Beating Bayern in Munich, in the midst of Oktoberfest, has made Mainz 05's young side every neutrals' favourites
They had never performed together. They didn't know the lyrics to the song they were supposed to sing, let alone how to play their instruments. By way of performance, they just plodded around mechanically, like the sorry stiffs in Madame Tussauds Rock Circus. The miming? Easily worse than Milli Vanilli's actual singing. But within a couple of chords the crowd were on their feet, screaming, baying, clapping. Even Katrin Müller-Hohenstein was breathless, her voice tinged with the girlish excitement usually reserved for schmelzkäsige post-match one-on-ones with Oliver Kahn. "Das aktuelle Sportstudio presents: Die Bruchweg Boys!", exclaimed the host of the show. Then the director had mercy and cut the gig short after 30 seconds.
Seeing Adam Szalai (22, drums), André Schürrle (19, guitar) and Lewis Holtby (20, vocals) play is much more enjoyable than hearing them, but in that respect they don't differ much from any other mega boy-band. "I prefer Take Mainz as a name," said Holtby, the giggling, Facebooking, high-on-life leader of the pack with dubious musical tastes. Asked how he would react to a call from Fabio Capello (or his hand puppet Franco Baldini), the son of an English serviceman and German mother shook his head. "I'd tell him very politely that I want to play for Germany," said the Under-21 captain. "When I heard the national anthem for the first time on the pitch, I fell in love with Germany."
The feeling's mutual. Beating Bayern Munich on their home patch, in the midst of Oktoberfest, the beer festival that supposedly renders them invincible, is always guaranteed to be looked upon kindly outside Bavaria. Topping the league with six wins from six, having a squad that costs a grand total of €17m (£14.5m) in wages and being led by a smart, genial manager in Thomas Tuchel, 37, has made little Mainz 05 every neutral's favourite. They play the kind of fast, passionate, highly tactical football that TSG 1899 Hoffenheim employed to such devastating effect two years ago, but crucially, they play it without Ralf Rangnick's propensity for one-upmanship and the help of a billionaire benefactor. "We don't feel bigger than we are", said Tuchel after notching up another well-deserved victory on Saturday. "But that's not to say that the players aren't allowed to go beyond their limits and think big."
Louis van Gaal had been warned. "We will play our usual game, we won't hide, I can assure him," 05's general manager Christian Heidel had said on Friday, when Süddeutsche Zeitung put to him that the Bayern manager was expecting a defensive performance from the visitors. But Mainz turned up and strangled the dear life out of the champions with pressing that started deep in the Bayern half. They hassled their opponents like 10 love children of Ivica Olic and Dirk Kuyt would do and ran as if the fitness coach of the South Korea World Cup team from 2002 had worked his magic. "Our mission was to put on pressure and to destroy their passing into the centre," explained the Hungary striker Szalai. "We wanted to force them to play it via the full-backs. When the ball was out wide, one of our holding midfielder moved out. That worked well." Indeed it did. Overrun, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mark van Bommel were pinging balls into touch with alarming regularity, and the few chances Bayern did create were wasted by Miroslav Klose.
Mainz had only travelled to Munich on the morning of the match – there were no hotel rooms available – and arrived fairly late to the Allianz Arena after getting stuck in a traffic. They still looked better prepared. On the counter, Holtby isolated the oafish Daniel van Buyten in the box and went past him with a simple drop of the shoulder. His precise cross found Sami Allagui, who back-heeled the ball beyond Hans-Jörg Butt. Fifteen minutes were gone at this stage. Mainz looked a little exhausted – their pace was impossible to keep up – but Bayern, bereft of their star players Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, couldn't take advantage. Their strikers have yet to score a goal in the league. Thus, poor Bo Svensson had to help out: the Mainz defender got into a horrible kerfuffle with his goalkeeper Christian Wetklo and inadvertently headed the ball in from well over 20m shortly before half-time.
