Round three of the new Bundesliga season pits together two of the sides who succeeded last year in qualifying for the 2011/12 Europa League. However, whereas Schalke began their continental campaign on Thursday, albeit by losing 2-0 away to HJK Helsinki in a first leg result described as a “disaster” by sporting director Horst Heldt, Mainz were eliminated at the first hurdle, suffering a penalty shootout exit after failing to break down Romanian minnows Gaz Metan two weeks ago.
Nevertheless, Thomas Tuchel’s side have made the better start to the new Bundesliga campaign, taking six points from a possible six, and making fans dream of emulating their seven-wins-from-seven-games start to 2010/11. Following up their 2-0 and 2-1 victories over Bayer Leverkusen and Freiburg respectively with three points against Schalke will put them just under 50 percent of the way to achieving that goal, and the away side can expect a frenzied atmosphere at Mainz’s new Coface Arena as fans dream of eclipsing last season’s fifth-place finish.
Despite a brilliant 5-1 win over Cologne last weekend, Schalke have been making the news for all the wrong reasons this week – and I don’t even mean that humiliating Finnish thrashing. The club’s talismanic Spanish striker, Raúl, has been linked with moves elsewhere for the last few days; the 34-year-old not enamoured by coach Ralf Rangnick’s desire for him to run a bit more, and Rangnick growing tired of the former Real Madrid star not pulling his weight.
Raúl turned down a move to English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers, but cash-rich duo Paris Saint-Germain and Malaga are still sniffing. The Spaniard wasn’t included in the squad that played in Finland on Thursday, an omission explained away by Rangnick as follows: “One reason is, of course, that you need rest before games like [Mainz] and he hasn’t had any; that is why we have not taken him to Helsinki.”
Tuchel will know what it’s like to be shorn of one’s star player, as André Schürrle left in the summer for Leverkusen after two seasons of exceptional service at Mainz. Marcel Risse, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction, making his loan move from Bayer to Mainz permanent (€800,000) earlier this summer. Risse is one of many attacking additions that Mainz have so far spent a total of €10.9million on (they received €8million for Schürrle, and €3.8million from tomorrow’s opponents Schalke for left-back Christian Fuchs, however).
Other buys include Julian Baumgartlinger (Austria Vienna), tricky left-winger Zoltán Stieber (Aachen), Nicolai Müller (Greuther Fürth), and Anthony Ujah (Lillestrøm SK); a quartet complemented by freebies such as Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Such a recruitment drive was probably necessary given the departure of not only Schürrle, but Lewis Holtby too. The boyhood Everton fan returned to Schalke after a loan spell under Tuchel’s tutelage, and was among the goals last weekend against Cologne.
Both Holtby and Fuchs have been focal parts of Rangnick’s side so far this season, along with goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann. There was a need to bring quality into the squad over the summer as there were too many average players clogging up the training ground and wage bill – unsurprisingly, a legacy left by previous coach Felix Magath.
Some of those leaving for pastures new were Ali Karimi, Angelos Charisteas, Christian Pander, Lukas Schmitz, Tore Reginiussen, Hao Junmin, Nicolas Plestan and Danilo Avelar. However, the most notable player to leave during the summer was Manuel Neuer – the Germany international goalkeeper’s last game for the club coming during the 5-0 thrashing of MSV Duisburg in last season’s cup final.
Those departures look a little less satisfying when you look at the lengthy list of injured players scheduled to miss Sunday’s game (I don’t expect to see Raúl participate, either): defenders Hans Sarpei, Christoph Metzelder, Tim Hoogland and Sergio Escudero, and midfielders Peer Kluge, Anthony Annan, Levan Kenia. Despite being touch and go, key centre-backs Benedikt Höwedes and Kyriakos Papadopoulos are expected to be passed fit to play.
Mainz, on the other hand, have far less injury worries, and had the luxury of a week to prepare for this weekend’s game. Tuchel should only be without defender Eugen Gopko, midfielder Florian Heller and striker Ádám Szalai for the encounter with Rangnick’s Schalke in a game refereed by Bavarian official Günter Perl.
Mainz vs Schalke kicks off at 2.30pm in the UK on Sunday, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.