By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) – League leaders Bayern Munich are looking for a winning start to the year at Hamburg SV on Friday as the Bundesliga resumes after the winter break and coach Pep Guardiola starts his farewell tour that he hopes will end with more silverware.
The Bavarians, eight points clear at the top of the table, are eyeing a record fourth consecutive German league title — a third under Spaniard Guardiola, who will leave at the end of the season after three years to join a Premier League club.
“We all want to go towards the same direction together and then hopefully celebrate titles together,” Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski told reporters this week.
Bayern are the overwhelming favourites for the league title once more this season but it is still unclear what effect Guardiola’s decision, announced just before the winter break, may have on their performances.
“Eight points are not a lot because if we lose then it is just five points (to second-placed Borussia Dortmund) and you can only make a few more such mistakes,” Lewandowski said.
“That is why we have to be in top form from the very first game until the end of the season. We have to remain alert.”
Bayern are on 46 points with Dortmund, who are travelling to fourth-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday, on 38.
The Bavarians lost their only warm-up game after a winter training camp in Qatar, a 2-1 defeat to second division club Karlsruhe last week, with some critics arguing the team had not worked hard enough under the Spaniard during the break.
The players are quick to reject that defeat as part of preparations for the new year with the team in the running for a treble of titles, including the Champions League and the German Cup.
“Obviously warm-up games are different from competitions,” said defender Holger Badstuber. “We know we can play better than that and we will finetune everything. On Friday we will be ready.”
Bayern have played a near-flawless first half to the season, having won 15 of their 17 league matches and having lost just once.
Hamburg, who lost three of their warm-up matches, could be without top striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga and central defender Johan Djourou, with both racing against time to overcome injuries.
But Badstuber warned that even with these absences, 10th placed Hamburg were no longer the confidence-lacking team that needed a relegation playoff to stay up last season.
“We know it is not the Hamburg of the past few years. They have made up a lot of lost ground and are brimming with confidence,” Badstuber said.
“It’s never easy in Hamburg with that atmosphere in their stadium. We know what to expect.”
Surprise package Hertha Berlin, in third place on 32 points, six off Dortmund, entertain Augsburg.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)