Bayern bid to close out year on happy note
BERLIN, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich will have stand-in keeper Michael Rensing as a lucky charm when they visit Hertha Berlin in their final Bundesliga game of 2007 on Saturday.
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld handed captain and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn a 25,000 euros ($36,720) fine and a one-match suspension this week after he criticised two of his team mates and left the club's Christmas party early.
Bayern lead the standings by two points and a win over Hertha at the Olympiastadion would mean they can celebrate fully over the long mid-season break, with the honorary title of 'winter champions' under their belts.
The forward line may well be a concern for Hitzfeld going into the game, after a goalless draw at home to Duisburg last weekend, but the goalkeeping position will not be an issue.
Rensing has played 17 Bundesliga games for Bayern over the last few seasons and he has yet to finish on the losing side.
Bayern's chances of closing out the first half of the season on a high note may rest on the fitness of Luca Toni, the Italian striker who is struggling to overcome a hamstring problem.
Willy Sagnol is the other main injury doubt, while fellow defender Lucio is suspended.
Second-placed Werder Bremen will have to put their midweek Champions League disappointment behind them if they are to keep the pressure on the favourites.
Werder had their hopes of a place in the last 16 dashed by a 3-0 defeat away to Olympiakos Piraeus on Tuesday.
They will have to improve markedly for Saturday's home game against Bayer Leverkusen, who will visit the Weserstadion on a run of five successive Bundesliga wins.
'We're all hugely disappointed,' Werder captain Frank Baumann told reporters. 'We'll look forward to the UEFA Cup now but it would have been so much better to continue in the Champions.'
Coach Thomas Schaaf will hope to have centre back Per Mertesacker back after the Germany international was forced to miss Tuesday's game through illness.
Leverkusen are up to fourth place, three points behind Werder, after their excellent run but they could be hurt on Saturday by injuries to Sergej Barbarez and Bernd Schneider.
Schalke 04 will be in a much better mood when they host Nuremberg.
Schalke reached the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time when they won 3-1 at home to Rosenborg Trondheim on Tuesday and it should be a party atmosphere back at the Arena AufSchalke on Saturday.
Third-placed Hamburg SV visit Karlsruhe, while champions VfB Stuttgart are away to Arminia Bielefeld in other matches on Saturday.
After the weekend's games the Bundesliga takes a break until Feb 1.