Mueller’s horseplay eases nerves as Bayern return to title race

Thomas Mueller hopes Bayern Munich will still be number one after a tough trip to Freiburg on Saturday. (AFP pic)

BERLIN: Bayern Munich striker Thomas Mueller hopes that superior horsepower will keep his team ahead of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga title race on a tough trip to Freiburg this Saturday.

With Bayern and Dortmund separated only by goal difference at the top of the table and set to face each other next weekend, it promises to be a nervy few weeks for the reigning champions.

Yet Mueller cut through the tension and had Munich chuckling this week when he named a horse after teammate Manuel Neuer.

Mueller, whose wife Lisa is a dressage rider, said in an Instagram post that he had named the newborn foal Manuel because it shared its birthday with the Bayern goalkeeper, who turned 33 on Wednesday.

But coach Niko Kovac has warned that Bayern are unlikely to win at a canter in Freiburg on Saturday.

“Freiburg are a very, very tough opponent and a lot of teams find it difficult to play there,” said Kovac on Thursday.

“They run hard and work hard against the ball, so we will have to stretch ourselves.”

Freiburg are something of a bogey team for Bayern.

The champions have won on just three of their last six visits to the black forest, and were held to a 1-1 draw at home earlier this season.

Striker Lucas Hoeler scored an 89th-minute equaliser for Freiburg in that game, and has insisted that his team can hurt Bayern again.

“We are not scared of them. Bayern doesn’t find it easy coming here, they know that they often struggle against us,” Hoeler told Bild.

Saturday’s fixture is Bayern’s last game before they host Dortmund in a potential title decider on April 6, and Kovac has urged his team not to slip up.

“We want to be top when we play Dortmund,” said the Bayern coach.

Dortmund’s dodgy defence 

Dortmund, meanwhile, will be without USA international Christian Pulisic when they host Wolfsburg on Saturday.

Coach Lucien Favre confirmed that Pulisic was the only player to return from international duty with an injury, after the American picked up a knock in a 1-1 draw with Chile on Wednesday.

Marco Reus and Mario Goetze have both been declared fit, however.

Goetze has made a speedy recovery from a broken rib, while Reus has overcome a thigh complaint to provide Dortmund with a full-strength attack against Wolfsburg.

Favre is more concerned about what happens at the other end of the pitch, and called on his team to buck up their ideas at the back.

Dortmund have conceded nine goals in their last six league games, and had to come from behind twice in a scrappy win over Hertha Berlin two weeks ago.

“We have conceded too many unnecessary goals and made too many unnecessary mistakes,” said Favre on Thursday.

“We have lacked concentration at times, lost the ball in dangerous positions and made tactical errors as well, which is unacceptable.”

“It’s not easy if you always have to score three goals to win a game, so we have to get better.”

At the other end of the table, Schalke are hoping to haul themselves away from the bottom three with a first win under interim coach Huub Stevens.

A win over fellow strugglers Hanover could see Schalke, who finished second last season, pull six points clear of the relegation play-off place.