FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Bayern Munich stole the show even before the Bundesliga season resumes this weekend by signing Pep Guardiola as its new coach.
Guardiola will inherit a team that is very likely to be coming off a Bundesliga title and could be holding two more trophies. Bayern holds a nine-point lead as the league resumes after its winter break, and faces last-place Greuther Fuerth on Saturday at home. Even its biggest domestic rival and the defending champion, Borussia Dortmund, has written off the title.
So the coup of landing Guardiola to succeed the retiring Jupp Heynckes has overshadowed the restart of the season. With a nine-point cushion on Bayer Leverkusen and 12 points ahead of Dortmund, Bayern should cruise home. It is also in the knockout stage of the Champions League and the quarterfinals of the German Cup.
Club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went to the locker room Thursday and told the players that they had a "great responsibility now to win the title" as a farewell present for Heynckes. Rummenigge, speaking on Bayern's own television channel, said Guardiola will not be officially presented any time soon, probably not before he officially begins his three-year contract on July 1.
Bayern has lost only one match so far in the Bundesliga and has conceded only seven goals while topping the league with 44 scored. "You can't take the championship from Bayern, they can only lose it themselves," Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp said. "But I fear they won't do that."
Dortmund won the Bundesliga the last two seasons and also swept the domestic double last season. Now, Klopp's team is aiming lower. "Place two would be super. Place three more than OK. Anything below that is a region we don't feel well in," Klopp said.
Klopp said Bayern's success in hiring Guardiola was "great, honestly." "Pep is the most successful coach of the past few years. I am looking forward to meeting him," Klopp said, while at the same time praising Heynckes. "He is a very nice man and a great colleague. I am going to miss him."
Dortmund's major signing in the middle of the season was the return of Nuri Sahin, who was an instrumental part of the team that won the first of the two straight championships. He then had unsuccessful stints with Real Madrid and Liverpool.
Dortmund already has a loaded midfield with Marco Reus and Mario Goetze. Dortmund plays at Werder Bremen on Saturday. Bayern has made no moves to sign new players in the January window, with Heynckes happy with what he has.
"Bayern has never played such a modern, attractive and contemporary football in its history," Heynckes said this month. Greuther Fuerth signed Serbia striker Nikola Djurdjic but he will miss Saturday's match with a sinus problem.
Schalke, which has fallen from second to seventh, kicks off the second half of the season against Hannover on Friday. Leverkusen hosts Eintracht Frankfurt, the promoted team that is in fourth place and trailing Dortmund only on goal difference.
"We want to send a signal that we are still there, that's why a win against Frankfurt is so important," said Stefan Kiessling, the Leverkusen striker who leads the Bundesliga with 12 goals. Eintracht won the home match 2-1.
Mainz hosts Freiburg in a showdown between two other surprise teams. Freiburg is fifth and Mainz sixth. Wolfsburg hosts Stuttgart with coach Dieter Hecking in charge for the first time. Borussia Moenchengladbach travels to struggling Hoffenheim, which also has a new coach in Marco Kurz.
On Sunday, Nuremberg hosts Hamburg and Augsburg travels to Fortuna Duesseldorf.