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Eyes on Bayern as Bundesliga opens

VfB Stuttgart will kick off its title defense on Friday against 2006-07 runner-up Schalke 04 but both are already looking over their shoulders at new-look Bayern Munich, the hot favorite.

Having spent a record $97 million on new talent in the close season, Bayern has set out to make amends for a humiliating fourth place last season that ended its 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 has dazzled in the preseason with its new attacking style.

It won the six-team, preseason League Cup last month, beating Stuttgart, Schalke and Werder Bremen, which finished third in '06-07.

But Stuttgart, which spent a modest $11 million for Romania striker Ciprian Marica and paid out a $2 million loan fee for Ewerthon, is confident it can pick up where it 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 is the early favorite 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 $97 million Bayern spent on transfer fees is almost half the $233 million total that all 18 teams invested. The amount broke the previous record of $201 million set in '01-02.

"We've reacted to last season, invested quite a bit and got a lot more quality," said Hitzfeld, whose team plays 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 $34 million, has personified the new-look Bayern in the preseason. He scored three goals in two League Cup games and created a string of chances.