By Ciaran Fahey / AP
BERLIN: Mohamed Zidan has been in good scoring form since leaving Borussia Dortmund, and the Bundesliga leader will hope it doesn’t continue when he visits with current side Mainz on Saturday.
Zidan has netted in four consecutive games for Mainz since his winter transfer. The 30-year-old Egypt striker aims to become the first player to score in his first five games for a new club since Stuttgart striker Fredi Bobic in 1994.
“If I score I won’t celebrate a lot,” Zidan said out of respect for the club where he spent three and a half seasons.
His will not be the only familiar face between the sides.
Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp hopes to stretch the defending champion’s unbeaten league run to 18 games against his previous club.
And an eighth win in a row in all competitions would also keep Bayern Munich at bay.
Bayern, four points behind, faces a tricky game at Bayer Leverkusen, also Saturday.
Zidan is not Klopp’s only concern, with question marks over the fitness of Robert Lewandowski, who has scored 16 league goals this season, and midfielder Sven Bender, who went off with a facial injury in last week’s 3-1 win at home to Hannover.
Playmaker Mario Goetze is still recovering from the groin injury that has kept him out since Dec. 11, and Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl is suspended.
Dortmund’s early exit from the Champions League has proved a blessing in disguise, as players have been able to recover quicker than expected from injury.
“They’re very strong at the moment, but not unbeatable,” Zidan said. “A team will come along and beat them sometime. I hope we manage it.”
Mainz has overcome a difficult spell in which it hovered above the relegation places and is unbeaten in five games.
“We’ll have to stay compact and restrict their chances. We’ll have to be very disciplined, fully concentrated and we’ll have to give our all,” said Zidan, who nonetheless hopes his former side defends its Bundesliga title.
“I wish with all my heart that Dortmund claim the title and I think they can do it.”
Bayern is doing all it can to ensure that doesn’t happen, and took the unusual step of ordering players to go straight to Cologne on Thursday after their respective international friendlies the day before so they could prepare for the game at nearby Leverkusen.
“That way we save them another day of travel,” said Bayern sporting director Christian Nerlinger. “It makes sense for an optimal preparation.”
Leverkusen’s record against Bayern is poor, having failed to win in 14 attempts in the Bundesliga since a 4-1 victory on Aug. 24, 2004.
Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt has never got the better of his predecessor and counterpart Jupp Heynckes in five attempts, and has lost all five games in which he has led a side against Bayern.
His predicament is made more difficult with doubts over the fitness of forwards Andre Schuerrle and Eren Derdiyok, injured in Germany and Switzerland’s defeats respectively, and Croatian defender Vedran Corluka, who injured his leg in his country’s 3-1 loss to Sweden.
France winger Franck Ribery is a doubt for Bayern after suffering a leg problem in his country’s 2-1 win over Germany, and Bastian Schweinsteiger is still out, though the midfielder returned to light training on Thursday.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm is hopeful that last weekend’s 2-0 win over Schalke puts an end to his side’s difficult start to the year after just three wins from six league games.
“It went well in the first half of the season and then suddenly we had a difficult period at the beginning of the second half,” Lahm told Thursday’s edition of Kicker magazine. “We simply made too many mistakes, and they were punished.”
Lahm refused to acknowledge that Dortmund were now favorites for the title.
“We have objectives and we want to achieve them. Who is favorite or not is completely irrelevant. We believe in ourselves in any case,” he said.
Hertha Berlin coach Otto Rehhagel could do with some of Lahm’s optimism to bolster his side for the visit of his former side Werder Bremen on Saturday.
The 73-year-old was unable to break Hertha out of a seven-game losing streak in his first game in charge at Augsburg last week, a 3-0 defeat.
Rehhagel led Bremen to two Bundesliga titles and two German Cup wins during a 14 year spell at the club from 1981 to 1995, but knows Hertha can hardly afford another defeat if it is to avoid the drop.
Also Saturday, bottom side Freiburg hosts Schalke, Stuttgart visits Hamburger SV, Wolfsburg travels to Kaiserslautern and Hannover hosts Augsburg.
Nuremberg hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday, before Cologne visits Hoffenheim in the late game.
There is no Friday game due to Wednesday’s internationals.