Mainz 05 climbed out of the relegation play-off position with a deserved 3-0 win against RB Leipzig at the Opel Arena. After surviving an early onslaught from the visitors, Main grew in confidence and were rewarded with a first-half penalty to Pablo De Blasis.
The Zerofivers kept it going in the second half with goals to Alexandru Maxim and Bundesliga debutant Ridle Baku capping off a memorable afternoon for the home side. Leipzig are spiralling out of control and are now in severe danger.
Here are five talking points from a fabulous Mainz victory.
Ridle Baku steals the show
With Suat Serdar out and Danny Latza picking up a late injury, Sandro Schwarz was down on troops to fill the central midfield role. Up stepped 20-year-old Ridle Baku, who was on his way to Freiburg to play with Mainz’s 2nd team before being called back to make his Bundesliga debut.
It almost began in the worst possible fashion, Baku’s loose back pass picked up by Ademola Lookman who found Yussuf Poulsen but the Danish striker couldn’t capitalise. The youngster grew into the game from that moment however, unafraid to shoot and getting involved at both ends of the pitch.
As the game opened up late on he was contributing in attacks before a classic fairy-tale finish. Still up field after a Mainz attack, Baku received Daniel Brosinski’s clearance, took a touch past Dayot Upamecano and slotted the ball beyond Peter Gulácsi before getting mobbed by his teammates.
It was a memorable moment of pure joy and the youngster was in dreamland for the remaining minutes before celebrating with the fans after the final whistle. Born and bred in Mainz and coming through the youth ranks, hopefully this is the start of a long and successful career for Ridle Baku.
Hack a rock at the back
Alexander Hack had to bide his time since moving to Mainz from Unterhaching in the summer of 2014, but the 24-year-old is now showing signs that he belongs at the top level.
Timo Werner rounded Rene Adler in the opening stages and looked certain to score, but Hack sensed the danger and got back to produce a vital clearance. It was the start of a fantastic game from the central defender who was a continual thorn in Werner’s side.
Hack made a critical tackle on Naby Keita in the final minutes with with Jean-Kevin Augustin about to be sent through on goal. He then ran into space and split the defence with a pass to Gerrit Holtmann who crossed to Alexandru Maxim who made it 2-0.
It was a potential game changer but the defender was humble after the game, telling Get German Football News that his clearance was slightly fortunate and crediting the team for shutting down Werner despite playing a starring role.
Missing Muto shows his worth
It’s been a frustrating season for Yoshinori Muto with injuries limiting his playing time, but his return to the starting XI showed what Mainz have been missing in recent weeks. With respect to Anthony Ujah, Emil Berggreen and Robin Quaison, Muto is undoubtedly the top striker for the Zerofivers and he showed it against Leipzig.
Full of energy, movement and willingness to make runs to bring his teammates into play, the 25-year-old won the penalty for the opening goal and directed Holtmann’s cross to Maxim for Mainz’s second.
Muto’s energy and never say die attitude compliments winger Pablo De Blasis, the Argentine saying after the game that Muto’s fighting spirit and intensity makes the game easier for him and is important for the team as a unit.
Schwarz will be delighted to have the Japanese forward back for the final three games of the season.
De Blasis does it again
Pablo De Blasis was influential again for Mainz, his penalty making it four goals in his last four appearances. On the outer from December to March, his recall in April has signalled an upturn in fortunes for Schwarz and the Zerofivers.
He may not be as technically gifted as Robben and Ribery, but the diminutive winger has a huge heart and a never say die attitude that endears him to the home supporters and inspires his teammates. He was deservedly given a standing ovation as he made way for Karim Onisiwo with ten minutes remaining.
Coming towards the end of his fourth season in Mainz, the 30-year-old is proving that he is an important member of the team on and off the field. Joining Ridle Baku in the stands to celebrate with the Ultras after the game, his leadership, experience and positive attitude will be vital in the final two games.
RB Leipzig and Ralph Hasenhüttl under pressure
Leipzig’s 4-1 home defeat against Bayer Leverkusen three weeks ago was the start of a horror run for the Red Bulls. They have now lost four and drawn once in their last five matches including a 5-2 defeat at Marseille that ended their Europa League campaign.
It looked promising early on in Mainz but Poulsen and Werner couldn’t open the scoring. From then on the home side took control and punished a Leipzig side that are looking alarmingly vulnerable.
Willi Orban said his side didn’t deserve to take anything from the game and Diego Demme concurred, saying: “Today we just have to face up to the facts and say we were not good enough.” After Emil Forsberg’s red card last weekend, Naby Keita picked up his third of the season with two late fouls.
Leipzig have dropped to sixth and are looking over their shoulder with Eintracht Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Borussia Mönchengladbach closing in. With discipline sorely lacking, cohesion anonymous and confidence levels at an all-time low, Hasenhüttl is running out of answers and is surely feeling the pressure.