Bayern looks to consolidate lead

Bayern Munich achieved its first goal of the season by reaching the

quarterfinals of the Champions League and will now turn its

attention to extending its lead in the Bundesliga.

Bayern advanced to the Champions League final eight on

Wednesday night despite a 3-2 loss at Fiorentina.

“That was very important for German football and FC Bayern,”

said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

But Rummenigge urged Bayern fans to remain calm, adding:

“What’s important now is to not start dreaming.”

“Other teams like Chelsea are stronger than Fiorentina,” said

Dutch winger Arjen Robben, whose spectacular midweek strike booked

Bayern’s spot in the last eight courtesy of the away goals rule.

Bayern’s next opponent in the Bundesliga,

relegation-threatened Freiburg, however, is far from the caliber of

Fiorentina and coach Louis van Gaal must keep his troops focused on

the task at hand in the Bundesliga.

Still, the numbers speak for themselves. Bayern have not lost

a point at home against Freiburg since the 1996-97 season and have

outscored Freiburg 22-5 in their 10 matches at home.

A victory could also mean that Bayern – with 53 points from

25 rounds – could take a five-point lead in the Bundesliga.

That would be the case if both second-placed Schalke (51

points) and third placed Bayer Levekusen (50) stumble in tough home

matches.

Bayern actually could be looking up to Schalke from second

place when they face Freiburg on Saturday as Schalke would grab the

top spot Friday night with a win over Stuttgart.

Schalke coach Felix Magath has his team well-drilled in the

art of understatement and avoiding any talk of the title.

“We are not even thinking about the league lead,” said

Schalke’s Benedikt Howedes.

“We are not worried about that. We are just thinking game to

game. This attitude has brought us this far already,” said

Christoph Moritz.

And Magath said point blank: “We are not a title candidate.”

The experienced and successful coach used a similar low-key

approach over the final third of the 2008-09 season before leading

Wolfsburg to its first ever Bundesliga championship. But Magath

knows that Stuttgart will be a tough opponent. And Schalke’s three

following games are in Hamburg and Leverkusen and then at home

versus Bayern.

“We have to wait until after those games. Afterwards we can

say what’s possible at the end of the season,” said Magath.

Stuttgart, for their part, has the second best record since

the winter break behind Bayern Munich and have lost just once in

their last 11 matches.

A victory for Stuttgart could bring Christian Gross’s team

within four points of fifth place and a European qualification spot

after looking like relegation candidates earlier in the season.

Leverkusen, meanwhile, look to rebound from their first loss

of the season and face fourth-placed Hamburg (43) on Sunday without

budding superstar playmaker Toni Kroos.

“I am sure that the guys have learned from this loss. They

have been awakened and will come out of this situation with more

strength,” said Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes.

“We will start a new streak.”

The other showdown of note takes place at the bottom of the

standings where last-placed Hertha Berlin host Nuremberg, in the

final safe spot in 15th place. Berlin, who have not won at home in

11 matches, have just 15 points and are six points behind

Nuremberg.

“Our guys are just too nice. Throughout the team, they are

all nice son-in-laws,” said veteran Pal Dardai, who on Saturday

will set the record for most games played for Hertha at 281.

“We are missing the pigs, the nasty characters.”

Elsewhere, Borussia Moenchengladbach host Wolfsburg; Bochum

welcome Borussia Dortmund; Cologne travel to Mainz; and Eintracht

Frankfurt play at Hannover on Saturday.

Sunday’s first match has Hoffenheim playing host to Werder

Bremen.