Goal.com looks ahead to the Bundesliga clash between the table toppers Mainz and Hoffenheim, themselves a former surprise package...
Only two sides have ever won their opening seven Bundesliga fixtures - Bayern Munich in 1995-96 and Kaiserslautern in 2001-02. After their win in the Allianz Arena last week, which sent shockwaves through German football, the "Bruchweg-Boys" are hoping to become the third. The most impressive aspect of their win against Bayern was that they genuinely deserved it, having outclassed the reigning champions over the ninety minutes. Coach Thomas Tuchel is refusing to be carried away, however.
"As I have said many times during our run, the table currently shows that we are on the right track. We are only now at the seventh matchday - there are still many games to go," Tuchel told the pre-game press conference.
"Of course we are happy with six wins but we are not having any negative thoughts. We do not believe there is an inevitable collapse around the corner, that would mean that conversely, we would rather we had not won six times."
Mainz and Hoffenheim both have similar styles of play in that they both look to approach the game with an upbeat tempo and they like to harry the opposition into mistakes. That is just one of a number of interesting subplots that surround this game. Ralf Rangnick coached Tuchel at Elm in the late nineties and encouraged him into management. Rangnick knows exactly the extent of the unexpected pressures Tuchel is experiencing as his Hoffenheim side were a surprise table-topper two seasons ago but the cynics will say that Mainz have done it without the benefit of a wealthy benefactor.
"We expect an opponent who will be very similar to us in their style of play. Hoffenheim have a similar mentality to us and similar principles. They are very willing runners, play quite direct and they look to attack early. I expect a high-tempo encounter," Tuchel remarked.
Looking To Spoil The Party
While much of the attention has centred around Mainz's surprise ascent to the summit of German football, Hoffenheim have been quietly making waves themselves. After six games, they sit in fourth spot with eleven points from six matches. Surprisingly, their defence has proven to be one of the most solid in the league with just six goals against, only the top two of Mainz and Dortmund have been meaner.
Hoffe are coming off the back of just two points in their last three games, having suffered a last-minute (but deserved) defeat to Bayern and drawn twice against Kaiserslautern and FC Koeln. They never got off the ground against die Geissboecke, never sustaining a consistent level of performance in that game, with Vedad Ibisevic particularly disappointing. Nevertheless the Bayern reverse is their only loss in their last ten league games and they are unbeaten away from home since April when they lost 4-0 in Wolfsburg, suggesting they will be a formidable opponent for a Mainz team looking for a seventh straight win. Coach Ralf Rangnick is set to continue with his 4-3-3 system, with 3 genuine strikers on the pitch.
"Our strengths lie in the 4-3-3 system and aggressive defending. We will concentrate fully on that system and not on any others," Rangnick told the pre-game press conference.
Such an approach is in stark contrast to the horses for courses approach taken by Thomas Tuchel but Rangnick does not view his loyalty to 4-3-3 as being too inflexible and is fired up by the chance to end Mainz's winning streak.
"4-3-3 suits Hoffenheim the best. And if we have three strikers, who are fit, we will always play with three upfront. It is actually quite nice to be visiting the league leaders. We go there as the outsiders but in the knowledge that we are capable of turning over anyone in the league. We are definitely looking forward to going to Mainz and ending their winning run."
Thomas Tuchel has a fully fit squad with the exception of goalkeeper Heinz Mueller who is still out as he continues his rehab from an anterior cruciate ligament and Jan Simak who has back trouble. For the first time this season, Andre Schuerrle and Lewis Holtby look set to start together in a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation behind Hungarian striker Adam Szalai. However, that is dependent on Holtby shaking off a calf problem. Slovakian full-back Radoslav Zabavnik looks set to replace Niko Bungert on the right side of defence.
Probable Starting XI: Wetklo - Zabavnik, Svensson, Noveski, Fuchs - Karhan, Polanski, Soto - Schuerrle, Holtby - Szalai
Hoffe received a blow during the week when Sebastian Rudy picked up a calf injury in training. Defender Matthias Jaissle and Chinedu Obasi are undergoing strength work as they battle back to full fitness. Andreas Beck is a doubt due to a knee problem with Andreas Ibertsberger on standby to come in at right-back. Boris Vukcevic is also a slight injury doubt with the flu. Ralf Rangnick will stick with the 4-3-3 system, which he feels suits his group of players the best.
Probable Starting XI: Starke - Beck, Simunic, Vorsah, Eichner - Weis, Luis Gustavo, Salihovic - Mlapa, Ba, Ibisevic