Mainz 2-1 Hannover

HUNGARIAN striker Ádám Szalai scored a last-minute winner as ten-man Mainz defeated fellow Europa League-qualification hopefuls Hannover. The home side more than held their own against their guests for the 40 or so minutes they played with one less player (plus a 19-year-old débutante goalkeeper in red-carded Christian Wetklo’s place), and were actually good value for their win. But, boy did Mainz’s second goal come late! Just as it looked as though we were on course for the third successive 1. Bundesliga game in which these sides have drawn 1-1, Szalai headed in a Eugen Polanski cross – his ninth goal of the season, albeit only his second in the last seven games – to send the home fans wild!

The home side took the lead in the 11th minute, Nicolai Müller turning the ball into the net after Ron-Robert Zieler did well to keep out a Shawn Parker volley. Hannover equalized following a set-piece – situations Tuchel’s side are more than happy to concede – in the same half, with Christian Schulz turning the ball into the net following a Lars Stindl lay-off. Thereafter, the game was pretty stop-start, with both sides committing lots of fouls, and giving away countless corner-kicks, but only Wetklo received his marching orders.

Ultimately, Hannover should have taken advantage of having the extra man for such a long period of time. But that was easier said than done given the way Mainz defended for the 40 or so minutes they had to play following the sending-off. Wetklo’s replacement, Loris Karius, didn’t have that much to do, mind – Hannover just couldn’t break down their hosts, who showed superb tactical discipline, and tremendous spirit.

Chances on goal had been few and far between throughout this afternoon’s occasionally feisty game at the Coface Arena, though. Perhaps such an occurrence is unsurprising given that these sides have two of 1. Bundesliga’s youngest and most intelligent coaches at the helm – 39-year-old Thomas Tuchel, of Mainz 05, and Mirko Slomka, 45, of Hannover 96. The former’s side – now up to sixth-place in the table – face a Borussia Mönchengladbach side on the same number of points as they and Hannover (21) next weekend, while Slomka’s side – who drop four places to tenth spot as a result of today’s loss – host the team currently in the division’s runner-up position, Bayer Leverkusen.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Mainz (4-4-2, from right to left): Wetklo; Zdeněk Pospěch, Nikolče Noveski, Bo Svensson, Radoslav Zabavník; Müller, Polanski, Elkin Soto, Andreas Ivanschitz; Parker, Szalai

Hannover (4-4-2, from right to left): Zieler; Steve Cherundolo, Mario Eggimann, Karim Haggui, Christian Pander; Stindl, Schulz, Sérgio Pinto, Konstantin Rausch; Jan Schlaudraff, Mame Biram Diouf Continue reading

Mainz-Hannover preview

TWO 1. Bundesliga sides battling to qualify for next season’s Europa League go head-to-head on Saturday afternoon as sixth-placed Hannover visit seventh-placed Mainz. While Mirko Slomka’s side have had no trouble scoring goals this season (their tally of 27 makes them the joint-third most lethal top-tier side), Mainz have been more profligate, relying mainly on the goal-scoring prowess of Hungarian hotshot Ádám Szalai (who, admittedly, only has one goal in the six games he has played since bagging a hat-trick against the team with the division’s worst defence, Hoffenheim). Nevertheless, Thomas Tuchel’s energetic and resourceful Mainz team have a good home record so far this season, and in their last away game, Hannover were hammered 5-0 at Bayern Munich. Continue reading

Hoffenheim 1-3 Wolfsburg

LORENZ Günther-Köstner’s temporary spell as Wolfsburg coach continues to get better and better, as his side registered their fourth win from the five games they’ve had under the 60-year-old’s control. Crucially, the result also lifted Wolfsburg out of the relegation zone and above Hoffenheim, who paid the price for their woeful first-half performance (and an improved, if not much better, second-half showing). Markus Babbel’s side, coming into this game with their spirits buoyed after learning on Friday that popular, talented midfielder Boris Vukčević – involved in a nasty car crash in September – had finally woken up from his coma, just never got going, and played like a side who have only won one of their last seven games.

But, credit where it’s due to Wolfsburg, who deserved all three points this afternoon. Defensively, they were mentally, tactically and physically solid, and in attack, were enterprising, creative, fluid and confident. If Günther-Köstner’s side can win against Werder Bremen at the Volkswagen Arena next weekend, it’s hard to see how the former Hoffenheim coach won’t be given the Wolfsburg job on a permanent basis. Today’s hosts, meanwhile, booed regularly by the home fans, welcome Bayer Leverkusen – coached by Sami Hyypiä, Babbel’s former Liverpool teammate – to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. It’s hard to see how Babbel, once a coach of such promise, will be able to hold onto his job if his players fail to pick up even a point from that encounter.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tim Wiese; Andreas Beck, Pelle Jensen, Matthieu Delpierre, Fabian Johnson; Sebastian Rudy, Daniel Williams; Roberto Firmino, Sejad Salihović, Kevin Volland; Joselu

Wolfsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Diego Benaglio; Fagner, Naldo, Simon Kjær, Marcel Schäfer; Josué, Jan Polák; Makoto Hasebe, Diego, Ivica Olić; Bas Dost Continue reading