Borussia Dortmund host FSV Mainz on Matchday 26 of the 2015/16 Bundesliga season at Signal Iduna Park on Sunday.
It's a meeting of two teams in outstanding form: Dortmund are still unbeaten since the turn of the year and proved their strength in a midweek drubbing of Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Europa League, while Mainz have beaten the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen and, most notably, Bayern Munich in their last seven league matches.
How much the Europa League tie with Spurs factors into head coach Thomas Tuchel's plans for the match against his former club—he managed the Zerofivers for five years—remains to be seen. Dortmund have an ever so slight chance at the Bundesliga title trailing Bayern by "only" five points, so they can't afford to slip up against Mainz, but the general focus probably lies on Europe.
Sunday's visitors, on the other hand, are right in the thick of the fight for a spot in Europe next season, sitting in fifth place and just one point behind Schalke, who lost a six-pointer at Hertha BSC on Friday. Considering the fickle form of teams like the Royal Blues, Gladbach, Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, Mainz have a real shot at the UEFA Champions League qualification spot.
Head coach Martin Schmidt, however, has downplayed expectations in recent weeks, stating that his goal for the rest of the season is to replicate the 24 points they won in the first half of the campaign, via the club's official website.
The Black and Yellows won the first matchup of the season 2-0 at Mainz and have never lost a home match against the Zerofivers, winning five of the nine meetings at the Westfalenstadion.
Date: Sunday, March 13
Time: 4:30 p.m. GMT/11:30 a.m. ET/5:30 p.m. local time
Venue: Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund
TV Info: BT Sport Europe (UK only)/FS2 (U.S. only)
Live Stream: BT Sport live streaming (UK only)/Fox Soccer 2Go (U.S. only)
|Porto: Win (1-0)||Schalke: Win (2-1)|
|Hoffenheim: Win (3-1)||Hoffenheim: Loss (3-2)|
|Darmstadt: Win (2-0)||Leverkusen: Win (3-1)|
|Bayern: Draw (0-0)||Bayern: Win (2-1)|
|Tottenham: Win (3-0)||Darmstadt: Draw (0-0)|
Sokratis Papastathopoulos returned to team training before the match against Spurs and is fit to play, as Tuchel said in his press conference on Saturday, via Sky Germany's Stephan Schauble (link in German).
Sven Bender, who played in Greece international's stead in recent games, had to leave the pitch early in midweek after a muscle cramped up, as Tuchel told the media after the game, per the club's official website (link in German).
Ilkay Gundogan's availability is also questionable. The midfielder missed the game on Thursday after picking up a knock in team training. He's set to train with a specially fitted shoe on Saturday, but it'd seem unlikely Tuchel will take a risk and select him from the start.
Tuchel rotated his squad quite heavily after Europa League fixtures this season, and the same is expected on Sunday. Matthias Ginter, Neven Subotic, Sokratis, Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa are most likely to get a start, while Joo-ho Park, Moritz Leitner and Adrian Ramos will also have some hope of featuring against Mainz.
Predicted Starting XI: Burki; Ginter, Subotic, Sokratis, Schmelzer; Sahin, Castro, Kagawa; Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Reus.
Right-back Giulio Donati has been suspended for three games after kicking out in retaliation against SV Darmstadt's Sandro Wagner on the previous matchday. Defenders Pierre Bengtsson and Niko Bungert will miss the match with injuries as well as strikers Emil Berggreen and Yoshinori Muto.
Daniel Brosinski should replace Donati at right-back, the rest depends on Schmidt's tactical plan. He employed a 5-2-3 formation at Allianz Arena and had great success both in disrupting Bayern's buildup play and in keeping them away from the danger zones, as Spielverlagerung.de's Rene Maric (link in German) pointed out.
If the Swiss goes for the same approach, it would likely mean Mainz will begin without a true striker. Jhon Cordoba scored the winner against Bayern, however, and has generally been in fine form. With Dortmund presumably not playing their best XI, Mainz could go into the game with a more attacking mindset.
Predicted Starting XI: Karius; Brosinski, Balogun, Bell, Bussmann; Baumgartlinger, Latza; Clemens, Malli, Samperio, Cordoba.
Players to Watch
Considering the uncertainty surrounding Dortmund's lineup, it's difficult to point out one specific player. If he plays, however, bet on Marco Reus getting on the scoresheet. With nine goals and nine wins against them, Mainz are his favourite opponent, as the league's official website (link in German) pointed out after the first meeting in October.
In that 2-0 win, Reus scored the opener and silenced his critics, ending a run of poor form. He did the same in midweek, scoring a brace against Spurs after a few rather disappointing performances.
As for Mainz, all eyes will be on Yunus Malli. The playmaker was this close to moving to Dortmund in the winter—the clubs had already agreed a fee—until the Zerofivers pulled the plug on the transfer, per the club's official website.
The Turkey international has a release clause in his contract, as he admitted to tabloid Bild (link in German) in January, so the transfer might well be postponed, not cancelled. Sunday's game could be considered another audition of sorts for the 24-year-old.
Can Dortmund Keep Their Streak Alive?
The Black and Yellows have an astounding record in front of their own fans, as Squawka tweeted after Thursday's 3-0 over Spurs:
Unbeaten at home in domestic competitions all season, they'll be looking to keep their streak alive against the in-form Zerofivers. It will, however, take an improved performance compared to some of the last few league matches in the Westfalenstadion: Namely, Dortmund weren't close to their best against FC Ingolstadt, Hannover 96 and 1899 Hoffenheim.
Mainz's Front Four vs. Dortmund's Defence
Dortmund's strong form in 2016 has been fueled by a much-improved defensive record, as BT Sport's Archie Rhind-Tutt pointed out on Thursday:
Considering the likely changes to their back line, however, Dortmund will be put to the test by Mainz's attacking quartet—assuming Schmidt doesn't opt for a more cautious approach, of course.
Malli's 10 goals lead Mainz, while Spanish left-winger Jairo Samperio has been involved in 14 this season. He's very quick and likes to take on defenders, and he is always looking to get into dangerous areas to get shots off himself or serve a team-mate.
Cordoba, meanwhile, is as strong as an ox and very quick as well, which makes him an undesirable matchup for any centre-back.
Odds (via Odds Shark)
Dortmund's expected lineup was amended after Saturday's press conference.