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Bundesliga Review – Week 32

Well, it was ought to happen, was it not? After Hamburger SV’s rather expected win away against Wolfsburg it seemed clear that 1.FSV Mainz 05 were going to win, for that’s what they’ve become, benevolent leeches, hanging on even though their football rarely wins them plaudits any longer. But they are still here and look to be staying in Bundesliga, even though they’ve had two straight seasons in the bottom of the table, two straight years of nothingness.

However, fans knew that Mainz had an identity that was hard to come by. They’ve been all about that pressing and flamboyance, it’s a club that needs to play attacking and fun football to be able to fit in. Their football needs to be as fun and funky as their carnivals and this might have become a ghost for them. Much like HSV, where that godforsaken clock stalks them wherever they go and however they turn, so does Mainz’ identity. Pressing and fun football, we won’t accept them otherwise. This seems to have forged a low-key identity crisis am Main. However, perhaps that is not at all their identity. Isn’t youth development something that’s regarded as a key factor in Mainz everyday life? This weekend proves just this.

Once again, Mainz had an academy graduate score on their debut. Talents and development through practical experience seems to have become hoi polloi at the Main club, which can be confirmed as an institutionalised fact after 20-year old Ridle Baku scored Mainz’ third goal against RB Leipzig. Apparently on the bus to Freiburg with Mainz’ second outfit, Baku was dragged out and put in the matchday squad for the Bundesliga game against Leipzig. Then, he started in his first Bundesliga game ever and then, in the 90thminute, he scored a sublime goal in front of the ultras, propelling himself into their yearning hearts. Let us now delve into Mainz’ history and pick out a few talents that have made it to investigate however youth development can be seen as part of their identity.

Many would say Lewis Holtby has done well. His only season at Mainz was beautiful as Thomas Tuchel’s side flashed and exploded with attacking brilliance and grace with a system where Holtby was key, in the middle of everything. Holtby belonged to Schalke 04 at the time and was merely loaned out to Mainz, then left to join Tottenham Hotspur, a move that didn’t really work out too well, even though he did have a few decent games here and there. He then joined HSV after a few years in London and has been a mainstay in the Hamburger SV starting XI ever since, albeit most wouldn’t consider that an achievement. Holtby was part of one of the best sides Mainz has ever fielded in Bundesliga, a side governed by a Tuchel at the height of his attacking ability with players formed to fit into the system.

While the bare memory of Holtby can serve as this system’s relic, we must not forget that Hamburg’s hero and man-of-the-moment took his first successful footballing steps at the red and white side from the beautiful town am Main.

Another blistering attacking force that took his first steps at Mainz is André Schürrle, the winger whose goals against Brazil in the World Cup has canonised him.

Schürrle has had a cool career. He started at Mainz and blossomed in Tuchel’s system where he played together with Holtby before he left the club to join Bayer Leverkusen. Schürrle’s time at Bayer was great and he soon earned himself both caps and interest from great clubs abroad.

Chelsea came knocking and he left. His time at Chelsea was as up and down as Holtby’s at Spurs. Schürrle struggled to really fit in and never had that coach who really trusted in his ability, something that is the real reason to his ultimate downfall as a footballer of high class. His speed and will with the ball at his Mainzer feet had left many teams and defences broken in half and when he’s on form, he’s basically unstoppable. His attacking style and flamboyance is a direct product from his time at Tuchel’s Mainz.

Loris Karius was one of many fantastic goalkeepers in Bundesliga. Often mentioned as one of the absolute best, his record in his last season at the red and whites was rather sensational. One might say that he was a big reason to their subsequent European adventure. Karius made his debut as a 19-year-old in December 2012 when he replaced a sent-off Christian Wetklo.

Having established himself as a reliable top shelf keeper, Liverpool came knocking and Mainz sold him for about €5 million, a steal one might claim. Karius has been key of late and has saved Liverpool on multiple occasions at the back, even though he has proven himself to be rather error prone. Karius was a product of a German golden goalie generation, but also a direct product of trust. Tuchel believed in him and handed him his full debut not long after he replaced Wetklo in December 2012.

Three players from rather similar time periods, all given time to develop in the starting XI under a coach full of flair and belief. Schürrle has become a World Champion, Holtby might just have saved HSV from relegation once again and Karius is in a Champions League semi-final against AS Roma.

Three players, three different positions, but all clear products of trust from a club long famed for it’s youth development. That is Mainz’ thing. This is why this minimal club has managed to stay afloat so many years. Despite struggles in the bottom of the table, despite loosing key players as cheap line articles, they are still alive, still there and still ready to fight. How? Through youth development. The way of the old, the way of the future.

 

1 | Bayern Munich handed Bundesliga debuts to Franck Evina (17), Niklas Dorsch (20) and Meritan Shabani (19) on Saturday as Jupp Heynckes looked to rest players ahead of their crucial Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday. U19 captain Lars Lukas Mai also made his second appearance for Bayern Munich, partnering Mats Hummels in defence.

With such a youthful side on show, Bayern Munich dominated possession from the off but were unable to break down Niko Kovac’s Eintracht Frankfurt side until the 43rdminute. In the end, Sandro Wagner & Co. were too strong for their Bundesliga counterparts, who will lose Kovac to Bayern for the 2018/19 campaign with the Croatian the next vital cog in Bayern’s quest for a European title.

2 | It was coming but on Saturday, 1. FC Köln were officially relegated from the Bundesliga. Just one year after securing their highest league finish for 25 years, this Bundesliga giant were relegated into the second tier. Many have tipped them to bounce back, and rightly so.

Holstein Kiel head coach Markus Anfang will coach the team next season. A Cologne native, Anfang knows the links between the football club and city. Not only that, Germany international Jonas Hector put pen-to-paper on a new contract that will see him remain at the club until 2023. A bold statement, Hector had interest from Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, but it just goes to show what a pull this club has. Timo Horn has also stated that he remains at the club despite Arsenal’s interest, the young German stopper wants to repay the fans faith, looking to rectify the mistakes made this season.

3 | Hoffenheim strengthened their case for Champions League football with an impressive 3-1 win over Hannover 96. Julian Nagelsmann is rightfully getting interest from Arsenal with the Premier League club yet to make an announcement on Arsene Wenger’s successor. Even after losing players such as Niklas Süle, Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner, Nagelsmann is on the verge of guiding Hoffenheim to consecutive seasons in European football.

4 | Naby Keita was sent off for the fourth time this season as RB Leipzig slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Mainz. The Guinea international has played his final game for the club with just two Bundesliga games remaining, while his disciplinary actions have potentially put a dent in RB Leipzig’s hopes of Champions League football, especially with Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt looking the more likely.

Axel Falk with Daniel Pinder.

 

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