?FC Bayern München travel to the Opel Arena on Saturday afternoon, aiming to reaffirm their sixteen-point lead stranglehold at the summit of the Bundesliga.
Die Roten are undefeated since succumbing at the hands of classic rivals and bogey team Borussia Mönchengladbach in late November, winning nine games on the bounce since.
Mainz are in the heat of a relegation fight and sit just three points above Werder Bremen, who occupy the play-off spot. The Karnevalsverein have won just two in their last nine – both coming against VfB Stuttgart.
However, the home side can take motivation from the fact Bayern struggled in their last two encounters, with Bremen putting up a strong fight and Hoffenheim taking an initial two-goal lead, before eventually winning both.
Unsurprisingly with Mainz being one of the minnows in the league and Bayern being the dominant side, recent affairs are one-sided.
Mainz have won just one of the last nine meetings against the German champions, which came in the latter half of the 2015/16 at the Allianz Arena.
Martin Schmidt’s side took a shock lead after Jairo Sampeiro finished off a swift counter, feat some poor marking, albeit Christian Clemens was offside in the build-up.
Though making several top quality saves, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius was beaten from range by Arjen Robben as a strong Bayern side looked to reassert themselves.
But it wasn’t to be: Mainz worked their way down the right-hand side and were able to release the ball to Jhon Cordoba on the edge of the box, who accurately fired home the winner past Manuel Neuer late on.
Of course, this particular Nullfünfer side were much better equipped than the present team, and ended up finishing sixth in the table – a best-ever finish.
Alexander Hack vs. Robert Lewandowski
Having conceded the joint most goals in the Bundesliga this season, Mainz will have their work cut out for them against the top scorers.
Alexander Hack has proven himself a formidable defender and leader on the pitch, but will be put to the test by one of the world’s finest strikers in Robert Lewandowski.
Hack has only featured in five games this season, but has looked a force in each one, despite only winning on two occasions. Typically, the Pole has been in exquisite form: with eighteen goals in nineteen league appearances, Lewandowski remains the top scorer and looks set to reclaim the Torjägerkanone.
Standing at 6ft1, the Mainz centre-half has a height advantage over Lewandowski, but the former Borussia Dortmund forward has proven himself an intelligent player on the pitch, and shall likely press his marker into mistakes, aided by pacey wingers either side.
Summer signing René Adler shall remain out for Mainz in the long-term after sustaining a sever muscle injury in late October. Moreover, Karim Onisiwo is expected to be sidelined, following shoulder surgery in the same month.
As for Bayern, Sven Ulreich shall likely assume the role of number one shot-stopper with Manuel Neuer still recovering from a metatarsal fracture, while injuries continue to plague Thiago Alcantara who is out with a lengthy muscle setback.
Rafinha and Arturo Vidal are one booking away from a suspension, each sitting on four yellow cards. The Chilean was sidelined with a stomach infection, while Sandro Wagner failed to complete Wednesday’s training session.
Jupp Heynckes stated in his pre-match press conference “rotation is key” and that he will field a competitive team. A weaker side may be used for Tuesday’s DFB-Pokal clash against 3. Liga outfit SC Paderborn.
Potential Mainz Starting Lineup: Zentner, Donati, Hack, Diallo, Brosinski, Gbamin, de Jong, Serdar, Latza, Quaison, Muto.
Potential Bayern Starting Lineup: Ulreich, Rafinha, Hummels, Süle, Bernat, Rudy Tolisso, Ribéry, Müller, Robben, Lewandowski.
Die Roten shall take comfort from the fact they easily dispatched of Mainz 4:0 in the reverse fixture in September.
Mainz looked flat and lethargic in the loss to Bayer Leverkusen and have only kept two clean sheets in their last seventeen matches, conceding 29 in that time.
Bayern will be wary of the congested fixture list looming and likely may not press as intensely as they have against other weaker side. However, having scored twelve in their last three games, it is difficult to see anything other than an ‘Auswärtssieg’.
Score Prediction – Mainz 0:3 Bayern München