October 24, 2017

2016-2017 Mainz Season Preview:: Tradition Meets Ambition

Basics
Name: 1,FSV Mainz 95
Nicknames: Die Nullfünfer (the O-Fives), Karnevalsverein (Carnival club)
Founded: March 16, 1905
Club colors: red and white
Primary rivals: Eintracht Frankfurt, 1.FC Kaiserslautern
Fan friendship:

Opel Arena (formerly known as Coface Arena)
Capacity: 34,034
2015-16 attendance:

Trophies
German Amateur Championship 1982

2015-16 Finishes
2. Bundesliga: 6th (50 pts, 14W, 8D, 12 L, scored 46 goals, allowed 42 +4 GD)
DFB Pokal: 2nd round (1-2 loss to 1860 Munich)

Top 2015-16 Scorers
Yunus Malli:  11
Jairo Samperio: 7
Yoshinori Muto:  7

Last Season 

Mainz looked able to push for the final Bundesliga Champions League spot in early March after defeating Bayern Munich 2-1, but in their remaining ten matches of the 2015/2016 campaign, Coach Martin Schmidt and company could only gather up two victories, against FC Augsburg and VfB Stuttgart.  The 05ers were shut out in three of their last five home matches by SV Darmstadt, Hamburger SV and Hertha Berlin.  Mainz’ productivity in attack diminished during those final ten matches — after averaging 1.4 goals/game in their first 24 contests, they only scored 12 times in the final ten matches (1.2 goals/game). Not a huge decrease, but the ensuing results turned what could have been a landmark season into a very good one.

The fact, though, is that Mainz maintained a fairly steady course throughout the last campaign.  Their longest winning streak was three matches, their longest unbeaten streak was five contests, while the club never lost more than two  in a row.  Points were consistently earned.  At home, they won eight times and drew four matches, on the road six wins were earned along with four draws.  The club’s biggest margin of victory in any match was three goals, as was their greatest margin of defeat.  Steady. On last year’s squad, six players chipped in with at least four goals, while five players had at least three assists. Only one player, Giulio Donati, earned a red card during the entire season.

Summer Test Results

Mainz started the summer well, with wins at the start of camp against lower-division clubs before coming to Colorado Springs, training for a week at the US Air Force Academy and defeating local USL PRO club the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and Ascenso MX club Leones Negros of the Universidad de Guadalajara (on PKs after 90 minutes).  For Mainz fans, defeating former Mainz player and Coach Jurgen Klopp 4-0 when he brought his Liverpool FC side at the Opel Arena was a thrill, although a week earlier Mainz lost to Europa League champions Sevilla 1-0.  The 05ers lost their final preseason match to 1.FC Köln in a match closed to the public — one source told me that the Billy Goats were rampant and looked very good. Mainz squeaked through their first Pokal match against SpVgg Unterhaching on PKs.

Aspiration

Advancing from the Europa League’s Group C (featuring St. Etienne, FK Qabala and Anderlecht) would be a historic accomplishment for the Rhineland-Palatinate club.  Finishing the Hinrunde in the top half of the Bundesliga and remaining alive in the Pokal would be a stellar achievement.

Reality

This is a youngish team –only backup goalkeeper Gianluci Curci is over 30 years old (he’s 31) while defenders Leon Balogun, Daniel Brosinski and Niko Bungert, along with attacking midfielder Pablo Di Blasis, are all either 28 or 29.  That’s it for the graybeards.  But for the most part, the players expected to carry the load this season are young veterans of first division football, but not baby-faced kids.

Unfortunately, the club’s coach and players have no real experience in European football, and despite the fact that they were lucky to be drawn into a rather low-profile Group C (St. Etienne, FK Qabala, Anderlecht), each of those sides played in the Europa League recently, making Mainz the new kid on the block.  There is no reason that Mainz can’t win this group, but the experience factor certainly hurts their chances.  And with the club in three competitions for the first time (Mainz flirted with the Europa League twice in recent seasons, but couldn’t get through the play-in phase to attain a place in the group stage), the predictable strain on the squad could be telling in league play. One wouldn’t expect the club to struggle with relegation, however, given that Mainz have finished no lower than 13th in the table in the last seven seasons.

The Boss

Coach Martin Schmidt, 49, is an interesting individual.  The native of Switzerland played in the lower Swiss leagues but was plagued by knee injuries that forced his retirement.  He found success outside of football, in such diverse pursuits as high-performance auto mechanics, extreme skiing and even in the apparel industry, where he teamed up with his sisters, proving that he could be successful outside of the footballing world and perhaps giving him a broader perspective than many of his peers.

