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No more tuxedos for Toon

The Toe Poke

Ranieri for manager of the year?

By ESPN Staff

Werder strikers face battle at Wolfsburg

BERLIN, Dec 14 (Reuters) - If anyone can stop free-scoring Werder Bremen getting the win they need to secure the honorary title of winter champions on Sunday it is VfL Wolfsburg, the Bundesliga's answer to Ebenezer Scrooge.

Werder, by far the best attacking side in Germany, come up against Wolfsburg, who have the meanest defence, on the final day of league action in 2006. It should be a compelling note to end on.

Werder have been a joy to watch this season, scoring 45 goals in 16 league games and netting 33 points.

They lead the standings on goal difference from Schalke 04, who are away to sixth-placed Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday.

VfB Stuttgart, in third place on 31, also have a chance at grabbing top spot as they travel to face Energie Cottbus, but champions Bayern Munich, in fourth on 30, have little hope given how far they trail Werder on goal difference.

Wolfsburg, coached by former Bayern Munich defender Klaus Augenthaler, have scored just 11 times all season yet their defence has been so good - with just 14 conceded - that they have managed to stay above the relegation fight in 12th place with 19 points.

It has not been pretty but with goalkeeper Simon Jentzsch in first class form - apart from the mistake that gave Alemannia Aachen their winner last week - they have been extremely tricky to play against.

'Bremen are good but we're not going to be blown away by them,' Wolves captain Kevin Hofland told the club's Web site. 'We'll do all we can to take points home with us.'

Schalke's aim will be to get three points clear of Werder by Saturday evening but it will be no easy task to defeat Bielefeld, who have the most sought after coach in the Bundesliga.

Under Thomas von Heesen, Bielefeld have climbed to sixth, with just four defeats so far.

Still, Schalke should be confident of coming away with victory from their short trip. Last weekend they produced a fine display to win 3-1 at home to Ruhr Valley rivals Borussia Dortmund and they look increasingly serious title challengers.

Stuttgart are also part of the three-team group of rivals to Bayern, although they have arguably been less impressive.

Last week they sneaked a 1-0 win over VfL Bochum to stay in the fight for top spot come the end of the year. They face another relegation threatened side in Cottbus and it may turn out to be a test of stamina for a team that looks to be tiring. Bayern have finished as winter champions in each of the last two seasons on their way to winning the title.

They will miss out this time, barring a couple of freak results, but coach Felix Magath will be happy enough if they stay within striking distance by winning at bottom club Mainz.

The Bavarians will be without winger Sebastian Deisler, who suffered a thigh muscle injury in training this week.

The Bundesliga resumes on January 26, with Dortmund's home game against Bayern to kick off the second half of the season.