The season is still young and the league table tight. Augsburg have just ten points on the board, but could move within sight of the top six if they win, while Mainz can climb even higher with a victory. Defeat, on the other hand, could raise the spectre of a prolonged relegation battle for either.
“The team knows what’s at stake,” said Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl, whose side have picked up just one point from their last five matches, losing three on the spin. “We know that we’ve been playing well, but the results just haven’t arrived. We’ve got to improve on the small things to start getting points again.”
Nevertheless, a look at the teams Augsburg have faced in those five games puts those results into a degree of perspective. “We’ve only got one point against five ambitious and very strong opponents,” added Weinzierl, referring to Hannover 96, Borussia Mönchengladbach, FC Schalke 04, VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Still, the standings do not lie and the Bavarians need to start putting wins on the board. After facing Mainz, Weinzierl's team before hosting free-scoring 1899 Hoffenheim and then visiting the capital to face Hertha Berlin. They then entertain Bayern in the DFB Cup to round off a critical period of matches. “We know how to judge things realistically,” added the coach. “We know that if we give 100 per cent against Mainz, we have a chance of winning with our fantastic fans behind us.”
is back from suspension while is an option again after injury, but the form of full-back suggests he will keep his place in the starting XI, where he will come up against Japanese international Shinji Okazaki, who has begun to settle since his summer transfer from Stuttgart.
After scoring on his Mainz debut against his former club, Okazaki struggled for form - until last weekend. He grabbed his first brace in 72 German top-flight appearances to rouse his team from their own recent slumber and end a six-game winless streak with a 2-0 triumph over Eintracht Braunschweig. “Nobody will begrudge him that,” said his coach Thomas Tuchel as Okazaki led the post-match ‘Humba’ celebrations in the Carnival city.
Whether Mainz will be dancing to the Japanese international's tune on Sunday will depend on the start they make, according to coach Thomas Tuchel, who hopes his side’s voice will not be stifled early on by an Augsburg team who “can really develop some power, especially at the start of games.” Tuchel added: “It’s no wonder they often go ahead. They have a very loud stadium with a very partisan crowd, and that’s a compliment.” Still, if Okazaki can turn it on again, the only noise at 17:15 on Sunday will be another Mainz Humba.
Augsburg: Manninger - Verhaegh, Callsen-Bracker, Hong, Ostrzolek - Baier - Hahn, Vogt, Halil Altintop, Werner - Mölders
Mainz: Müller - Pospech, Svensson, Noveski, Junior Diaz - Geis, Soto - Müller, Moritz, Choupo-Moting - Okazaki
Relive Okazaki's stunning double for Mainz against Braunschweig on Matchday 10, courtesy of the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: