Bayern slump as Mainz march on

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This time last year the German newspapers (read: rags) were adamant Louis van Gaal wasn’t up to the job of turning Bayern München into Bundesliga winners.

“Replace him before it’s too late!” some were urging. With seven of the 34 games played, van Gaal’s side had 11 points from a possible 21 on offer. How little they knew – it turned out.

A huge improvement in the run up to Christmas and after the winter break nearly led the side to a fantastic treble, with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan pipping the Münchner in the Champions League final. A year ago they had no excuses for the poor season start, so what now?

Seven games played, the lowest scorers in the league, just two games won and three points worse off than they were at the same stage of season 2009/10. Bayern Münich is a club in crisis – who’d have thunk it?

Club President, Uli Hoeneß, has now come out and laid the blame entirely on the World Cup in South Africa. Surely, if anything, the World Cup should have acted as a massive confidence boost for players such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philip Lahm, Thomas Müller and Miroslav Klose – their Germany side defying the odds and nearly bringing the trophy home for the first time in 20 years.

Hoeneß reckons that last season’s long campaign has taken its toll on his team, and they’re now paying for it due to a shortened summer break. A convenient excuse, you might think.

Munich daily newspaper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, assesses the FCB President’s excuses today, concluding that it is indeed a viable reason for their pathetic showing thus far in the new season, as the current top three sides in the Bundesliga, Mainz, Dortmund and Hannover, only had five members of their squad in action in South Africa in the summer. 

I’d rather argue, however, that losing Arjen Robben to a long-term injury, plus the injury and personal problems of French superstar Franck Ribery, is a more reasonable reason for their plight.

Forget the World Cup! Aren’t all WC participants usually granted extended holidays over the summer? Let’s face it, how hard can it be to live in a five star hotel for a month while taking in, on average, a game every five days?

Sunday was another majorly below-par showing from Van Gaal’s troops. Away to Borussia Dortmund – a side on a run of five victories in succession – they limped to a 2-0 defeat.

Mario Gomez must be wishing he had been granted a move away in the summer – although probably not to Liverpool as was rumoured at the time - as his misfiring shooting was mainly the reason FCB failed to hit the back of the net. Second half goals from Barrios and Sahin ensured the home side stay within touching distance of Mainz at the top of the table.

A gap of five points has already developed to third place Hannover, with FCB a further five points back. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new superlatives to describe this Mainz side.

Yesterday’s Cologne-based Express newspaper posed the question “Kann Mainz wirklich Meister werden?” [Could Mainz really win the league?] – well, what do you think? Are they ‘doing a Hoffenheim’ from two years ago, or is Thomas Tuchel’s team truly the real deal?

Indeed it was Hoffenheim who they faced this weekend, with the Baden-Württemberg outfit becoming the latest club to succumb to Mainz’s energetic and hustling brand of football.

Seven wins on the spin means Mainz maintain their status as the form club of European football, with no other side in any of the top European leagues [we’re obviously not including the SPL here…] having racked up a 100% record.

Impressive stuff, and they go into the international break in high spirits. One does definitely feel, though, that they will be cursing having to put domestic football on the back burner for two weeks, as they will need to maintain their momentum for three massive upcoming games against Hamburger SV, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund.

I guess then we will see what Tuchel’s boys are really made of. If they can do the impossible and actually win all three games, then that will be ten wins in a row, and will surely make them absolutely massively hot favourites to win the top division for the first time. Quite the fairytale might be developing!

Indeed, if Mainz’s season start can be deemed a fairytale, then what of poor Schalke 04’s? Four points from their last two fixtures against Freiburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach probably filled their fans with all sorts of false hope.

Finally the purchase of Real Madrid’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has been vindicated, you could almost hear them screaming. Three goals in three Bundesliga games for the Dutchman before matchday seven – as well as four points from the last two outings for Felix Magath’s men - almost, just almost, made things look a little rosier for the Königsblauen.

Well, his great run of scoring continued this weekend against Nürnberg, yet it wasn’t enough to earn his side even a share of the spoils. They went down 2-1 at the Easy-Credit-Stadion in Bavaria, and a massive improvement in form will be required if this summer’s big spenders in Germany harbour any hopes of playing in Europe next season. To make matters worse, their superb goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, has today come out and said he is no longer happy playing with the Gelsenkirchen club and is “considering a change”. Music to the ears of Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps?

Newcomers St Pauli again upset the odds to gain a massive victory over the hugely-improved Hannover [0-1], while Freiburg defeated FC Köln [3-2] to leapfrog their southern rivals Bayern Münich in ninth place.

Borussia Mönchengladbach and Steve McClaren’s VfL Wolfsburg could only play out a 1:1 draw – the home side having now conceded 20 goals in their opening seven league games.

Stuttgart’s shocking season start slumped to a new low as they went down 1:2 at home to Eintracht Frankfurt – Matthieu Delpierre getting himself sent off in the process – while Swiss striker Eren Derdiyok was to thank as his goal ten minutes from time ensured Bayer Leverkusen avoided defeat at home against Werder Bremen [2-2].
Time for an international break!

BUNDESLIGA RESULTS Fri 01 Oct Hannover 96 0-1 St Pauli Sat 02 Oct SC Freiburg 3-2 FC Köln, Hamburger SV 2-1 Kaiserslautern, FSV Mainz 4-2 1899 Hoffenheim,  Borussia M'gladbach 1-1 VfL Wolfsburg, FC Nürnberg  2-1 Schalke 04 Sun 03 Oct Stuttgart 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Bayern München, Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Werder Bremen.