Munich - Sunday's Bundesliga Matchday 6 closer pits VfB Stuttgart against Eintracht Frankfurt, two sides in the process of recovering well from their respectively shaky campaign starts. Frankfurt go into the encounter off the back of their opening UEFA Europa League group stage 3-0 victory over FC Girondins de Bordeaux while Stuttgart, having been dumped out of said tournament in the final qualifying round, are seeking their third straight win under new head coach Thomas Schneider.
Results go Sakai's way so far
Further intrigue is added to the fixture with the prospect of a head-to-head tussle between two of the German game's growing contingent of Japanese stars, Gotoku Sakai and Takashi Inui. Both have been virtual ever-presents for their clubs this season, with VfB right back Sakai starting all five league games to date and Inui Frankfurt's first choice down the left flank in all but the opening match, where they slumped to a 6-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin.
The 25-year-old attacking midfielder will at any rate be hoping for a more fruitful return than the 2012/13 meetings with his compatriot yielded. Eintracht may have enjoyed a great season all round, but there was nothing for them to be had against Stuttgart, who beat them 2-1 home and away. Sakai and Inui faced off in both those matches, although in the first of them Frankfurt coach Armin Veh replaced his off-colour No8 for the second half.
Inui played through on home turf in the Matchday 26 return but once again, VfB prevailed by the odd goal in three. Statistically, the two Japanese internationals were fairly evenly matched on the day, each carving out a couple of chances that came to naught and even hitting exactly the same top speed in their fastest sprint, just a shade under 30 km/h.
Inui's form curve on the up again
Sakai - who is incidentally in competition with FC Schalke 04's Atsuto Uchida for a place in the national team - is one of Stuttgart's most prolific providers from out wide, delivering 57 crosses all-told last season. That said, it was a lean campaign in terms of assists for the New York-born talent with a Japanese father and German mother. In fact, the one he supplied Vedad Ibisevic with in the 6-2 Matchday 4 rout of 1899 Hoffenheim was his first in over a year, although for a defender, his overall balance of six assists in 46 Bundesliga outings is certainly not one to be sniffed at.
For his part, Inui looks to be regaining the sparkle that made him one of the new stars in the Bundesliga firmament over the opening half of last season. He goes into Matchday 6 with the second highest number of attempts on goal for Frankfurt this season (eleven, two less than Stefan Aigner) and having set up a further nine opportunities for team-mates. None of them led directly to a goal, however, in stark contrast to his tally of six scored and nine laid on last season.
Prospect Brazil 2014
The fact that he has rarely missed a league game since swapping Cerezo Osaka for Germany in the summer of 2011, be it for VfL Bochum in Bundesliga 2 or Frankfurt a division higher, speaks volumes for Inui's value as a team player. Continuing to demonstrate that for the Eagles, both at home and in Europe, will simultaneously boost his prospects of sealing a ticket to the FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil next summer.
After all Japan - the first nation to qualify for the tournament - have a veritable embarrassment of riches in the attacking midfield department. Inui has the next opportunity to stake his claim on Sunday, when he goes up against a fellow countryman also aiming to be on the plane to South America come the end of the season.