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