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Bayern's Podolski back in peak form for Europe

Written by: Staff

STUTTGART, Germany, Sep 11 (Reuters) Michael Ballack has gone but Lukas Podolski has regained his form just in time for Bayern Munich, who kick off their Champions League campaign at home to Spartak Moscow in Group B tomorrow.

The 21-year-old Podolski made a 10 million euros (12.72 million dollar) move from Cologne to Bayern after scoring three goals in Germany's run to third place at the World Cup, picking up the FIFA young player award in the process.

But it took him time to come down from that high.

Bayern coach Felix Magath was reluctant to use him in the opening games of the season and when he did get a chance his usual sharpness was not there.

He roared back to form in Germany's Euro 2008 qualifier against San Marino, helping himself to four goals in a European championship record 13-0 win.

He took his tally to five goals in four days within seconds of coming on as a substitute in Bayern's 2-1 win over St Pauli in the first round of the German Cup on Saturday and Magath appears ready to promote him to the starting lineup tomorrow.

''Lukas showed in the San Marino game that he does not just score goals, he is also good on the ball,'' Magath told reporters.

''He was our most effective striker against St Pauli.'' Magath could partner Podolski with reliable Dutchman Roy Makaay up front and drop Claudio Pizarro to the bench.

Bayern will start life in this season's Champions League without Ballack now the Germany captain has moved to Chelsea.

Dutch international Mark van Bommel, who made his debut against St Pauli following a move from European champions Barcelona, should step straight into his shoes.

Bayern are unbeaten in six previous meetings against Spartak, who have failed to record a win in their last 17 Champions League matches.

In their last Champions League campaign of 2002/03, they lost all six group games and conceded 18 goals.

Spartak held CSKA to a 2-2 draw in a Moscow derby on Saturday, dropping to third place in the Russian premier league, three points adrift of the army club, their chief rivals.

Spartak have no injuries and welcome back captain Egor Titov, who missed several weeks after breaking his cheekbone in a Champions League qualifier against Sheriff Tiraspol.

Midfielder Maksim Kalinichenko is suspended.

Reuters PDS KP0945

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