How did it come to this, Bayern wonders
BERLIN, Germany - Bayern Munich have scored 9 goals in winning their last 2 home games, leaving their players baffled and exasperated over how Germany's biggest club have failed to live up their own huge expectations.
This season's Champions League is a distant memory for Bayern and their hopes of winning the league fizzled out long ago.
Yet recent performances have led Bayern's players to believe they are every bit as good as Borussia Dortmund, whose young and previously untested side walked off with the Bundesliga title last week with 2 games to spare.
Bayern, meanwhile, still have to book their place in next season's Champions League, the very minimum expected from them especially with the 2011-2012 final to be played in their own Allianz Arena.
"It's hard to swallow that we have so much potential in this team and have done so little," said forward Thomas Mueller.
"We keep asking ourselves how we so carelessly have thrown this season away when we see what is possible with this team."
The blame fell firmly on coach Louis van Gaal, sacked last month, and 22-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Kraft who the Dutchman controversially brought into the team at the expense of the experienced Joerg Butt at the start of the year.
Club president Uli Hoeness said that Kraft had caused insecurity in the defence and that Van Gaal had ignored advice to restore Butt to the side.
Since Van Gaal's departure, Butt has been brought back by caretaker coach Andries Jonker while Bayern have announced that Kraft will leave at the end of the season.
Injuries to Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in the first half of the season and the departure of captain Mark van Bommel to AC Milan in January have also been blamed.
Bayer Leverkusen are almost assured of finishing second and taking the other direct place in the Champions League group stage leaving Bayern to fight for third place, which would give them a place in the final qualifying round stage.
Bayern have looked in danger of missing out as they have swapped places on an almost a weekly basis with Hanover 96.
The Bavarians began last weekend in fourth spot with the Europa League looming, but overtook Hanover by demolishing Schalke 4-1 while their rivals were beaten 1-0 at home by bottom club Borussia Moenchengladbach.
That has left Bayern two points clear of Hanover with two games left and a far superior goal difference.
Bayern could even clinch third place on Saturday if they win at bottom club St Pauli and Hanover fail to beat VfB Stuttgart away.
"We're definitely not giving up third place again," said Dutch winger Robben, who has already said he would rather not play in Europe at all than in the Europa League.
Hanover coach Mirko Slomka has virtually given up hope after last week's defeat.
"I don't think that Bayern are now going to drop any more points," he said glumly.
St. Pauli, with 29 points from 32 games in last place, are 5 adrift of 16th place Eintracht Frankfurt in the relegation play off spot.
Borussia Moenchengladbach, two points behind Eintracht in 17th, have won their last 2 games 1-0 and are hoping to continue their fight for survival with a similar result at home to Freiburg.
Eintracht, beaten 3-0 at Mainz 05 last week and at home to Cologne on Saturday, are one point behind Felix Magath's VfL Wolfsburg who host Kaiserslautern.