Ribery feeling heat ahead of Hanover game

BERLIN - Franck Ribery is under growing pressure to lift his game as struggling champions Bayern Munich, in fifth place four points off the top, take on mid-table Hanover 96 in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

The French playmaker's talent steered Bayern to a league and German Cup double last year and while they are in the race for both titles and a Champions League quarter-finals spot, they have failed to replicate their form this season.

"I am only human," Ribery told Wednesday's Sport Bild newspaper after Bayern's disappointing performances since the beginning of the year with only one win and three losses in five league matches.

"I am not alone on the pitch. There is a whole team. So it is just not okay when I am publicly blamed for it if it sometimes doesn't work."

Ribery is certainly not the only player to blame for the slump with the Bayern defence shouldering an even larger part of the responsibility.

Last season, Bayern conceded 21 goals in 34 league matches, but this season, the first under coach Juergen Klinsmann, they have let in 30 in 22 matches so far.

Ribery said he had raised the issue with Klinsmann after the Bavarians failed to win against Werder Bremen last weekend, despite the hosts playing with 10 men for 75 minutes.


He said a tighter defence would allow him to play further up the field and be more creative instead of picking up the ball deep in the Bayern half.

"It is easier for me when we are well positioned at the back," the Frenchman said. "This means I do not have to run back that much and have more strength for my attacking game."

Klinsmann, well aware he needs to win the league for his debut season to be labelled successful, warned that Hanover's visit was a key match.

"It is five minutes to 12 in the Bundesliga," Klinsmann said dramatically this week.

Hanover, in 12th place only four points above the relegation zone, are one of only two teams to beat Bayern in their first meeting this season, winning 1-0 at home in September.

League leaders Hertha Berlin, on 43 points, visit Energie Cottbus, who are desperate for points to lift themselves out of the bottom places.

Second-placed Hamburg, a point behind Hertha, travel to Borussia Moenchengladbach, who are anchored in last place but have been steadily improving.

Hoffenheim, in third, host Werder Bremen.