Last season, Thomas Tuchel took the reins of a Borussia Dortmund team who were in need of some serious geeing up. That is exactly what he did, propelling a sixth place BvB back to their rightful position of second, closest challengers to the perpetually formidable Bayern Munich. If restoration was the target for Tuchel’s first season, title contention should be the target for his second. His charge for the Bundesliga crown begins against his former club FSV Mainz.
Mainz themselves are seemingly on the up after a stellar first season from head coach Martin Schmidt saw them rise from 11th to 6th and, more importantly, into Europe. This represents quite the coup for a team with no real pedigree of European football and thus exciting times may lie ahead for Schmidt’s side. With this extra burden of games, however, it remains to be seen if they have the squad depth to compete. Speaking of which…
Mainz have largely opted for augmentation over renovation in the transfer market. Schmidt obviously trusts the unity of his team from last season, but has also invested smartly – the permanent signing of Schalke 04’s Christian Clemens is good news for them, while they replaced the outgoing Loris Karius and captain Julian Baumgartlinger with minimum fuss in the form of Jonas Lössl and Levin Öztunali respectively.
But while continuity is arguably the aim of the game for Schmidt, the opposite can be said for Tuchel. Dortmund’s squad has undergone a makeover like no other in the recent seasons; for while it was not uncommon for BvB to lose one major star in a transfer window, this summer has seen them lose three. But in replacing the want-aways Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan, they have introduced a mix of youthful exuberance and established class. The former comes with the likes of Marc Bartra and Ousmane Dembélé, while the latter is exhibited most prominently in a familiar old face: the talismanic Mario Götze.
Mainz begin the season with midfielder Danny Latza, forward Emil Berggreen, reserve ‘keeper Gianluca Curci and winger Jairo Samperio out due to injury. They are, otherwise, extremely fresh; Schmidt has said that everyone bar those mentioned are “dying to play” on Saturday. Stefan Bell is expected to captain the team after losing Baumgartlinger to Bayer Leverkusen.
Dortmund, too, are able to boast a squad with just two major absences: Neven Subotić looks set to miss the majority of the season while Erik Durm could be out until late October. However, Tuchel has confirmed that Götze, Sven Bender and Matthias Ginter are still not match ready. Moreover, Marcel Schmelzer has been named captain following the departure of Hummels.
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Roman Bürki; Felix Passlack, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Marc Bartra, Marcel Schmelzer (c); Gonzalo Castro, Sebastian Rode; Ousmane Dembélé, Shinji Kagawa, André Schürrle; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
1. FSV Mainz 05 (4-2-3-1): Jonas Lössl; Giulio Donati, Stefan Bell (c), Niko Bungert, Daniel Brosinski; José Rodríguez, Levin Öztunali; Christian Clemens, Yunus Mallı, Pablo de Blasis; Jhon Córdoba
It’ll be an interesting game given that both managers will know the ins and outs of the Mainz way. Discounting pre-season for obvious reasons, there’s not a lot to go on regarding form but the visitors needed penalties to squeeze through against Unterhaching while a new-look Dortmund looked polished against Trier in their 3-0 win.
I think the hosts will be eager to get off the mark and state their title credentials early, especially if Bayern get off to a strong start tonight, so I’ll go for Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Mainz.