They might not yet have even played their first Bundesliga game of the 2011/12 season, but Mainz have already played in two cup competitions. Although coach Thomas Tuchel’s side squeezed past SV Niederauerbach in the DFB-Pokal last weekend, they suffered an early Europa League exit at the hands of Romanian side Gaz Metan on Thursday, however. But, Tuchel has called on his heartbroken players to put aside the disappointment of that elimination as they prepare to kick off their league campaign against Bayer Leverkusen, a side they spent a large chunk of last season battling for Champions League qualification with. The young miracle worker has told his players that defeats are just a part of football that they have to learn to accept, and that they couldn’t have wished to meet a better opponent at this moment in time than Bayer. Given that this will be the first ever Bundesliga game staged at Mainz’s new Coface Arena stadium, there’s no danger that the home fans will be suffering an emotional hangover, and Bayer Leverkusen and the Mainz representatives on the pitch themselves can expect a wall of noise.
Anyway, after throwing away a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 to Dynamo Dresden in the cup last weekend, more questions could be asked about the mental state of Bayer Leverkusen’s players and their new coach at this time. Robin Dutt’s first official game at his new club was little short of a disaster, and given that the turnaround began when Michael Ballack came on, it’ll be interesting to see whether the former Freiburg coach turns to his most experienced player today. The coach, it has to be noted, has come out in support of the perennial runner-up this week, noting that it’s easy for the press to make him the scapegoat.
Despite losing that game 4-3, it’s unlikely that Dutt will make too many changes against Mainz, as for the first hour in Dresden, his side looked superb. However, one casualty will be American ‘keeper David Yelldell. The summer signing from Duisburg was expected to deputise full-time in the two-month absence of René Adler, but Dutt has confirmed that he will now be using Fabian Giefer instead. Although another of the club’s summer signings, Ömer Toprak, didn’t look great last weekend, Leverkusen’s marquee signing did. André Schürrle arrived at the club from today’s hosts, and is bound to get a cracking reception after two seasons of exceptional service. Marcel Risse, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction, making his loan move from Bayer to Mainz permanent (€800,000). Risse is one of many attacking additions that Mainz have spent a total of €10.9million on (they received €8million for Schürrle, and €3.8million from Schalke for left-back Christian Fuchs, however). Others include Julian Baumgartlinger (Austria Vienna), Zoltán Stieber (Aachen), Nicolai Müller (Greuther Fürth), and Anthony Ujah (Lillestrøm SK), complemented by freebies such as Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Such a recruitment drive was probably necessary given the departure of not only Schürrle, but Lewis Holtby too: it really was back to the attacking tactics drawing board for Tuchel this summer.
Tuchel will have to do without Ádám Szalai, Florian Heller and Eugen Gopko (all injured) for today’s game, as the club look to avenge the defeat suffered the last time they and Bayer Leverkusen met. Dutt, on the other hand, looks to have a clean bill of health, save for the aforementioned Adler and possibly substitute winger Tranquillo Barnetta. The man in the middle for this clash between two of last season’s heavyweights – Mainz won their first seven Bundeliga games last time out – is Michael Weiner, a Bundesliga referee since 1998.
The game kicks off at 2.30pm in the UK, and can be watched on Bet365.com.