BERLIN, October 15 – Surprise Bundesliga leaders Mainz return from the international break looking to renew the magic that brought them a record season start, while sputtering champions Bayern Munich are desperate for a victory.
After nearly two weeks out of the spotlight, Mainz continue their campaign with a home match on Saturday against Hamburg and Thomas Tuchel’s side have lost none of their confidence from before the break.
"If we can keep up our fitness level and continue to play our aggressive Mainz style, then anything is possible. Then maybe nobody can beat us," said Mainz’s midfield maestro Lewis Holtby.
Nobody has taken a point off Mainz this season and after seven straight wins they enjoy a three-point lead over Borussia Dortmund, who take a six-game winning streak into a Friday night battle at 16th-placed Cologne.
An eighth consecutive Mainz victory would break the Bundesliga record for the best start to a season, eclipsing the seven straight wins by Bayern Munich in 1995-96 and Kaiserslautern in 2001-02.
"The last thing we want to do is lean back and relax," said Tuchel, whose team beat second division side MSV Duisburg 3-1 last Friday in a friendly to stay in rhythm.
Much of Bayern’s squad, meanwhile, spent the break on national team duty, trying to clear their minds after recording just one win in their last six Bundesliga matches to leave the perennial favourites lagging in 12th place.
A 13-point deficit behind Mainz has Bayern players and management alike demanding answers to their early problems, which mainly stem from the fact they have scored just five goals all season — the tamest attack in the league.
"We all have to ask ourselves if we are really concentrated in the decisive moments. We have to be more alert," said Bayern keeper Hans-Joerg Butt ahead of the match against third-placed Hanover.
"Now is the time to turn this thing around, otherwise we will have some real problems."
To compound Bayern’s attacking concerns, against Hanover the 2010 Champions League runners-up will be without striker Ivica Olic, who broke his nose while playing for Croatia, and Miroslav Klose, who scored three goals in Germany’s two Euro 2012 qualifiers but suffered a muscle injury against Kazakhstan.
"We have our backs against the wall. Every slip-up minimises our chances for the title," said Bayern manager Christian Nerlinger.
"We are damned to victories."
In the weekend’s other top match-up, bottom club Stuttgart head to second-bottom Schalke for their first match since Swiss coach Christian Gross was sacked in response to the club’s poor start to the season.
Cologne v Borussia Dortmund
Saturday (1330GMT unless otherwise stated):
Bayern Munich v Hanover 96, Schalke 04 v VfB Stuttgart, Werder Bremen v Freiburg, Mainz 05 v Hamburg, St Pauli v Nuremberg, VfL Wolfsburg v Bayer Leverkusen (1630GMT)
Kaiserslautern v Eintracht Frankfurt (1330GMT), Hoffenheim v Borussia Moenchengladbach (1530GMT)