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Smaller clubs Mainz, Hoffenheim upset Bundesliga's natural order

Two outsiders have turned the Bundesliga table on its head, beating some heady opponents in the process. But that's where the similarity ends. Indeed, Hoffenheim and Mainz show that there are different ways to win.

Mainz players celebrate

Mainz celebrated an opening-day win against much bigger Stuttgart

The contrasts between the Bundesliga's only two teams with a 100 percent record begin with their coaches. Hoffenheim's Ralf Rangnick is a bespectacled strategist whose nickname is "The Professor." Mainz's Thomas Tuchel is a players' coach who dresses more like a fan than a boss and often seems amazed that he's landed such a great job.

Hoffenheim's trademark, which was amply on display in their two-nil win over Schalke at the weekend, is explosively quick passing that steamrolls opponents.

Mainz's coach Thomas Tuchel

Tuchel is more of an everyday sort of guy ...

Mainz, on the other hand, does things the hard way, packing it in at the back and looking to catch adversaries out on the counter. Their greatest strength thus far has been resilience, and after overturning a three-goal deficit against Wolfsburg in round two, they again came from behind to beat Kaiserslautern on Sunday.

"Patience, patience, patience, that's what I always tell my players," Tuchel said to reporters after the latter win. "In the end our patience paid off."

Rangnick, meanwhile, was letting his players do the talking.

"It's a cliche to say that we're a team once again, but in our case it's true," said Hoffenheim midfielder Tobias Weis, and a number of his teammates echoed that sentiment.

For Mainz, the current winning streak is a matter of continuing a trend from last season. For Hoffenheim, it's about reversing one.

Ralf Rangnick

... while Rangnick takes the cerebral approach.

Reading from the same playbook

Hoffenheim created a sensation in 2008 when, having jumped up two divisions in two years, they topped the Bundesliga table for the first half of the season. But the team, which is backed by software billionaire Dietmar Hopp, was built on paying players above the going rate to ply their trade in a town of 3300 people, and team spirit was always going to be an issue.

That came to head last season, as squabbling broke out and the team finished in the bottom half of the table. So, wisely, in the off-season the team emphasized sorting out bad apples, over trying to land expensive new signings.

Gifted but personally problematic midfielder Carlos Eduardo, whose propensity for red cards earned him the moniker "Rangnick's Rambo," was shipped out to Russian side Rubin Kazan. The team also severed ties with commercial manager Jan Schindelmeier, who rubbed many players the wrong way, and restricted access to dressing rooms to exclude agents and hangers-on.

In Mainz, by contrast, atmosphere was never an issue. The side with its relatively small budget is known as Germany's "Carnival Club," and Tuchel, whose was unexpectedly promoted from the amateur team at the start of last season, is a perfect match for fans who expect coaches to appear like one of them.

Mainz's Andre Schuerrle, right, and Mainz's Lewis Holtby celebrate

Mainz's Schuerrle has become one hot property

Equality is also a philosophical principle with Tuchel, who has shown he's not afraid to bench Mainz's more expensive and more established players.

"Our chief criterion is performance," Tuchel said in an interview last his weekend with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. "Our decisions as coaches have to be comprehensible to the players."

As a result, Mainz's youngsters are getting some major minutes, and they're repaying Tuchel with goals.

Stars-in-the-making?

19-year-old Andre Schuerrle has become the Bundesliga's hottest prospect. The offensive all-rounder made his professional debut last season, and Mainz have never lost a match when he has scored. And despite being used only as a second-half substitute, Schuerrle sparked both of Mainz's recent comebacks.

Another fine performer has been 20-year-old midfielder Lewis Holtby, who has had an assist in each one of Mainz's wins this season.

But this pair of budding stars won't be around forever. Holtby is only out on loan from Schalke, while Schuerrle has allegedly been tracked by both Manchester United and Bayern Munich and already reportedly has a deal to move to Leverkusen next season.

Isaac Vorsah

Hoffenheim's Vorsah got better playing as an international with Ghana

Hoffenheim can also boast players coming into their own, first and foremost among them Isaac Vorsah. The defender seems to have made a quantum leap, perhaps because of the experience who gained playing for his national side, Ghana, who did well at both the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2010 World Cup.

He's scored twice this season, but more importantly, he's plugged a hole in the back four that caused Hoffenheim to unnecessarily drop a lot of points last season.

Still, Hoffenheim know from past experience the sort of plummet that can follow a meteoric rise.

"Right now there's euphoria," Tom Starke said after the win over Schalke. "But it's of no use, if we don't keep our feet on the ground."

It's highly unlike that Hoffenheim and Mainz will hold on to the top two spots in the table for very long. Nonetheless, for the time being, these two very different clubs can be satisfied with having gotten out of the blocks with a flying start.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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