It's a top-of-the-table clash which few would have predicted at this stage of an already surprising season. Bundesliga leaders Mainz take on nearest rivals Dortmund Sunday after both were beaten in mid-week cup matches.
Both teams have pushed on from last year's performances
With the Bundesliga’s designated 800-pound gorilla Bayern Munich sputtering in mid-table, and other top teams from recent years like Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Bremen and Schalke doing likewise, two teams coached by ambitious young coaches have risen to the challenge and claimed the top spots for themselves. Just two points separate the teams in first and second place, so Sunday's match will determine who will be top dog at the end of match day ten.
Both teams come into the game on the back of embarrassing German Cup defeats in midweek and nothing will be allowed to cloud the focus as Mainz and Dortmund look to bounce back and keep their exciting, entertaining and surprising rivalry at the top of the Bundesliga on track.
Both Mainz and Dortmund have earned their positions through attacking soccer. Their coaches, both combustible and passionate characters, have fashioned their teams in their own images and are reaping the benefits of molding their players into systems and tactics full of their own belief and confidence.
Thomas Tuchel at Mainz and Juergen Klopp at Dortmund have hugely competitive personalities and their desire to win can be seen in the way that their teams hound and harass the opposition and attack with purpose. But while points and league position are important in the pursuit of the title, both coaches have also impressed on their players the need to win with style.
Dortmund coach adds youth to solid base
Klopp looks to improve on last season's fifth-place finish
Klopp, the former Mainz boss who coached the team who won the club’s first-ever promotion to the top flight in 2004, has built on his impressive first season in Dortmund by spending wisely and investing in the club's already rich vein of youth.
Since Klopp has taken over at BVB, Shinji Kagawa, Kevin Grosskreutz, Sven Bender, Marcel Schmelzer, Mario Goetze and Mats Hummels - none older then 22 - have come into the BVB first team and excelled, adding fluidity and danger to the side. Meanwhile Nuri Sahin, whose career was once thought to have entered a holding pattern after an up-and-down loan spell in Holland at Feyenoord, has become the rock of Dortmund’s midfield. He too is still just 22.
Up front, Lucas Barrios has been a revelation since joining last season and has cemented his reputation as one of the Bundesliga's most feared marksmen. After hitting 19 goals in his debut campaign, he’s netted four thus far in the new season, and the attention he draws from opposing defenders often opens up ample space for his teammates.
Tuchel adds flair and verve to turn Mainz into contenders
Tuchel has instilled belief and camaraderie in his team
Tuchel, meanwhile, has transformed Mainz from a mid-table entity into a title-chasing force since taking the reins in 2009. He led the team to ninth last season, its best ever Bundesliga finish, and has built on that performance by finding his own set of precocious talents. He snared Schalke’s Lewis Holtby on loan and seen him shine, and he’s turned the Andre Schuerrle and Adam Szalai, once cosseted talents, into linchpins of the side.
Both Dortmund and Mainz have seen the benefits of giving youngsters their chance, a reflection of the current philosophy being promoted at international level in Germany. Adhering to the old standard of "if you're old enough, you're good enough," Klopp and Tuchel have tapped into the desire young players have to succeed and challenge for places and silverware. The results are there to see in the Bundesliga table.
Sunday's clash will always be an emotional one for Klopp, the former fan favorite and hero of Mainz's promotion campaign six years ago. But forced to choose between taking it easy on his old club and going top himself, there will be no room for sentimentality.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann