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9.23.2005

Ballack back for Bayern's match

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Bayern are expecting the toughest challenge yet to their 15-match winning run as they prepare to take on a Hamburg side inspired by Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart.

Ballack's absence in the last two league games with an ankle injury has coincided with a marked dip in form for Bayern.

Felix Magath's team only just managed 1-0 wins over Hanover 96 and Eintracht Frankfurt.

Bayern have no replacement for a player who steadies their defence and leads their attacks and his return will ease Magath's fears as he prepares to visit the club where he made his name as a gifted forward and later became coach.

"I'm delighted Michael is back," Magath said. "We don't have anyone who can do that job in midfield.

"We were better against Frankfurt than we were in the previous game and we'll look to improve again. We know we're going to lose the winning run at some point but every victory gives us a cushion. A fat cushion would be nice."

Hamburg have won four and drawn two of their six league games so far this term to climb to second place, four points behind Bayern, but coach Thomas Doll still sees his side as clear underdogs.

"We're playing against the dominant team in the Bundesliga and they will be the favourites," Doll said.

While Bayern also expect to have striker Roque Santa Cruz back in the squad, Hamburg have had no such good news on the injury front.

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