Mainz now move up into fifth place, level on points with Schalke. Yet the Gelsenkirchen side will wonder what could have been if Leroy Sane & co. performed in this Bundesliga clash.
Mainz 2-1 Schalke
(Bussmann 33', Baumgartlinger 79' - Belhanda 46')
Although Schalke may bolster one of the youngest and most exciting squads in the Bundesliga this season, it was the determination of a hardworking Mainz side that picked up all three points in the Coface Arena on Friday night.
Leroy Sane, Max Meyer and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all started in attack for Schalke in what was a tight game between two sides fighting for a potential Champions League spot. Before the game, the Carnival club sat just three points behind their Gelsenkirchen opponents but have now pushed up into fifth place.
The game began with a flurry of chances from both sides before the visitors wrestled control of possession and began probing the Mainz defense for an opening. Huntelaar missed an unopposed header, Leon Goretzka lacked power behind a well-placed shot and Johannes Geis found space to cross but never seemed to find a colleague in the box.
Then, in typical Schalke fashion, the Royal Blues conceded a goal just 33 minutes in to the game. From a relatively harmless clearance in the Schalke box following a Danny Latza corner kick, full-back Gaetan Bussmann showed astounding technique to hit a first-time shot straight through the opposing defense and past Ralf Fahrmann in goal. Mainz hadn't bothered Schalke all evening, but thanks to the set-piece they were ahead.
Leroy Sane has been a stand out player for Schalke this season but he offered very little against Mainz
Despite some tidy work in the middle of the park from Goretzka and Geis, Schalke's attacking line struggled to then take the game to Mainz. Huntelaar looked isolated up front as the lone striker and Sane faltered when he got in to the final third of the pitch.
As we've seen so often from the winger this season, Sane thrives when asked to drop deep and collect the ball from the midfield, but when tasked with unlocking a defense with his passing he tends to struggle. Schalke needed a playmaker on Friday night and in Sane they had a young talent who didn't know when to release the ball or whom to pass to once he skipped past his marker.
Schalke did, however, find some solace in a winger on the other side of the pitch. Younes Belhanda, who was making his first start of the season in place of the injured Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, turned out to be the unlikely key to opening the Mainz defense when the winger bundled home a shot following a quick blitz at the start of the second half. In perhaps the only moment of the 90 minutes in which Mainz's defense didn't look composed, Schalke had equalized through the most unlikely of players.
Yet rather than push on for the win, Schalke once again struggled to break Mainz down and with every passing moment the home side grew more confident despite lacking their injured forward Yoshinori Muto.
Indeed, while Schalke were still trying to keep Sane onside or find an out-ball to Huntelaar, Mainz regained their lead just before the 80th minute when Julian Baumgartlinger headed home a perfect cross from Yunus Malli. A fitting goal from the captain who perfectly embodies the hard-working ethos of this egoless Mainz side.
Schalke's response to the second goal summed up how they felt their evening had gone thus far: Sane was pulled off for Franco Di Santo and towering central defender Joel Matip was tasked with playing as a striker alongside his Dutch colleague.
Neither tactic worked in the end for the visitors and Schalke were left to rue what could have been in a match that Mainz needed only two chances to first take the lead and then win. The Royal Blues' attacking talent didn't show up on Friday night and it ended up costing their team all three points.