Mainz will not go away this season

BRIAN WESTFALL, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 2:37 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Mainz will lose this season, I promise. It may even happen Saturday, when the club can tie the Bundesliga record of seven straight wins to start a season. That said, although a fall in the won-loss column is inevitable at some point, Mainz will not go away.

First, you'd probably like to know who or what Mainz is. Well, the easy answer is an overachieving German club that got its first taste of the Bundesliga in 2004, was back to the second division in 2006, but was promoted again in 2009.

Mainz finished in the top half of the Bundesliga for the first time last year, capturing ninth - one point out of the bottom half in the 18-team league. Now, six matches into its second season under 37-year-old boss Thomas Tuchel, Mainz leads the Bundesliga and is the lone unbeaten left in Europe's top leagues.

No, Mainz wasn't taken over by a billionaire owner. (See Saturday's opponent Hoffenheim, which has transformed from an amateur club to top-flight contender in less than a decade under billionaire owner Dietmar Hopp). Mainz pays under $23 million in wages a season. Now consider, Bayern Munich pays Franck Ribery around $13 million a season.

Despite that, Mainz disposed of a Ribery-less Bayern, last season's Champions League runner-up and Bundesliga winner, last weekend in Munich with the exact same efficiency and brilliance that fueled its first five wins.

Under Tuchel, Mainz uses an aggressive attacking style that has unfortunately reached the brink of extinction in the sport. That was no more evident than a few days ago when, after an own goal late in the first half handed Bayern the tying goal, Tuchel took off fullback Niko Bungert for striker Andrew Schurrle.

Perhaps naive for such a young coach, but the result speaks for itself: Mainz scored the game-winner when Schurrle set up Adam Szalai's match-winner in the 77th minute of a 2-1 victory.

Nearly every other team in the Bundesliga, if tied with 21-time champion Bayern, would have opted to take a striker off and add a defender. A point in Munich? Always a good result. Three? Well, that's never expected. But Tuchel and Mainz weren't interested in anything less.

Mainz is refreshing to watch, and a win over Hoffenheim at Stadion am Bruchweg will tie the league record of wins to start a season, a mark shared by Bayern Munich and Kaiserslautern.

Based on its results so far this season, don't rule anything out. Mainz hasn't used a soft schedule to make its presence known. In addition to the victory at Bayern, Mainz won at Wolfsburg when it rallied from three goals down for a 4-3 win, 2-0 at Champions League group-stage qualifier Werder Bremen, and 2-0 over Europa League group-stage participant Stuttgart.

Twenty-year-old Lewis Holtby (two goals and five assists), 22-year-old Szalai (two goals) and 19-year-old Schurrle (three goals and one assist) have earned a fair share of credit and publicity - thanks in part to their lip-synching, air-guitar and fake drum-playing celebrations at the corner flag - but Tuchel has fielded a number of lesser-known veterans with great results.

Tuchel has already been nicknamed the "German Mourinho," in reference to Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who many consider the best coach in the world. He has Mainz playing with emotion, passion and most importantly, belief.

Although Tuchel has minimal coaching experience at the top-flight level, he's not afraid to match wits with Bayern's Louis van Gaal, or any other coach. It may backfire eventually, but Tuchel has proven he can rotate players and team formations with ease, another rarity.

Mainz lasted just three seasons in its first appearance in the Bundesliga and beyond this year the future is cloudy, especially with Schurrle (already sold to Bayer Leverkusen), Holtby (on loan from Schalke), Christian Fuchs (on loan from Bochum) and Morten Rasmussen (on loan from Celtic) all possibly gone.

Currently, though, the immediate future looks very bright. Mainz lost at home just two times all of last season, and with three road wins paired with three home victories already this season, there's no reason why Mainz will plummet.

Certainly, Mainz will struggle at some point, but if Tuchel's club avoids any serious injuries, there's no reason why they won't remain in the hunt for the title, or at least a high enough finish to qualify for European play.


Videos

Photos