The fact that Mainz were left slightly disappointed with their top half finish at the end of the season tells you just what a successful year the Nullfünfer had. They were never involved in the relegation struggle and easily achieved their season’s goal of Bundesliga survival. A great run of form in the Rückrunde saw them launch a genuine push for a European place, but a dip at the end of the campaign cost them and they had to be satisfied with ninth- above their original expectations. They were however to have a massive part to play in the race for the Meisterschale.
Getting off to a good start can be key and that is just what Mainz did back in August with three wins in their opening five matches and just one defeat suffered to Bayer Leverkusen. They picked up two further wins in the Hinrunde (Werder Bremen and Köln) and the lowest they reached in the table was twelfth.
The run-up to the Winterpause however did see three defeats and draw leaving them tenth as the Bundesliga paused for the World Cup with fifteen games played. The New Year started with a draw against Stuttgart and a defeat to Dortmund, but a first win then arrived with a 5-2 victory over Bochum. A narrow defeat to high flyers Union Berlin followed, before Mainz changed up a gear and went on a ten-match unbeaten streak.
A run of four wins against Augsburg, Leverkusen, Mönchengladbach and Hoffenheim was followed by successive draws to Hertha Berlin and Freiburg. RB Leipzig were then well beaten at the Red Bull Arena as Mainz looked more like the club chasing Europe than their more illustrious opponents. Draws against Werder and Köln extended the run, but the crowning glory was to come on matchday 29 when Bayern Munich were soundly beaten after a great second half display from Bo Svensson’s side against former Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel.
The club were up to seventh with a two-point gap to sixth place Bayer Leverkusen and despite playing it coy, the ambition to achieve European football next season was awakened, although not voiced publicly.
However, having peaked with the Bayern win, Mainz hit the skids losing their next four matches. Their defensive solidity abandoned them and they conceded thirteen goals while scoring just three themselves. The European dream was over, but Mainz’s season wasn’t as they were supposed to be the sacrificial lambs at Borussia Dortmund’s title winning party at the Signal Iduna Park on the final day of the season.
They clearly hadn’t read the script and raced into a 2-0 first half lead. BVB did fight back to 2-2, but it wasn’t enough to stop Bayern reclaiming the Bundesliga crown and Mainz were left as the pantomime villain. Overall, the season has to be deemed a success, but the impressive run in the Rückrunde held out the carrot of Europe, which when taken away, put a disappointing sheen on the season.
The match that has to go down as the highlight is the matchday 29 win at home to Bayern. The battle between master (Thomas Tuchel) and apprentice (Bo Svensson) saw the latter emerge victorious. Despite trailing 1-0 at half time, Mainz knew that Bayern were fragile and three goals in a 14-minute spell saw them deservedly beat the hopeful champions.
The ten-match unbeaten run was a highlight, while the matchday 26 win at the Red Bull Arena saw a gulf in quality stacked firmly in Mainz’s favour.
The unexplained slump at the end of the season robbed the Nullfünfer of their European dream and why it happened needs looking into. The 6-2 defeat to Bayern in the Hinrunde, while not a shock, was the heaviest defeat of the season.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 12-10-12, 46 points (1.35 per game), 9th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 24 points (6-6-5) Away Record: 22 points (6-4-7)
Goals: 54 (1.59 per game), Goals Against: 55 (1.62 per game), Diff: -1
xG: 47.1, xGA: 53.6, Diff: -6.5
The continued absence of Jonathan Burkardt was a blow to Mainz, but they were nonetheless well equipped in the forward department. Karim Onisiwo had his spells out injured this season, but still got into double figures with ten goals. Summer signing Marcus Ingvartsen had his best goalscoring season in the Bundesliga with ten also, while Ludovic Ajorque’s arrival in January provided an extra boost in attack.
The young talent Nelson Weiper has been chomping at the bit for more involvement, but his time will come. 22-year-old Austrian Marlon Mustapha provides another option as does 19-year-old Brajan Gruda.
Mainz scored 54 goals from an xG of 47.1 and it was four more than last season.
