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Mainz first, Bayern eighth

Bundesliga world turned upside down (for now)

Prior to each new Bundesliga season, respected news agency dpa carries out a survey of all 18 Bundesliga coaches, asking who the frontline experts think will win the league. Back in August, some 15 of the men in the hot seats named Bayern, with Schalke and Werder Bremen the only other clubs mentioned.

Five games into the campaign, the Bundesliga table defies the coaches’ confident expectations. Schalke are bottom of the pile, Bremen are 14th, and Bayern are eighth. At the top, Mainz have yet to drop a point, and lead the standings from Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Hannover and Freiburg. The top five finished 9th, 5th, 11th, 14th and 15th last season. “The world’s been turned upside down in the Bundesliga for now,” Christian Nerlinger reflected.

The FCB director of sport reckons an explanation is easy to come by: “It's certainly because a lot of World Cup stars aren’t back up to speed yet.” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge also feels the tournament in South Africa has played a major role. “All these teams sent hardly any players to the World Cup,” the chairman wrote in the current Bayern-Magazin, the club’s journal.

Fitter and faster

Of their current squads, Mainz and Freiburg had one player apiece in South Africa, Dortmund and Hoffenheim two, and Hannover three. Taking the cumulative total for the current top five in the standings, nine of their players went to the World Cup. That is substantially less than Bayern’s 13, of whom 11 made the semi-finals and three the final. Schalke (6), Stuttgart (6) and Bremen (5) also boast higher than normal tallies of World Cup players.

The likes of Mainz have benefited from “a good long regeneration phase in the summer break, and a good long pre-season period,” said Rummenigge, “so at the moment, the players at these clubs are fitter and harmonising far better with their team-mates than at Bremen, Leverkusen and Bayern.”

Mainz pursuing record

“We were missing practically the whole team in pre-season,” confirmed Ivica Olic. The last eleven of the FCB squad only returned to the club two and a half weeks prior to the first Bundesliga fixture. Louis van Gaal recently said his men will need “another six weeks” to recapture their form. “We have to survive this period. I’m still working on my best line-up.”

Mainz boss Thomas Tuchel has no such problems. Five wins on the bounce is easily the club’s best start to a league season, and they only require two more to equal the Bundesliga record of seven straight wins, shared by Bayern (1995-6) and Kaiserslautern (2001-2).

Change in the air

Bayern and Mainz meet at the Allianz Arena on Saturday. “You don’t win five in a row by accident. That's quality,” a respectful Olic commented. Jörg Butt agreed with his team-mate: “There’s no reason not to take Mainz seriously. You just have to look at the table. They’ve played great football so far.”

The minnows have already beaten Bremen, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg, but Nerlinger does not feel they are serious title contenders. “I’m not sure they’ll be able to keep it up right to the end,” the FCB director of sport noted. Once again, Butt was in agreement: “Overall, I don’t think the table at the end of the season will look like it does now. There’ll be a few changes.”