All eyes on Bayern as Bundesliga kicks off

August 9, 2007

BERLIN, Aug 9 (Reuters) - VfB Stuttgart will kick off their title defence on Friday against 2006/07 runners-up Schalke 04 but both are already looking over their shoulders at new-look Bayern Munich, the hot favourites.

Having spent a record 70 million euros ($96.38 million) on new talent in the close season, Bayern have set out to make amends for a humiliating fourth place last season that ended their 10-year-long annual passage to the Champions League.

Strengthened by France midfielder Franck Ribery, Germany's Miroslav Klose, defender Marcell Jansen and Italy's World Cup striker Luca Toni, Bayern have dazzled in the pre-season with their new attacking style.

They won the six-team, pre-season League Cup last month, beating Stuttgart, Schalke and Werder Bremen, who finished third in 2006/07.

But Stuttgart, who spent a modest eight million euros for Romania striker Ciprian Marica and paid out a 1.5 million euro loan fee for Ewerthon, are confident they can pick up where they left off last season - winning eight games in a row.

'We're going to do everything we can to keep improving,' said Stuttgart coach Armin Veh ahead of Friday's match that kicks off the Bundeliga's 45th season.

'Our initial goal is to continue playing attacking-style football and giving the crowds something to get excited about,' added Veh, who has already said Bayern are the early favourites to win a 21st Bundesliga championship.

Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld wants to win three more titles this season after the League Cup: the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the UEFA Cup.

The 70 million Bayern spent on transfer fees is almost half the 170 million total that all 18 teams invested. The amount broke the previous record of 147 million set in 2001/02.

'We've reacted to last season, invested quite a bit and got a lot more quality,' said Hitzfeld, whose team play at home against Hansa Rostock on Saturday.

'It's going to be a lot more fun to watch Bayern Munich this season,' he added.

Ribery, who came to Bayern from Olympique Marseille for a Bundesliga record transfer fee of 25 million euros, has personified the new-look Bayern in pre-season. He scored three goals in two League Cup games and created a string of chances.