Maxim Choupo-Moting opened the scoring with a superb improvised finish shortly before half-time in what turned out to be the only goal of the game, as Leverkusen dropped out of the top two for the first time since Matchday 12.
Leverkusen were the far livelier of the two sides during the opening exchanges, but it was the visitors who had the first sight of goal as Nikolce Noveski headed just over the bar from Christoph Moritz’s early cross. The Werkself were enjoying the lion’s share of possession and, though they showed great composure in playing themselves out of tight positions due to Mainz’s unrelenting pressing, the all-important pass in the final third was not forthcoming.
Despite the hosts enjoying a level of control on proceedings, the game became increasingly scrappy either side of the quarter-hour mark with both teams cancelling each other out for the most part. Tactical discipline and organised backlines were the order of the day it seemed, but crucially Mainz didn’t look to be out of their depth and should have broken the deadlock when Shinji Okazaki failed to convert Ja-Cheol Koo’s square ball from six-yards out.
Choupo-Moting makes the difference
However, the visitors were finally rewarded for stifling Leverkusen as Zdenek Pospech clipped the ball into the path of Stefan Bell whose drilled cross was expertly finished by Choupo-Moting, beating Bernd Leno with a delightful back-heeled flick. The goal sparked Leverkusen into life as they put Mainz under increasing pressure, but though Heung-Min Son’s header was clawed off the line by Loris Karius, the hosts could have few qualms about going in behind at the break.
Leverkusen head coach Sami Hyypiä reacted to his side falling behind by bringing on 17-year-old Julian Brandt for Sidney Sam. The youngster had little to do with the hosts coming close to an equaliser, however, as Karius was forced to backpedal in order to tip Son’s dipping free-kick over the bar just minutes after the restart. The South Korean was denied again moments later as Bell put his body on the line to prevent the striker from turning Roberto Hilbert’s cross into the back of the net.
Too little, too late
A strong start to the second half had seen Bayer 04 grab the game by the scruff of the neck, but with momentum on their side, an element of desperation began creeping into their attacking movements as the clock ticked towards a conclusion. That only served to unsettle the visitors, however, whose backline began opening up, a fact not helped by Leverkusen’s switch to a 4-4-2 formation with the introduction of Stefan Kießling in an already intense encounter.
Bayer 04’s star striker almost made an immediate impact, drawing a strong save out of Karius with his effort from a tight angle. Yet, in many ways, it was Mainz’s in-form shot-stopper that proved to be the match-winner in the closing stages as he made a string of top saves to deny both Eren Derdiyok and Kießling. The hosts threw bodies forward in the dying moments to no effect and, after substitute Benedikt Saller failed to capitalise on Leverkusen’s vulnerability on the counter, were forced to accept a fifth straight defeat in all competitions.
Line-ups and statistics
Check out Choupo-Moting's goal and reggae-inspired celebration on the Bundelsiga's official YouTube channel: