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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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By ESPN Staff

Unsung Leverkusen mounting title challenge

Hoffenheim's fairytale start and Bayern Munich's recent revival have captured all the headlines but almost by stealth Bayer Leverkusen are emerging as perhaps an even better bet for the Bundesliga title.

Leverkusen are second in the table, sandwiched between Hoffenheim and Bayern, after four successive 2-0 wins.

They have cut out the over-enthusiasm they showed early in their first season under Bruno Labbadia, the former Germany striker, and are now playing with confidence, patience and still, when required, panache.

Hoffenheim have been impressive in attack, of course, but have had more hair-raising moments in defence, while Bayern rely too much on the form and fitness of Franck Ribery.

The Bundesliga calendar gives Leverkusen another chance to go top of the standings for at least one night when they visit Karlsruhe on Saturday (kickoff 1430 GMT).

Hoffenheim, a point ahead of Leverkusen and four clear of Bayern, do not visit Hertha Berlin until Sunday when Bayern are also in action at old rivals Schalke 04.

"We deserve to be where we are," Labbadia said after Leverkusen briefly moved top last weekend. "The thing is now we can't afford to let up even for a second."

Leverkusen and Hoffenheim have a big advantage over Bayern because they are not involved in European competition.

A tired looking Bayern drew 1-1 at Fiorentina in the Champions League on Wednesday but will have one more day to recover than Schalke, who take on Racing Santander in the UEFA Cup on Thursday.

Schalke climbed to fourth, a point behind Bayern, after a solid 2-0 win at Energie Cottbus last weekend and would like nothing better than to puncture Bayern's Bundesliga revival.

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