After looking to be heading towards a European spot before the winter break, 1. FSV Mainz have become one of the most inconsistent team in the Bundesliga and have slipped to tenth in the League with two matches remaining, winning just once since January. Coach Thomas Tuchel’s Mainz ended the Hinrunde on a high note, beating VfB Stuttgart 3-1 in December and held the sixth position going into winter break with an 8-2-7 mark (albeit only by a point over Schalke, Borussia Mönchengladbach and the Swabians). Thus, the question is; where did it all go wrong?
Realistically, there are several possible explanations as to why Mainz have faltered in their European quest. Eugen Polanski’s move to Hoffenheim has left Mainz with a weakened midfield. Additionaly, the injuries to Ivan Klasnic at the end of March, Choupo-Moting in the middle of April and top scorer Adam Szalai just last week have hampered Mainz ability to score goals in the second part of this season. Another possible explanation for the skid by the team from the Rhineland-Palitinate was the announced sale of young centre-back Jan Kirchhoff to Bayern München (which will be completed in the summer); and the expected loss of Andreas Ivanschitz on a free transfer following the season’s end. Both players may have lost focus thinking about their futures. But in the end, each of these reasons have been part of a greater equation explaining the slip Mainz have suffered since the winter break.
Although Polanski hadn’t scored for Mainz in the 2012/2013 season before his move; his strong presence in the middle and in front of defense was helpful to the team, especially as the season progressed. Niki Zimling has done well since coming to the league but one can’t help but feel that the team would benefit from having both play alongside each other rather than swapping one for the other. Zimling is also still adjusting to the tempo of the league whereas Polanski had the experience of 140 Bundesliga matches prior to his Hoffenheim move.
With a lack of goals coming from the strikers of Mainz; the midfield was needed to step up and win games in positions they were expected too. But instead, they have lost games from positions one would have expected them to have won. They conceded a late equaliser to Schalke in April after leading twice and 23 of the 38 goals they have conceded this season have come in the second half of games; 8 of them in the final 15 minutes of games. The inability to close out games has seen Tuchel’s side draw nine of their fifteen league matches in 2013, consistently robbing Mainz of the points necessary to gain Europe through the season’s second half.
Before January, Mainz had a confident strike force which had scored 26 times in the Bundesliga. Since winter break ended, though, Mainz have scored just 12 times, with Adam Szalai and Nicolai Muller left to shoulder the scoring burden after the injuries to Klasnic and Choupo-Moting. While Mainz’ goalscoring was just near the league average in the first half of the season, that average of 1.5 Hinrunde goals per match was double the 0.8 goals per match averaged since January. With the third best defensive record in the league, no blame can be put on the resolute Mainz defence for their lack of wins in the second half of the season. It is the lack of goals that has been the main problem for the team. They have scored fewer goals than 17th place Hoffenheim, which has meant that in games they have controlled, they have been left to pick up just a point or even a loss. For a team challenging for a European spot this season; this is unacceptable. Goals win you games at the end of the day.
Another potential reason for Mainz’ downfall is the aforementioned moves by Jan Kirchhoff and Andreas Ivanschitz who will be leaving the club at season’s end. Although Kirchhoff was injured in the middle of April; it’s not doubt the news of his free transfer move to Bayern Munchen in the summer has left his team-mates wondering whether they will be able to compete as defensively as they have this season, and frankly, Kirchoff would have to be less than human if he didn’t lose at least some focus, thinking about playing for a championship club rather than an also-ran. Perhaps even more significant is the departure of influential player like Andreas Ivanschitz. Ivanschitz has been a massive help to Mainz’s midfield department this season, scoring six goals and assisting five. The Austrian international’s contract expires in the summer, and with no contract extension talks expected, Tuchel will have to bring in a replacement of even higher quality if Mainz hope to achieve European football next season.
So Mainz look set to finish in the middle of the Bundesliga this season; a position that was expected at the start of the season. However, after the way they began their campaign, it’s not surprise that some Mainz fans will be feeling disappointed when this season ends. Goals win games; can Mainz sign a big name striker in the summer to take them into Europe over the next few years? Or will the sharp-eyed Tuchel unearth another talented, if little-known striker. Mainz do have forward Anthony Ujah, who has scored 12 times in 26 matches while on loan to FC Köln this season after the 22 year-old Nigerian only scored twice last year in his first year at Mainz. Keep an eye out for the possibility of something happening at the Coface Arena over the summer months.
Header courtesy of facebook.com/1fsvmainz05
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