Bayern Munich travel to Mainz for their first away game of the Hinrunde. Despite a handful of injury scares during the week, the Bavarians’ quad is slowly returning to full strength, although two regular starters may not be available on short notice.
Bayern prepare for their first English week
Jupp Heynckes must prepare the team for the first multi-match week after the winter break. The lighter half of the challenge falls later: Bayern face Mainz on Saturday and then Paderborn in the DFB-Pokal on Tuesday next week.
Some squad rotation will be necessary on Saturday by reason of very recent injuries and sickness. The most alarming involves David Alaba. The left-back pulled up with an apparent adductor injury in practice and was unable to continue. He has not yet been diagnosed.
Arturo Vidal will also not play, having missed training on account of a stomach infection. Sandro Wagner has been given the all-clear after an ankle injury scare.
Mats Hummels should at last return to the starting lineup, while Juan Bernat will probably replace Alaba on short notice. Heynckes played the team in a 4-1-4-1 against Werder Bremen and may repeat the formation against 15th-placed Mainz.
Given that the game on Tuesday is against Paderborn, Heynckes will probably opt to rotate the starters then. For Mainz, he can field a strong lineup. Javi Martínez sat for the last half hour of Bayern's last match and should be ready to play. Sebastian Rudy is a second option, but look for him in Paderborn on Tuesday.
There are several options on offense. Perhaps Heynckes will at last give Franck Ribery a rest, since he put in a full shift against Bremen. Coman can take his place on the left. Robben still seems to be trying to find his form. He may get yet another chance on the right wing after departing after an hour last weekend.
It is also possible that Heynckes opts instead for a 4-2-3-1 and plays with a double pivot, dropping either Thomas Müller or James, or benching Robben to put one of them on the right wing (probably Müller), but an overwhelming offense may pay big against a vulnerable Mainz.
Mainz: when your best defender is the pitch
Mainz may be wearing their special Carnival jerseys this Saturday, but there are fewer and fewer smiles to be found around the Opel Arena.
Mainz are slowly drifting into crisis. A 2-0 loss to Leverkusen last week left the team in 15th place in the table, one spot above the relegation zone and only 7 points removed from last-place Köln. Mainz had some good fortune in facing Stuttgart twice recently, winning both games and securing their progress in the DFB Pokal, but their overall record is alarming, and the fans are growing increasingly frustrated with coach Sandro Schwarz and the club management.
Schwarz prefers to line Mainz up in a 3-5-2 centered around Nigel de Jong. Since staving off relegation is more important to the club's survival than the DFB Pokal (Mainz play Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday), I would expect Schwarz to field his strongest available lineup.
Yoshinori Muto is Mainz's primary scoring threat (6 goals, 2 assists). The Japanese international has blossomed since Mainz brought striker Anthony Ujah back from China. Mainz will play very conservatively, disrupt Bayern's possession game, and attempt to score on counters.
Mainz's ace up their sleeve? The pitch!
Rain and snow have left Mainz's field a soggy, muddy mess. The home team hopes the muck will slow down Bayern's usually crisp passing game and prevent the Bavarians from capitalizing on their dominant possession.
Heynckes, who watched Mainz’s last mud bath versus Stuttgart, said at the press conference that he is not expecting “a carpet quite like at the Allianz Arena.” Bayern indeed have a very muddy week ahead of them, since Paderborn's field is as bad, if not worse.