Berlin, Germany | AFP | Polish striker Robert Lewandowski will once again take centre-stage as Bayern Munich look to catch up with their Bundesliga title challengers with a home win over strugglers Mainz on Saturday.
Two days after signing a new contract which will keep him at the club until 2023, the 31-year-old will be eager to add to the six goals he has also scored this season, even as champions Bayern dropped early points in the title race.
His hat-trick against Schalke last week fired Bayern to their first league win of the season, keeping Niko Kovac’s side within two points of rivals Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen.
Lewandowski’s decision to extend his contract is a massive boost to Bayern as they look to retain the Bundesliga title and reimpose themselves as a major European power.
“He has a lot of responsibility here at Bayern, and he lives up to that,” said coach Kovac on Thursday before the announcement of the new contract was made public.
“(The contract extension) is also a sign of how important the club is to him.”
Lewandowski has more than proved his worth in recent weeks, and more goals are expected on Saturday afternoon.
The Polish star has a sparkling record of 14 goals in 17 appearances against Mainz, who have lost their opening two games.
– Hazard out for Dortmund –
With Lewandowski’s contract negotiations and uncertainty over the future of club president Uli Hoeness off-field matters have somewhat overshadowed Bayern’s preparations this week.
Yet Kovac’s side, who sit in a lowly sixth thanks to their opening day draw with Hertha Berlin, cannot afford any on-field slips on Saturday.
Dortmund, Leipzig and Leverkusen finished in the top four behind Bayern last season, and all have picked up maximum points from their opening two games.
Kovac admitted on Thursday that Bayern may face more competitors for the title than they have in previous years.
“I think the same teams will be at the top again. The gap between those at the top and mid-table will get bigger,” he said.
Leipzig travel to Borussia Moenchengladbach on Friday evening, while Leverkusen host Hoffenheim on Saturday.
Table-toppers Dortmund face a reunion with former player Neven Subotic on their visit to promoted side Union Berlin on Saturday evening.
Subotic, who alongside Lewandowski won back-to-back Bundesliga titles for Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp in 2011 and 2012, said this week that he was still close to his former team-mates.
“What we experienced together back then, it was bit like going to the moon. You try to explain to other people what it was like, but words aren’t enough,” he told broadcaster RTL.
Yet Subotic, who moved to Union before the beginning of the season, said that even at Dortmund, he had never experienced support quite like that at the East Berlin club.
“I have experienced a lot, but the way the Union fans celebrated us after we lost 4-0 to RB Leipzig, I have never experienced anything like that,” he said.
Union, still searching for their first ever Bundesliga win, face a formidable Dortmund side who have scored eight goals in their first two games.
Dortmund coach Lucien Favre will have to do without Belgian winger Thorgan Hazard, who has been ruled out for several weeks after picking up a rib injury against Cologne last weekend.
Hazard’s fellow new arrival Julian Brandt is therefore expected to make his first start for Dortmund.
Bundesliga fixtures (kick-off times 1330 GMT unless stated):
Borussia Moenchengladbach v RB Leipzig (1830)
Bayern Munich v Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen v Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg v Paderborn, Freiburg v Cologne, Schalke v Hertha Berlin, Union Berlin v Borussia Dortmund (1630)
Werder Bremen v Augsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt v Fortuna Duesseldorf (1600)