Mainz 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen

The first half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen gave themselves a four-point cushion in the Champions League spots after capitalising on a Mainz mistake to win a game that looked certain to end goalless.

Both sides were in decent runs of form coming into this game, and won emphatically in the last round of fixtures: Mainz 4-2 at Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 at home to lowly Wolfsburg. The table made happy reading for fans of either side, with the hosts sat in fifth spot, knowing a win would see them leapfrog Bayern into fourth, and the visitors sat two points clear in second, knowing a win would take them to within nine points of league leaders Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel, linked this week with a move to Leverkusen should Jupp Heynckes depart for Bayern Munich, made three changes to his side, bringing in goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, and new full-backs. He retained the diamond midfield and wide forwards system that worked superbly in the second half against Hamburg last weekend. As for Bayer, who lost 3-2 at home to Villareal in the Europa League midweek, there was finally room for Michael Ballack in the starting XI. Arturo Vidal also returned, and with Ballack and Lars Bender behind him, started in a more advanced midfield role behind Stefan Kieβling. Against Hannover (2-0) & Nuremberg (1-0) on matchdays 20 & 21, Ballack & Rolfes were used behind Vidal to superb effect, but this was the first time this particular trio had started a game together. The talismanic Rolfes (and his Mainz counterpart Lewis Holtby) was on the bench. Continue reading

Hamburg 2-4 Mainz

The first half formations.

A decisive second half performance from Mainz saw them defeat inconsistent Hamburg after the home side had taken a controversial lead via a goal that didn’t actually cross the line.

Mainz came into this game knowing a win would lift them above Bayern Munich and into fourth spot. Hamburg knew a win by two clear goals would lift them above Mainz into fifth. As if to spice things up even further, it was the home side who ended Mainz’s spectacular start to the season, winning at the Bruchweg stadium with a late Jose Paolo Guerrero goal back in October. For the visitors, there was no Miroslav Karhan, Ádám Szalai or Sami Allagui – all three ruled out through injury. As difficult to second guess as ever, Thomas Tuchel left Lewis Holtby and Christian Fuchs on the bench. Hamburg, on the other hand, were at full strength (with Ruud van Nistelrooy on the bench), and looking to bounce back after drawing last weekend at struggling Kaiserslautern. Continue reading

Cologne 4-2 Mainz

The first-half formations.

A Frank Schaefer tactical masterclass and lacklustre Mainz performance lifted Cologne out of the relegation zone and denied Mainz the chance to leapfrog Bayern Munich into the Champions League spots.

The game looked set for a slow opening period when Cologne’s use of the kick-off saw them punt the ball upfield for a Mainz and Heinz Müller restart. However, slick Mainz, keeping a defensive trio deep despite Milivoje Novakovič being the foremost player for the hosts, used the former Barnsley ‘keeper’s goal-kick well, carving out an early chance from it which André Schürrle wasted. True to (very early) form, Cologne hoofed the ball upfield again, this time getting some success by winning a free-kick about three-quarters of the way up the pitch on the right-hand side. Lukas Podolski curled it into the box, and poor tracking and positioning from the away side allowed Martin Lanig to glance the ball in for 1-0 with just 150 seconds on the clock. Continue reading

Mainz out to avoid second season syndrome

André Schürrle - remember the name!

Last season may have been a resounding success for Die Nullfünfer, but forecasting such an achievement before a ball was kicked would have you seen sectioned.

Entering the Bundesliga from its feeder division with the lowest wage bill and a meagre 20,000-seater stadium, the board hurled even more obstacles in the team’s path by firing coach Jørn Andersen.

Either foreknowledged beyond the realms of other mere mortals, or, taking the cheap option, U19 coach Thomas Tuchel was handed the reigns on the season’s eve.

This gave Mainz another awkward looking record – the league’s youngest coach. Yet to be fair to the directors, they backed the 36-year-old to the hilt, and boy did it pay off. Continue reading