For the first time since January 2011, Bayern are not top of the league after the winter break as they trail Dortmund by six points, but Niko Kovac’s side are confident they can overtake their rivals and win their seventh straight Bundesliga title.
“There is no one here who is not convinced we will be champions — six points is not the end of the world,” said defender Niklas Suele, who is likely to partner Jerome Boateng at centre-back at Hoffenheim at the expense of the out-of-favour Germany defender Mats Hummels.
Captain Manuel Neuer said that “nothing else interests us” but winning the league after Bayern beat Borussia Moenchengladbach on penalties in the final of a four-team mini tournament in Duesseldorf, while Bayern’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic boasted that “experience is often important and we have a team who have experienced everything”.
Former Germany captain and Bayern great Lothar Matthaeus said the title will be decided by which team best adapts to their new role in the title race.
“Dortmund are the hunted and Bayern are the hunters,” he said. “That is a new role for both teams — whoever can handle it best will win the title.”
In the Bundesliga warm-up, 18-year-old Canadian rising star Alphonso Davies made his Munich debut after his $13 million (11.4m euros) signing from MLS team Vancouver Whitecaps, a sign of Bayern’s transfer policy of seeking youngsters to replace their ageing stars and bolster their squad.
France World Cup-winner Benjamin Pavard, 22, is already confirmed as joining from Stuttgart in July, and Bayern are also chasing Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, 18, defender Lucas Hernandez from Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig’s Germany striker Timo Werner, both 22.
– ‘Stay cool’ –
Dortmund face a tricky away tie in Saturday evening’s big match at fourth-placed RB Leipzig, but are taking Bayern’s public display of confidence in their stride.
“It’s just one game — nothing more. What else should Bayern say in their situation?” said Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel.
“You have to see the thing through, on every occasion, and stay cool in every situation.”
After a winter training camp in Marbella, which included wins over Dutch teams Feyenoord and Willem II plus Bundesliga rivals Fortuna Duesseldorf, Dortmund are quietly confident, with captain Marco Reus having recovered from a stomach illness.
Striker Paco Alcacer, who has scored 12 goals in as many league games, is still struggling with a leg injury.
With Manuel Akanji sidelined long-term, Omer Toprak and midfielder Julian Weigl are likely to form a makeshift centre-back partnership in Leipzig.
After one of the best starts to a season in their history, Dortmund have good reason to let Bayern worry about catching them, after collecting 42 points and scoring 44 goals in 17 league games.
“I’m optimistic, but we can’t afford to make any more mistakes,” admitted Bayern midfielder Joshua Kimmich after the Bavarians uncharacteristically lost to Hertha Berlin, Gladbach and Dortmund in the first half of the season.
“After the game at Hoffenheim, we’ll know where we really stand.”
Third-placed Gladbach, who trail Bayern by just three points, have a tough away match on Saturday at Bayer Leverkusen, who now have ex-Dortmund coach Peter Bosz at the helm.
Fixtures (all fixtures 1430 GMT unless stated)
Hoffenheim v Bayern Munich (1930)
Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Moenchengladbach, VfB Stuttgart v Mainz, Eintracht Frankfurt v Freiburg, Augsburg v Fortuna Duesseldorf, Hanover 96 v Werder Bremen, RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund (1730)
Nuremberg v Hertha Berlin, Schalke v Wolfsburg (1700)