It didn't seem to matter. Bayern enjoyed more possession after the break but good ideas or breakthroughs proved elusive. "We had the courage to defend on the front foot and to stop Bayern's positional play," said Tuchel. The fact that they managed to win the game with a "lucky punch" – as Tuchel described Szalai's thunderous half-volley into the corner of the net on 77 minutes – was almost irrelevant to his overall satisfaction. "We didn't set a target in terms of results," he said. "But we stressed that we wanted to make our [footballing] aims visible on the highest level, in order that one could see what's behind it, and for us to try to stay true to ourselves and be the best we can be."
With eight points from six games Bayern are 10 adrift of the top and even further away from the best they can be. "We couldn't cope with them," said van Gaal, too tired to talk about missed opportunities for a change. "I can't keep saying we don't take our chances, otherwise I'll go crazy and the supporters will too," said the Dutch maestro, whose wilful restraint in the transfer market has left Bayern far behind the music and is threatening another loud autumn of discontent. Defeat away to FC Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday would really bring the noise.
• The German international Piotr Trochowski was the main culprit for Hamburg's 2-3 defeat in the "Nordderby", at least as far as HSV manager Armin Veh was concerned. The 80th-minute substitute got a right ear-bashing on the pitch after the final whistle for giving the ball away prior to Hugo Almeida's winner after 85 minutes. "This is [meant to be] professional football here, I can't accept that," thundered the 49-year-old. "It was a stupid mistake," concurred 'Troche', who was not to blame for Veh's strange selection – no Mladen Petric, no Jonathan Pitroipa, Eljero Elia as a No10 – or his side's total inability to defend, however. Few Bundesliga teams boast a better squad, fewer still are so maddeningly bad at fulfilling their potential. But when you're playing Werder Bremen, being fairly bad can sometimes be good enough. Hamburg had more opportunities than the lethargic hosts in the first half, but still found themselves trailing 2-0 at half-time. The roles were somewhat reversed after the break, with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Pitriopa, now on as a substitute and screaming one in beautifully, levelling the score. Then Trochowski tried to dribble when a simple pass would have sufficed.
• The great derby was tragically overshadowed by some horrific scenes after the final whistle. A mass panic among Hamburg fans who were kept back in the stadium by police resulted in serious injuries when those at the back started pushing. One supporter is currently in a coma. The police insist the problems were caused by a small group of 20 people, but even a cursory glance at the disturbing YouTube footage suggests that something more fundamental had gone seriously wrong.
• In happier news, Borussia Dortmund continued their excellent run with a 3-1 win away to St. Pauli. They would be in top spot if it wasn't for Mainz. "It's the only way I can accept this situation in the table," said the Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp with a smile. Mainz are his former team. Two goals from the excellent Kevin Großkreutz and Shinji Kagawa's fourth strike of the season secured the points for Kloppo, who also won a €50 bet with sporting director Michael Zorc when 05 beat Munich. "I wanted to put on more, but Michael doesn't like to pay money," explained the coach.
• "We need to wake up, we're in a relegation battle," said Serdar Tasci after VfB Stuttgart's 4-1 defeat at home to Leverkusen. The Swabians are bottom of the table again, stuck in their traditional first-half-of-the season-rut. The manager, Christian Gross seems as puzzled as anyone by his men's loss of confidence. The good news is that there are only 12 more rubbish performances to go before Stuttgart can start their traditional rally up the table in the new year, with a new manager.
• The managerial problems at Wolfsburg and Schalke are thankfully little less pressing these days. Steve McClaren has turned things around by keeping things simple: a switch to the 2009 champions' preferred 4-4-2 formation with a diamond has got them going again. Grafite, back from a two- month slumber, scored two against hapless Freiburg on Saturday. In the Veltins-Arena, Felix Magath got at least 50% right. His team have started scoring – Raúl got off the mark to rescue a point three minutes from time against Gladbach – but their openness at the back still compares badly with four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.
Results: Köln 1-1 Hoffenheim, St Pauli 1-3 Dortmund, Frankfurt 2-0 Nürnberg, Schalke 2-2 Gladbach, Bremen 3-2 Hamburg, Stuttgart 1-4 Leverkusen, Bayern Munich 1-2 Mainz , Wolfsburg 2-1 Freiburg, Kaiserslautern 0-1 Hannover.