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Bratwurst with a side of sauerkraut

Bundesliga is not fine dining, but is fun

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As far as extended metaphors are concerned, it was almost José Mourinho-esque.

"The Champions League is like a good meal in a good restaurant," remarked Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola this week. "The Bundesliga -- it's like eating pizza or hamburgers every day."

What the Spaniard was getting at was the challenge of the German top flight, which is where his attentions turned after overseeing a 2-0 win away to Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday.

"The most prestigious title is the Champions League," he continued, "but the most important and difficult is the German championship."

Even more difficult to stay in, it seems, than to win.

Ahead of their Sunday trip to Hannover, Bayern is comfortably perched atop the Bundesliga, 16 points clear of second-place Bayer Leverkusen and unbeaten on the campaign.

That the Bavarian giants will win a record-extending 23rd shield is a given, which is why the most compelling storylines in German football these days are being churned out of the bottom third of the table.

It's there, with 13 rounds left on the schedule, that some unlikely clubs are fighting for their Bundesliga lives.

Foremost among them is Hamburg -- the seven-time champions and 1983 European Cup winners who hold the distinction of being the only original Bundesliga side to have never been relegated.

The thing is, if the season ended today Die Rothosen would be demoted to the second division, and by this evening they could well find themselves dead-last in the standings.

Last weekend's 4-2 loss to Eintracht Braunschweig--the current basement-dwellers--saw the exit of manager Bert van Marwijk, who, himself, had replaced Thorsten Fink barely five months prior.

Mirko Slomka is now Hamburg's third coach this season, and he takes over a side with just a single win since October and enduring a seven-match losing streak in which they've conceded 20 goals.

Sorting out the defense will be the 46-year-old's top priority, although with high-octane Borussia Dortmund set to visit the Volksparkstadion an eighth defeat on the trot appears likely.

If Hamburg have anything to be optimistic about, it's that they're only three points back of safety and could suddenly find themselves in rather more comfortable territory with even a modest run of wins.

The Bundesliga's bottom seven teams are separated by only six points after 21 matches, and with none of them so much as hinting at a turnaround the relegation tussle could prove to be more a tickle-fight than battle to the death.

Two points above Hamburg and situated in the playoff spot are Freiburg, who came fifth last season and qualified for the Europa League.

They'll meet Hamburg in a vital encounter next month, by which time manager Christian Streich could well be out of a job if he hasn't delivered at least a pair of victories.

Then there's Stuttgart -- the 2007 Bundesliga winners who have won only once since the second week of November. They go into today's match at home to Hertha Berlin just one point clear of Freiburg and two above Hamburg.

Two places and two points above them in the table are Werder Bremen.

Die Werderaner have been relegated just a single time in their history -- in 1980 -- and are four-time German champions, their most recent triumph coming in 2004.

Nurnberg and Eintracht Frankfurt, also previous national champions, round out the unlikely relegation roster.

"You have to be focused every day," Guardiola went on in his appraisal of the Bundesliga. "It's difficult."

And it promises to be hungry for the flops that will have to go without their pizza and hamburgers next season.

Spot kicks

-- Wayne Rooney agreed a new, five-and-a-half year contract with Manchester United, Friday, that will pay the forward £300,000 per week. Is he worth that kind of money? No. But it was nevertheless imperative that United kept him at whatever the cost. Losing the 27-year-old would have sent yet another negative message from a club already experiencing its share of recruitment trouble.

-- On Wednesday, Mathieu Flamini tore into Mesut Ozil during Arsenal's Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. On Friday he clashed with Jack Wilshere during training. These incidents have already been cast as signs the Gunners are falling apart at a crucial time, but if anything Flamini has done his club a service by taking it on himself to hold others to account. The Frenchman was Arsenal's best player against Bayern.

-- Thiago Motta has extended his contract with Paris Saint-German thru 2016. The 32-year-old has been one of the top midfielders in European football so far this season, even if he has somehow flown under the radar in France. Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 C12

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