When hired as Mainz senior squad coach in February, 2015 to replace Kasper Hjulmand, Schmidt had been at the club five years, coaching the reserves, after having been successful coaching the reserve side at FC Thun.  Schmidt already had an intimate knowledge of Mainz, especially its younger players, and was ready to step into the Mainz coaching tradition established by Jurgen Klopp and continued by Thomas Tuchel. Observing Schmidt for a week in Colorado Springs back in July, it’s easy to see that he’s at ease in his job, high-energy but down-to-earth enough to help pick up cones and balls after a practice, articulate, and much the teacher to his young, diverse squad that is composed of players from 14 different nations.

Philosophy

Under Coach Schmidt, the emphasis is on fitness and team-building.  During 2016, for example, the squad camped in the Alps during the January winter break and spent a week in July in high-altitude Colorado Springs,  playing two friendlies against clubs in midseason form (Colorado Springs Switchbacks, USL PRO) and ready to start their season (UDG Leones Negros, who kicked off their Ascenso MX season two days after their Mainz friendly).  Getting the players out of their comfort zone to build team unity along with introducing new challenges is important to Schmidt.  He was also quite pleased that, in the club’s first training camp in the United States, his players faced the challenge of playing two clubs further ahead in their fitness.

In his first few months replacing long-time Mainz Sporting Director Christian Heidel (gone to Schalke), Rouven Schroder appears to be able to continue the good work done by his predecessor.  Making permanent deals with last year’s loanees Jhon Cordoba and Christian Clemens created most of the negative balance (10m euros) between the summer 2016 ins and outs at the club, but their performances were important to Mainz last season.  Picking up Levin Öztunalı days before the season opener is a good bit of business, and Gerrit Holtmann, 21, from Braunschweig was able to excel in early season friendlies in Colorado.  Goalkeeper Jonas Lössl will be a great bargain buy from Guingamp if he proves he can excel in the Bundesliga, while former Lens man Jean-Philippe Gbamin, 20, is an intriguing addition to the backline.  Jose Rodriguez from Galatasaray will fit in, too.  Near the transfer window’s very end, Mainz were able to pick up Leverkusen defender Andre Ramalho on loan, a player that has been solid thus far in his young Bundesliga career.

Plan B

Mainz have been one of the more innovative German clubs in terms of philosophy and tactical experimentation over the years, and one would think that they could reasonably adapt to changes in circumstance (injuries, a long losing streak, new formations).  One wouldn’t expect any locker room crisises at a club without high-profile stars, so any problems would likely to be related to subpar performances on the pitch, not problems off of it.

Notable Transfers
Out:
Loris Karius (Liverpool FC) 6.2m euros

Julian Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen) 4m euros

Christoph Moritz  (Kaiserslautern)  250,000 euros

Dani Schahin  (JC Roda)  free transfer

Henrique Sereno (unknown)

Elkin Soto  (Once Caldas)  free transfer

In:

Jhon Cordoba (loan made permanent, Granada)  6.5 m euros

Christian Clemens (loan made permanent, Schalke) 2m euros

Jean-Philippe Gbamin (RC Lens) 5m euros

Gerrit Holtmann (Eintracht Braunschweig) 3m euros

Jonas Lössl  (EA Guingamp)  2.5m euros

Jose Rodriguez Galatasaray)  2.15m euros

Levin Öztunalı  (Bayer Leverkusen)

Besar Halimi (loan return, FSV Frankfurt)

Niki Zimling (loan return, FSV Frankfurt)

André Ramalho (loan from Bayer Leverkusen)

Strengths

The strength of this club at the squad level is the quality of its players.  While lacking stars, the club has a good deal of depth for a mid-level Bundesliga side.  In attack, Coach Schmidt has many options available, including Yunus Malli, Yoshinori Muto (who scored in MatchDay One’s 2-1 loss in Dortmund), Jhon Cordoba (injured but to return soon), Jairo Samperio (knee injury) and Argentine Pablo di Blasis. Youngsters Gerrit Holtman and Besar Halimi showed some attacking flair during the preseason and newcomer Karim Onisiwo, 24,  scored 38 goals in 81 appearances in Austria since 2012.