The loss of defensive lynchpin Mouusa Niakhaté left the Mainz defence without its main cornerstone and in the first half of the season Bo Svensson rotated his back three amongst a host of players without really finding the optimal solution. Stefan Bell, Alexander Hack, Maxim Leistch, Edmilson Fernandes, Silvan Widmer, Anthony Caci and even Dominik Kohr were all tried in the back three and it wasn’t until the January signing of Norwegian Andreas Hanche-Olsen that the perfect fit of Bell, Fernandes and Hanche-Olsen was hit upon.
Robin Zentner held on to the number one spot in goal keeping Fin Dahmen in reserve. Mainz conceded 55 goals which was ten more than last season. Thirteen of them came in the four-match losing streak at the end of the season, which puts a more negative slant on their overall performance.
Stefan Bell became the club’s all-time leading Bundesliga appearance maker with his 256th game on the final weekend. They ranked highest in the entire league for interceptions and sixth overall for tackles in the defensive third. They ranked second for duels won behind Bayern and second for aerial duels won behind Bochum. They also were the second placed team for fouls committed.
The options in midfield were numerous and Bo Svensson was able to vary his line-up as and when necessary. Leandro Barreiro and Anton Stach were the key members of the midfield with Dominik Kohr and Jae-Sung Lee getting plenty of game time. Kohr was booked eleven times to add gravitas to his ‘Hardkohr’ nickname, while Lee scored seven goals and provided six assists. Aymen Barkok made 23 appearances, but only three were as a starter.
Mainz’s biggest outlay last summer was the €6 million paid to Angers for attacking midfielder Angelo Fulgini. The fact that he made just five starts and was sent back to France on loan in January tells you that he wasn’t exactly a success at the club. €3.5 million was paid to Bochum for central defender Maxim Leitsch, but he too didn’t really have the desired impact and made just seven starts.
More successful was the signing of Danish forward Marcus Ingvartsen from Union Berlin for €2.5 million. He would enjoy his best-ever goalscoring season and end up as the club’s joint top scorer. Delano Burgzorg was another disappointing arrival, who cost €2 million from Dutch side Heracles Almelo. He didn’t make a single start and was reduced to a total of 244 minutes as a substitute. Free signings Anthony Caci and Danny da Costa came in at left and right back and had solid seasons, while Dominik Kohr added cover, experience, and bite in midfield.
The January arrivals were however much more successful and both had a big impact helping Mainz push for European qualification. Ludovic Ajorque came in from Strasbourg for €6 million, while central defender Andreas Hanche-Olsen was signed from Belgian side KAA Gent for €2.5 million.
Player of the Season
The 1m 96 Frenchman Ludovic Ajorque may have only played half the season having arrived in January, but his impact coincided with Mainz’s hot streak and he quickly became a firm favourite. Having been linked with Hertha Berlin last summer he proved he is more than just a tall target man scoring six goals and laying on three assists in his seventeen appearances. He fits the Mainz profile perfectly and harks back to days when Adam Szalai led the line. Shoutouts also have to go to Stefan Bell and Leandro Barreiro and Jae-Sung Lee.
Nelson Weiper looks to have a bright future having been promoted to the senior side this season. He grabbed a debut Bundesliga goal on matchday 22 in the 4-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach. Brough on in the 85th minute he scored in injury time with a header.
He thought his second goal against Werder Bremen had won the game for Mainz in the 93rd minute only for Niclas Füllkrug to grab an even later equaliser. The 18-year-old will hope to lead the line for Germany’s U-21’s in this summer’s European Championships in Georgia/ Romania.
Overall Mainz have to be satisfied with a ninth place finish and a season in which they never flirted with relegation. The lingering disappointment however will be there after the prospect of European qualification evaporated during the season run-in. They enjoyed the highs of beating Bayern and Leipzig and in both games were the better, superior side. Bo Svensson is the ideal man at the helm and the Nullfünfer continue to prove themselves a well-run outfit with a sense of direction and purpose that many other ‘big’ clubs would do well to copy.