For the eleventh season in a row Mainz confounded the predictions of the naysayers by securing their Bundesliga place for another year. Another tough season saw the Nullfünfer seriously toying with the drop, before coming through at the vital stage of the campaign.
They parted company with Sandro Schwarz, took a gamble on Achim Beierlorzer, who’d himself been sacked by Köln and with their backs against the wall fought for every point they could.
All’s well that ends well as they say and their final league position of 13th saw them finish just two points behind Schalke and six clear of the drop zone. Sporting director Rouwen Schröder graded the season as ‘satisfactory saying. “We had different phases in the season. It fluctuated between ‘good’, but only ‘poor” in between. I think it has been a long year in which we have seen all our facets. Plus, there’s the pandemic that we do not forget, and it is still going on, but all in all it was satisfactory” he said at the season’s end.
To say the season began badly for Mainz would be big understatement to say the least. They lost their leading goal scorer Jean-Philippe Mateta to a serious knee injury in the pre-season, were dumped out of the DFB Pokal in the first round by Kaiserslautern and then lost their opening three Bundesliga matches. They did then beat Hertha to stop the rot, but then three defeats in their next five games saw any optimism start to evaporate.
The evaporation turned into a full-blown storm of pessimism as they were embarrassed 8-0 at RB Leipzig and then downed by Union Berlin. That was the straw that broke Sandro Schwarz’s back and the did a very un-Mainz thing and sacked their trainer. Achim Beierlorzer seemed a curious choice to succeed, but he started with a 5-1 win over Hoffenheim and by the end of the Hinrunde Mainz were 14th in the table, but just three points above the bottom three.
The Rückrunde began in identical fashion to the season start with three defeats before a win over Hertha. Mainz kept picking up points here and there but were never really able to put a healthy distance between themselves and the likes of Fortuna Düsseldorf and Werder Bremen below them. A shock win over Borussia Dortmund on matchday 32 was the spark that led to survival before their 3-1 win over Bremen in the following relegation six-pointer confirmed their safety.
Mainz know they are a ‘small’ club mixing it with the big fish in the Bundesliga pond. Had they been offered 14th place at the start of the season, they probably would have taken it, so Rouwen Schröder’s evaluation of ‘satisfactory’ seems apt.
Three key highlights stand out this season for Mainz. Achim Beierlorzer’s first game in charge witnessed the perfect positive reaction from the players following the parting of the ways with Sandro Schwarz. A 5-1 win in Sinsheim really wasn’t on the cards, especially when they had to play the entire second 45 minutes with ten men following Ridle Baku’s red card.
The 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park was also a bolt from the blue especially having lost the previous game at home to relegation contenders Augsburg. The visitors fully deserved the three points secured by a first Bundesliga goal for Jonathan Burkhardt and a Mateta penalty.
Their league status was then finally secured with an impressive 3-1 win over Werder Bremen when the chips were really down.
The absolute low point has to be the 8-0 thrashing that RB Leipzig dished out on matchday 10. They were 5-0 down at half-time after finding no answer to a rampant attack. Timo Werner bagged himself a hat trick, while it was Mainz’s worst-ever Bundesliga defeat after their 6-0 loss to Bayern in 2018/19. The return fixture on matchday 27 saw them ‘only’ lose 5-0.
Being one of only two Bundesliga clubs eliminated from the 1st round of the DFB Pokal also wasn’t their finest hour (Augsburg the other).
Tale of the Tape
Record: 11-4-19, 37 points (1.09 per game), 13th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 17 points (5-2-10) Away Record: 20 points (6-2-9)
Goals: 44 (1.29 per game), Goals Against: 65 (1.91 per game), Diff: -21
xG: 45.8, xGA: 58.7, Diff: -12.9
The torn meniscus suffered by Jean-Philippe Mateta in pre-season was a huge blow to Mainz and he was ruled out for pretty much the entire Hinrunde. They scored 44 goals over the season (average of 1.29 per game). The club’s leading scorer was Robin Quaison with 13, but then the next highest scorers were Jean-Paul Boëtius and Karim Onisiwo with four. Mateta scored three on return from injury, but there wasn’t a significant contribution from elsewhere.
Quaison really was the main attacking threat hitting 72 shots compared to his nearest teammate on 38. His shot accuracy was only at 40.3% though. Overall Mainz ranked 7th in the league for shots taken (446), but 16th overall for percentage of shots on target (31.2%).
The intent was there, just not the always purpose.
Sandro Schwarz was a back four man, although Beierlorzer did experiment at times with a back three. Robin Zentner was the first-choice keeper with Florian Müller as back-up. Moussa Niakhate and Jeremiah St Juste formed the centre back pairing with Ridle Baku on the right and Aaron Martin or Daniel Brosinski at left-back.
Moussa Niakhate ranked fifth in the Bundesliga for tackles in the defensive third with 47 and with 215 clearances he led the league showing just how busy he was. He also ranked 8th overall in the entire league for pressures in the defensive third.
Mainz conceded 65 goals (average 1.91 per game) which was the fifth highest in the league.
Pierre Kunde and Jean-Paul Boëtius scored four goals apiece with Kunde scoring a particularly impressive solo effort against Köln after the lockdown. Beierlorzer favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation with Edmilson Fernandes, Leandro Martins, Danny Latza, Pierre Kunde alternating for the holding pair.
Daniel Brosinski had the most shot creating actions in the team with 85, while Edmilson Fernandes possessed the best pass accuracy with 84.9%.
The loss of midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin was really felt by Mainz this season. His €25 million sale to Everton brought in the cash but left a massive hole in terms of quality in the central midfield area, that wasn’t adequately filled.
Of the players signed in the summer, the only one that be considered an out and out success is Jerry St Juste, who came in from Feyenoord for €9 million. He formed a reliable partnership with Moussa Niakhate and emerged with a lot of credit from his first Bundesliga season. He scored twice and added two assists.
Edmilson Fernandes cost €7.5 million from West Ham, but he didn’t always convince in the middle of the park. The two full back signings had different impacts with Aaron Martin on the left faring much better than Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel on the right side. Gabriel cost €5.5 million from Monaco but made just eight appearances.
Taiwo Awoniyi was a loan signing from Liverpool, but only played 483 minutes scoring one goal and providing no assists. Adam Szalai was supposed to provide cover for the injured Mateta, but he scored just once in his 27 appearances (12 starts).
Player of the Season
Moussa Niakhate had a good shout for this as did Daniel Brosinski, but the best player for me was Robin Quaison. Without his 13 goals, Mainz would have been in real trouble following the loss of Mateta for the Hinrunde. The Swede bagged a hat trick against both Hertha Berlin and Werder Bremen and also scored arguably the goal of the month in October for his stunning strike against Köln. One of his Hertha goals saw him completely lose his markers by pretending to tie his shoelaces- cunning as well as a lethal finisher.
The club’s own evaluation of satisfactory is a good one. There were peaks and troughs throughout the season and their safety wasn’t confirmed until matchday 33, but the club once again maintained their Bundesliga status, which was the season’s objective. Whether they would have turned things around without removing Sandro Schwarz is unclear, but the job now is to survive the financial crisis brought on by the corona virus and go again next season with as many of their star players as possible.