Goal.com looks ahead to this titanic clash between the top two in the Bundesliga, with Juergen Klopp back at his old club.
Rather appropriately from a team based in one of Germany's biggest carnival cities, there has been a fun factor about Mainz this season. The Bruchweg Boys have put smiles on the faces of many neutrals and made many friends along their path to the top of the Bundesliga. There will have been those who cringed at Lewis Holtby and Andre Schuerrle's attempts to rock and roll on German television but Thomas Tuchel's youngsters have been living it up on the pitch all season and enjoying almost every minute.
There is a deeper and more serious side however to Mainz's ascent. When any team is on a roll, if you'll excuse the pun, confidence remains high and the results continue to flow. Yet after taking the knock of a home defeat to the a wily and experienced Hamburg outfit, Mainz showed impressive character to win in the Bay Arena against potential title rivals Bayer Leverkusen. They find themselves again needing to bounce back tomorrow after a surprise cup defeat to border team Alemannia Aachen.
"Football is still played by human beings. Just because we beat Leverkusen, that does not mean we automatically have to beat second division Aachen. The cup has its own rules, that's part of the charm of the thing," remarked Tuchel in the pre-game press conference.
"So I do not understand that it should be an embarrassment for us just because we now beaten the smaller club. We have been giant-killing for weeks now in the league, "he continued.
Rather intriguingly, Tuchel then admitted to perhaps choosing the wrong strategy for the game. Mainz's success has been built upon a unique approach to every match, with considerable player input. Such public self-admonishment is not the sign of a coach who feels his team are temporary squatters at the top of the league. It will be interesting to see whether Tuchel can pluck another rabbit out of the hat, as he did with Andreas Ivanschitz last weekend. Otherwise, Dortmund have an array of players ready to pounce and reclaim the top spot.
Back On Familiar Territory
It has been far from the smoothest week in Dortmund as Der BVB first stumbled to a draw at home to an admittedly impressive Hoffenheim and were then eliminated on penalties in the DFB-Pokal by 3.Liga leaders Kickers Offenbach, whose general manager is none other than Dortmund legend Andreas Moeller. Yet, while it is easy to focus on the negatives, it is expedient to remember that despite a mediocre showing against Hoffe, Dortmund ground out a point (albeit with some controversy) in stoppage time. My colleague Clark Whitney astutely made the point that Dortmund do not know how to manage their way through a game, especially one in which it is not all one-way traffic but that they dug out a slightly undeserved point is reminiscent of Bayern Munich over the years.
Before the start of the season, Klopp made it clear that he was prepared to rotate in order to nurse the players through not only a potentially packed fixture schedule, but also to ensure they can have sufficient rest periods due to Dortmund's all-action style of play, which demands they cover as much ground as possible during the game. Shinji Kagawa is a player who is evidently not accustomed to this intensity in Japanese football and has shown signs in recent games of going off the boil. How Klopp shuffles his pack in the coming weeks up to the winter break may well determine their ability to truly sustain a title assault well into the spring. First though, he must pick his charges up from their surprise midweek cup elimination.
"We had to deal with a rather nasty evening. We have to taste defeat on occasions in order to have the drive to avoid such a repeat in the future," Klopp admitted in the pre-game press conference.
Klopp made reference during his remarks about Mainz's flexible tactical approach but he also pointed out that no matter what system they play, their style of play is rather similar to Dortmund's energetic brand of football and as such tomorrow's game will be won by the side who can out-do the other.
"We don't know exactly what we will be coming up against but we know what we must expect from the rightful leader of the Bundesliga. They are a side full of running, physically strong, very flexible and tactically very well set up."
"Mainz have the advantage of playing at home. But we don't feel outsiders at all."
Thomas Tuchel has not been a manager averse to rotation, much like his opposite number at Dortmund Klopp. He looks set to rest trio Niko Bungert, Miroslav Karhan and Lewis Holtby after the midweek cup defeat to Aachen. Mainz are without injured quintet Florian Heller, Heinz Mueller, Jan Simak, Zsolt Loew and Eugen Gopko.
Probable Starting XI: Wetklo - Zabavnik, Svensson, Noveski, Fuchs - Caligiuri, Polanski, Soto - Allagui, Schuerrle - Szalai
Juergen Klopp boasts one of the Bundesliga's deepest and broadest squads and it will be tested to the full in the coming weeks. Sebastian Kehl, Tamas Hajnal, Florian Kringe and Mohamed Zidan are all out. Patrick Owomoyela has not yet fully recovered from his injury and there are major doubts over Sven Bender and Jakub Blaszczykowski. Mario Goetze, Antonio da Silva and Marcel Schmelzer all look to have recovered from minor knocks picked up over the last week.
Probable Starting XI: Weidenfeller - Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer - Sahin, Antonio da Silva - Goetze, Lewandowski, Grosskreutz - Barrios.
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