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Key men return after COVID outbreak as Bayern head to resurgent Cologne

BERLIN (AFP) – Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich will be back to near full strength at resurgent Cologne today with a host of first-choice players now out of COVID isolation.

Bayern’s lead in the table was trimmed to six points last weekend when a makeshift team lost 2-1 to Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Second-placed Borussia Dortmund can further reduce Bayern’s lead before kick-off in Cologne if they beat Freiburg.

“It will be a difficult game, especially with the form Cologne are in at the moment, they are a team that are physically very strong,” Bayern winger Serge Gnabry said of Cologne, who are sixth in the league table after three straight wins.

Nevertheless, Gnabry expects Bayern to win.

“If we impose our game, we’ll eventually break them down,” he said.

When the clubs met last August, Bayern were 2-0 up in Munich only for Cologne to draw level with goals by Mark Uth and Anthony Modeste before Gnabry grabbed a late winner.

Covid ravaged Bayern’s squad in early January, but only defender Lucas Hernandez is still isolating of the nine players who tested positive.

Manuel Neuer will be back in goal while wingers Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman, who penned a new contract until 2027 on Wednesday, could also return.

Cologne last beat Bayern back in 2011, but are only two points from the Champions League places, eight months after narrowly avoiding relegation.

“I hear too much talk about us not having a chance against Bayern,” said Cologne coach Steffen Baumgart.

“I have a good feeling. We need an excellent performance.”

Cologne striker Uth has scored five goals against Bayern, yet has tasted victory against them just once, with eight defeats.

“I’d like to score fewer goals and win more often,” he said.

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