hoffenheim bid to extend lead against Leverkusen

BERLIN - Bundesliga leaders Hoffenheim can open up a four-point advantage with a win against visitors Bayer Leverkusen on Friday, setting the pace for their four contenders.

Hoffenheim, in their debut top flight season, have yet to wither as many had predicted and continue to lead steadily, a point ahead of champions Bayern Munich who take on third-placed Hertha Berlin in the capital on Saturday.

Hamburg, fourth on 36, host Arminia Bielefeld.

"We have the chance to break away from a direct competitor for international spots like Leverkusen with nine points," Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick said of the match against Leverkusen, who are fifth on 33 points.

"Leverkusen have high aspirations and will most certainly play to win," Rangnick said.

Hoffenheim will be strengthened with midfielder Carlos Eduardo due to return after his suspension.

Striker Chinedu Obasi is also expected to start after recovering from an injury, having played just 30 minutes last week, while keeper Timo Hildebrand is also fit to play after picking up an injury two weeks ago.

Bayern will be hoping the leaders drop points against an attacking side like Leverkusen, who boast some of the most dangerous strikers in the league with Patrick Helmes and Stefan Kiessling, so they can finally take over the league's reins.

"We want to take over at the top as quickly as possible," Bayern 'keeper Michael Rensing told the club website.

"We don't want to run after anyone. We want the other teams to chase us."

Hamburg will know later on Thursday whether striker Mladen Petric, red-carded last week, will be eligible to play after appealing against his two-match suspension.

They are also desperate to make amends for their stinging defeat against Kalrsruhe after throwing away a two-goal lead to go down 3-2.

Hamburg will also be without defender Bastian Reinhardt, who will have to undergo surgery for a foot injury. However, they can count on top striker Ivica Olic, who has completed a two-match ban for a fight with Eduardo during a friendly game.

Stuttgart, in sixth place, would aim to continue their unbeaten run under coach Markus Babbel when they travel to Hanover while erratic Werder Bremen host bottom-of-the-table Borussia Moenchengladbach.