In the midfield,Danny Latza (abductor injury) had a strong season before injury, while Christian Clemens has been more than solid since coming over from Schalke.  Fabian Frei is a steady player while a backline of Giulio Donati and the Killer Bs (captain Stefan Bell, Leon Balogun and left back Daniel Brosinski) are steady veterans backed up by Niko Bungert and Alexander Hack.  Frenchman Gaëtan Bussmann was a surpisingly good pickup last season from Metz, while 20 year-old Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Suat Serdar, 19, started for Schmidt against Dortmund last week.  New Sporting Director Schroder may have pulled some rabbits out of his hat (ala his predecessor Heidel) by signing Levin Öztunalı and arranging a loan deal for André Ramalho, a good defender who may work as a defensive midfielder if Latza’s abductor injury doesn’t improve quickly (apparently Latza’s injury status is an up and down thing, at times it looks like he’ll be ready to go but then again, Mainz did not include him on their Europa League roster because of his health concerns).  And since the Mainz reserve squad plays in 3.Liga as opposed to competing in the Regionalliga (4th division), Mainz’ youngest talents compete at a higher level than most of their Bundesliga club reserve team peers.  Charmaine Hausdel and Aaron Seydel are two such youngsters with Mainz II who look like, at the very least, they could hold their own in Germany’s top division.

At the management level, Mainz seem to have a clear idea of what they are doing.  They have seven consecutive seasons in the first division and are taking steps forward trying to grow their brand and the quality of their roster without overcommitment financially.  They are a solid, mid-level club with aspirations.

Weaknesses

The club’s two big roster losses, goalkeeper Loris Karius, and defensive midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger, were arguably Mainz’ two best players last season and were certainly a major reason that the 05ers finished with a positive goal differential and a Europa League group berth.   New goalkeeper Jonas Lössl has the number one shirt after being a starter in Ligue 1 the last few seasons, and he is backed up by Serie A veteran Gianluca Curci (currently injured), Florian Muller and 2016 Olympian Jannik Huth from the reserve squad.  Samperio’s injury problems, along with Latza’s, and Malli’s inconsistent form last season could greatly limit what Mainz can achieve this season.

The lack of players with successful experience in Europe may also hinder Mainz in its first foray into the Europa League group stage.  Also, there is no “star” player on the squad that can be relied upon to carry the team for a stretch of matches — someone may emerge, but at the moment that person has yet to show himself

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

Being involved in three competitions will test the mettle of the Mainz family.  From Thursday September 15 through Sunday October 2,  play six matches in 17 days, fortunately followed by two weeks off during an international break.  Following that break, Schmidt’s club face seven fixtures in the 21 days between October 16 and November 6,   Mainz don’t face waves of strong clubs during these streaks, but the sheer number of matches during short periods of time is enough of a challenge by itself.  Maintaining a healthy squad and effectively rotating the players will be key as Schmidt faces his first European tournament

Verdict

There is much to like about this club, very much.  1.FSV Mainz 05 are a traditional, but Karnevalsverein club that rose to the Bundesliga in the established manner.  Their Lotto kit isn’t edgy, but the uniforms look good, and while there hasn’t been a great deal of change in Mainz’ kit in recent seasons, the old adage applies — ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

Despite the traditional trappings,  Mainz think outside the box.  Their coaches over the last 15 years– Klopp, Jørn AndersenThomas Tuchel, Hjulmand, Schmidt — were unknowns with no proven track record when appointed by Mainz, with the exception of Hjulmand, who’d been coaching in Denmark’s top division for  several seasons.  After a period of revolving-door coaching appointments during the late 1990s, the club’s upper management has shown faith in their decisions, and that stability has made Mainz a solid mid-level Bundesliga side.

The club made its first trip to the United States in July, seeking quality training facilities and a good environment for the players while playing two friendlies.  Creating awareness of their brand in the United States and North America was also a consideration in making the weeklong trip, of course, but the club came with the realistic expectations that no, they aren’t Bayern Munich, and fans won’t be pouring out to see them as they would for Bayern — but it was a good debut for the 05 brand in the Americas. Additionally, by bringing a good number of coaches from their highly-regarded academy to train American youngsters Mainz created a  very receptive audience among parents, who universally were quite happy with the training Mainz provided.  A family approach — smart.

Mainz have two faces.  In one sense, they are a very pragmatic, focused organization.  Ambitious. But on the other hand, they carry with them a certain sense of hipness, too.  The front office folks are smart, fun and helpful and the players and coaching staff are down-to-earth, from what I observed in Colorado. Mainz are very serious about winning, but don’t take themselves as seriously as other Bundesliga clubs do. Ambitious with a smile instead of a look of grim, humorless determination. Mainz are more fun than stuffy, and would be a perfect fit as a club to support for a newcomer to the Bundesliga game.

I imagine that this season we’ll see Mainz do relatively well in the Europa League with  a good chance of advancing to the knockout phase, where they likely wouldn’t last long.  In league play, I see them as being on the verge of another European berth.  But in the Bundesliga, it’s a fairly thin line between finishing 6th and 14th — injuries and some bad luck can make a huge difference in the standings for a league so competitive outside the axis of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and perhaps Bayer Leverkusen.  Most importantly, Mainz should be a fun club to follow, an enthusiastic club that plays good football as a team. I’m all in.

mainzgerry

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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