Mainz's Bruchweg Boys on song
With just seven matches of the Bundesliga played this season, the table looks as though it has been turned on its head. While reigning champions Bayern Munich (12th), UEFA Champions League contestants Werder Bremen (13th), last year's runners-up Schalke 04 (17th) and Stuttgart (18th) have all fallen well behind their own expectations, the likes of Freiburg (5th) and Hannover 96 (3rd) have been in formidable form.
But the team that has undoubtedly caused the biggest stir is Mainz 05. After winning each of their first seven fixtures, not only have coach Thomas Tuchel's side equalled a record set by Bayern in 1995 and repeated by Kaiserslautern in 2001, they have firmly established themselves at the top of one of Europe's top leagues with a refreshing brand of exciting, energetic football.
The man behind the success
Tuchel, who at 37 is the youngest coach in Germany's top tier, took over at the Bruchwegstadion in August of last year. Having previously worked exclusively as a youth coach, he proved his credentials by winning the league title as assistant coach of Stuttgart U-19s.
The former defender subsequently took over the youth development centre at second-division FC Augsburg, before joining Mainz in the summer of 2008. Tuchel led the U-19 side to the German championship title in his first year in charge, the biggest success in the club's history.
Just a few weeks after that triumph, Mainz sporting director Christian Heidel and president Harald Strutz entrusted the young tactician with his first senior managerial role. In his first season at the helm, Tuchel took the newly-promoted outfit to ninth in the table, while showing an eye for identifying new talent which led to Andre Schurrle making the jump into the first team under his tutelage.
The young and wild ones
Tuchel, Heidel and Strutz have continued to build on that success this term. The signing of U-21 international Lewis Holtby on loan from Schalke has proved a masterstroke, with the young playmaker already scoring twice and setting up a further seven in his first few weeks at the club.
Schurrle has also shone in his second season as a pro, netting four times and creating another. The 19-year-old recently announced his decision to join fellow Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen at the end of the current campaign, but before then Schurrle is planning on achieving plenty more with Mainz.
Adam Szalai, 23, and Sami Allagui, 24, complete the 05ers' attacking quartet. Hungarian frontman Szalai arrived from Spanish giants Real Madrid in January, and following a brief settling-in period has since repaid his coach's faith in him with three league goals. Tunisian international Allagui has also struck three times for his new employers having joined from second-tier Greuther Furth during the close season.
Tuchel is well aware that a successful team requires experience as well as exuberance, and accordingly he has equipped his side with two seasoned campaigners in midfield. One is Miroslav Karhan, the 34-year-old Slovakian international who has played in all seven of his club's matches this term, giving the likes of Schurrle and Holtby license to thrill by exuding calmness and simplicity from defensive midfield.
Former German youth international Eugen Polanski is another of Tuchel's stalwarts. The Polish-born 24-year-old, who previously appeared for Borussia Monchengladbach and Getafe of the Spain's La Liga, has also been an ever-present this season.
Second-best defence in the league
Although Mainz lost two staples of last season's defence when goalkeeper Heinz Muller suffered a cruciate ligament injury during the summer and Tim Hoogland departed for Schalke, Tuchel's 'boy band' have had no trouble maintaining a tight rearguard.
Keeping opposing attacks at bay to great acclaim this term have been Muller's replacement between the sticks Christian Wetklo and left-back Christian Fuchs. While Wetklo has conceded just seven goals thus far, Austrian international Fuchs has impressed with his dangerous free-kicks and regular forays into the opposition half.
Work hard, play hard
Perhaps the chief reason for the recent success of one of the Bundesliga's youngest squads is Tuchel's healthy mix of hard work, freedom and fun. His anti-authoritarian style has clearly struck a chord, with the players free to talk publicly about their dreams of the title, while their coach himself often appears more of a friend than a boss.
The positive atmosphere in the dressing room has been translated on the pitch for over two months now. Indeed, plenty of highly-fancied clubs have already suffered the indignity of the 'Bruchweg Boys' (Holtby, Schurrle and Szalai posing as singer, guitarist and drummer respectively) celebrating goals in grounds across Germany.
And in this kind of form, the 05ers could well be the latest group of hungry young footballers to disprove a phrase once uttered by ex-Liverpool defender Alan Hansen: "You'll win nothing with kids."