Cologne - That the league leaders would be running out at the Allianz Arena for the first midweek matchday of the campaign would in itself scarcely have raised an eyebrow a few weeks ago. That it is not defending champions FC Bayern München in the driving seat but rather their humble visitors SC Paderborn is, however, an early-season underdog success story which perhaps seeks its like in the half-century annals of the Bundesliga.
Another upset on the cards?
A 2-0 home win against on-form Hannover 96, rounded out at the last by Moritz Stoppelkamp's record-breaking 82-metre goal, was enough to leave the German top flight's 53rd debutants sitting proudly at the head of the standings after Matchday 4, on eight points and ahead of 1. FSV Mainz 05, 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern on goal difference. Tuesday's encounter in Munich, a meeting of fourth and first in the table, thus finds itself elevated to an unlikely match of the day.
For their part, the hosts are keen to get back to winning ways after drawing a blank and having to settle for a share of the spoils a share of the spoils at struggling Hamburger SV. World Cup winner Thomas Müller is in no doubt that Paderborn have “earned respect” for the way they have started into their maiden Bundesliga campaign and while visiting coach André Breitenreiter is not deviating from his line that the games against Bayern are of themselves a “bonus,” he does acknowledge that he and his unfancied charges are “heading to Munich in high spirits and looking to give the best possible account of ourselves.”
The other two sides at the top of the current standings are also both in action on Tuesday. Hoffenheim, who compounded VfB Stuttgart's early-season woes with a 2-0 win at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Saturday, have home advantage this time around against SC Freiburg, who picked up their second point of the season in a 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin. Mainz, having impressively dispatched Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, make the short trip to Eintracht Frankfurt for what is certain to be a hotly-contested derby. The Eagles shared the spoils in a four-goal, three-red-card thriller at FC Schalke 04, and a win here would take them level on points with the visitors. To that end, they will be keeping a particularly close eye on Shinji Okazaki. The Mainz forward is setting the early pace on the individual scoring chart with four goals already, and is now the Bundesliga's all-time Japanese top scorer for good measure.
Schalke in search of first season win
Schalke, suitably aggrieved with the run of events against Frankfurt, will try to get off the mark at the fifth time of asking away to Werder Bremen. An extensive injury list has been compounded for the tricky trip north by the additional absence due to suspension of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Julian Draxler, the two miscreants who saw red on Saturday. Bremen meanwhile are on the bounce from a 4-2 loss at FC Augsburg and in need of a morale-boosting result themselves.
The action continues apace on Wednesday evening, with Dortmund chomping at the bit to make good on chances spurned against Mainz. Cellar-dwellers Stuttgart are the visitors at the Signal Iduna Park and while this particular fixture still inevitably invokes memories of the incredible 4-4 draw between the sides in March 2012, VfB coach Armin Veh would doubtless settle for an altogether less thrilling run-through, provided his off-key troops could take something tangible from it.
Having got off to such a flying start under Roger Schmidt, Bayer 04 Leverkusen have come somewhat unstuck in the last couple of matches. A 3-3 home draw with Bremen was followed by a 4-1 thumping at VfL Wolfsburg on Sunday and in FC Augsburg, they now face a team moving in precisely the opposite direction. After losing their two opening games, Augsburg head to the BayArena revitalised and in search of a third straight win. Wolfsburg meanwhile have the opportunity to build on that impressive victory over Leverkusen – their first of the campaign – with a follow-up success away to Hertha.
Köln giving nothing away
Borussia Mönchengladbach failed to penetrate the defensive bulwark of Rhineland rivals 1. FC Köln last time out and will be accordingly keen to do better on home turf against Hamburg. The Bundesliga's only ever-present club battled to a share of the spoils against Bayern to give new coach Josef Zinnbauer an encouraging start in the HSV hot seat. They will have to be on their defensive toes once more though if the Foals hit their counter-attacking stride at the Borussia Park.
Köln may not be causing quite such a blatant stir as fellow promotees Paderborn, but Peter Stöger's men are making waves of their own, above all with their stubborn refusal to allow anybody to score against them. The next team to try are Hannover, whose own promising season start was rudely interrupted at Paderborn. It is yet another contest that is too tight to call, in an ever more competitive Bundesliga, from top to bottom.