In all good hospital dramas there is a highly emotionally charged scene where everyone accepts the patient on the gurney receiving CPR is not going to make it and the ECG monitor flat lines indicating the end of life.
That’s how it felt as the 2017-18 Bundesliga Rückrunde progressed towards its conclusion and the patent that was Mainz seemingly looked to be on the way out. But wait! As in all good hospital dramas, there was a late recovery and the patient was brought back from the brink with the grim reaper of Bundesliga II left to sink his scythe into the rotting corpse that was HSV instead.
The season was always going to be about survival for the Nullfünfer as they sought to secure a tenth season in the top flight following their promotion in 2009. The previous campaign had seen them avoid relegation play-off only courtesy of goal difference having finished level on 37 points with VfL Wolfsburg.
They opened the new season with matches against both newly promoted sides and when they lost them both 1-0, it looked to have confirmed that a long, hard season was in store for Sandro Schwarz’s side. A surprise win over Bayer Leverkusen followed, but there away form was terrible with just four draws picked up on the road. Three further wins in the Hinrunde saw Mainz finish 15th going into the Winterpause.
The New Year opened with a win over Stuttgart in the DFB Pokal, but there was more misery in the league with five defeats in their opening six matches of the Rückrunde and by matchday 22 they were firmly in the bottom three with Werder Bremen and Stuttgart moving clear above them.
A first away win at Hertha Berlin brought a glimmer of hope, but a run of four points in the next six games meant they were simply not extracting themselves from the drop zone.
Then came the last-minute recovery. A potentially vital win was picked up in the ‘six-pointer’ against Freiburg with Pablo de Blasis scoring the controversial VAR penalty during half-time! Matchday 32 brought another fine performance with a 3-0 win over RB Leipzig showing Mainz were not dead yet and then for the first time all season, they notched up successive win by going to the Signal Iduna Park and beating Borussia Dortmund.
The decision of Sandro Schwarz to throw in rookie Ridle Baku against RB and BVB looked inspired as the youngster scored in both matches. The win over Dortmund meant that Mainz were mathematically safe with a game to spare.
The season had gone as expected, but yet again the Mainz patient refused the last rites and lived to fight another day.
The last two games of Mainz’s season provided the highlight with successive wins over RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund. Having picked up a long-awaited three points in their home clash with SC Freiburg on matchday 30, it still looked an uphill challenge for the Nullfünfer with consecutive matches with Champions League chasing Leipzig and Dortmund.
Mainz took their chances well against die Roten Bullen at the Opel Arena to stun everybody with a 3-0 win, before producing an even better display to down the Schwarzgelben at the Signal Iduna Park. They were 2-0 up within 13 minutes and despite Maximilian Philipp pulling a goal back, were able to hold onto the three points and Bundesliga safety.
The discovery of Ridle Baku at the end of the campaign is also a highlight for Mainz fans and they can expect to see a lot more of the 20-year-old next season.
Losing to both Hannover and VfB Stuttgart in their openers was not exactly the best way to start the season, but overall the poor away form was the lowlight for Mainz. Their travelling supporters had very little to shout about until their final road trip of the season to Dortmund. Only 12 points were picked up away from the Opel Arena.
Mainz scored 38 goals averaging 1.12 per game with Yoshinori Muto top scorer on eight goals. The diminutive Pablo de Blasis chipped in with five (including three penalties) with Danish striker Emil Berggreen adding four. The January arrival of Anthony Ujah from China didn’t pay dividends with the Nigerian going goalless in his 11 appearances.
Most of Mainz’s goals (68%) came from open-play with only 12 arriving from set-pieces. Yoshinori Muto was caught offside 16 times, but did lead the side with attacking challenges making 372 and averaging 17 per match.
Mainz averaged 12.2 shots per game with Robin Quaison having the most on target with 41. They were a little unlucky not to score more with the post/ bar being hit on 14 occasions.
In goal Mainz used three keepers across the season with Rene Adler making fourteen appearances, Robin Zentner fifteen and youngster Florian Müller just five (including a highly impressive Bundesliga debut against Hamburg).
Stefan Bell was a key component of the defence whether Sandro Schwarz went with a back three or a back four and was Mainz’s strongest in the air making 180 aerial challenges. His usual partner Abdou Diallo was also a stand-out at the back making 359 defensive challenges, but also committing the highest number of fouls (61) on the team.
The main out-ball when Mainz did build from the back was left-back Daniel Brosinski who was involved as part of the top three pass combinations on the team.
A total of 52 goals were conceded with 22 (42%) coming from set-pieces.
The versatile Jean-Phillipe Gbamin was the key player for Mainz in midfield and it is no wonder that he is already been linked with bigger clubs. He extended his contract until 2022 mid-season, but that was probably a canny move on Mainz’s behalf to maximise any potential future transfer fee.
In a season where the Nullfünfer struggled, Kicker ranked him in the top ten midfielders in the league and it’s easy to see why. He was 6th in the league overall for duels won (371), scored once and provided three assists.
Danny Latza was important and had the unwanted record of hitting the woodwork four times, while Nigel de Jong brought both bite and experience to the Mainz midfield in an understated way. Home-grown Suat Serdar progressed so well that Schalke moved quickly to add him to their squad for next season, although the unearthing of Ridle Baku might go some way to making up for his loss.
Improvement for Next Season
Much will depend on holding onto key players for Mainz as they look to improve next season. The previous two years have mirrored each other with successive battles against relegation, so another 34 matches of slog could be on the cards.
Sandro Schwarz will however expect to see an improvement in their away form with just two wins picked up all season. Judging by their poor record defending set-pieces, they would do well to tighten up their organisation at the back. Either that or stop conceding so many fouls in dangerous places.
Mainz also need to score more of the chances they create. Shot-wise they were respectable this season, but the percentage of efforts turned into goals needs improvement.
Transfer Review/ Preview
Mainz have already lost midfielders Suat Serdar to Schalke for €11 million and Leon Balogun to Brighton, but also know they will be unable to turn down big money offers should they come in for their other highly-rated assets Abdou Diallo and Jean-Philippe Gbamin. Borussia Dortmund have already been linked with Diallo and the rumoured departure of Sokratis to Arsenal would mean they’d be in the market for a defender.
Sporting director Rouwen Schröder will already be scouring the market for potential replacements with Ligue 1 in France a well-trodden route. Aaron Seydel should return from his loan at Holstein Kiel, while left-back Gaetan Büssmann also ends his loan at Freiburg. The only new signing thus far has been defender Phillipp Mwene from Kaiserslautern.
Regarding other potential arrivals I’ll throw Alexander Meier into the ring as surely the Fussballgott deserves to stay in the Bundesliga after being released by Frankfurt. RB Leipzig’s Bernardo has also been linked with a move to the Opel Arena.
Player of the Season
There were a few candidates to be crowned Mainz Player of the Season with Pablo de Blasis a late contender, Yoshinori Muto because of his goals and Abdou Diallo for his defensive quality, but it is defensive midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin who gets the nod.
Mainz fans enjoy him while you can because he’s set for a bigger stage. His impact has been outlined above but if you need convincing you can always read this.
The season goal was always about survival so it was a case of mission accomplished for Mainz. It was touch and go for a very long time and they have a very poor Wolfsburg to thank for avoiding 16th place. C+ or a B-, it’s all much the same for Sandro Schwarz’s men, and although they outperformed Wolfsburg and Hamburg (clubs with much bigger budgets) I’ll come down on the C+ side.
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