“Mainz clearly have a very good coach who has brought the team consistency using a systematic approach, and he has made his mark,” were the words of former Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. He was spot on. Under Thomas Tuchel, FSV Mainz 05 have gone from provincial relegation contenders; to a side that chases European football. His commitment to playing an exciting and attacking brand of football has seen him win many plaudits and talked of as a future manager of the German national team. After 17 games, Mainz lie in 6th place, and only four points off a Champions League place.
The season so far
There were few incomings and outgoings in the summer transfer window. Five players-including Australian winger Nikita Rukavytsa and Costa Rican full-back Junior Diaz-were brought in for just over £2million. Out went five players on-loan, while Egyptian striker Mohamed Zidan joined Bani Yas and Zoltan Stieber and Sami Allagui were sold to Greuther Fürth and Hertha Berlin respectively for a total of £2.1 million.
The 2012/2013 Bundesliga campaign started slowly for Mainz. After five games, only four points had been earned, with the sole victory coning in a 2-0 home defeat of Augsburg: a draw away to Freiburg on the opening day was the only other positive result. While defeats away to Bayern München and Schalke were understandable, a 1-0 defeat at home to newly promoted Greuther Fürth was discouraging.
A 2-0 win away to a struggling Wolfsburg proved to be the catalyst for Mainz to get their campaign up-and-running. That victory was the beginning of four match unbeaten run, culminating in three wins and a draw. Despite it being the only game they failed to pick up maximum points in, their 2-2 draw away to Bayer Leverkusen was arguably Mainz most impressive result. This run saw Ádám Szalai come into his own, with him scoring five goals in this period, including a hat-trick at home to Hoffenheim.
Another brief period of struggle followed. A run of one win in four was not great, but no means a disaster. Their three defeats came away to Werder Bremen and Hamburg and at home to reigning champions Borussia Dortmund; in which tenacious midfielder Marco Caliguiri scored Mainz’ best goal of the Hinrunde.
The final four games prior to winter break saw Mainz gain nine points from a possible twelve. It started with a 3-1 away victory over Eintracht Frankfurt. This was arguably their best win of the season, with them being deserved winners against this season’s surprise package. The Frankfurt match also saw the emergence of 19 year-old striker Shawn Parker, who produced one of the best full debuts in recent Bundesliga history with a goal and an assist. Since Parker has become a regular starter for Mainz, the club has not only beaten Eintracht Frankfurt but also Europa League participants Hannover and Stuttgart, as well as defeating Schalke in the DFB Pokal, while losing only to Borussia Monchengladbach. Those league victories saw Die Nullfunfer leapfrogging to 6th place in the table, while the win over the Royal Blues set up a date for Mainz with SC Freiburg on February 27 at the Coface in the DFB Pokal quarterfinals. Freiburg will also be the opponent when Mainz open the second half of league competition on January 19.
21-The amount of goals Mainz have conceded so far this season-the fourth lowest in the Bundesliga.
3-Nicolai Muller, Eugen Polanski and Andreas Ivanschitz have all registered three assists so far.
9-The number of players that have scored for Mainz this season
2-Ádám Szalai and Elkin Soto are the only players to have appeared in every game so far.
8-The amount of players who are over the age of 30 years old. This is double the amount of players who are under the age of 21 years old.
87-Julian Baumgartlingner pass success percentage.
11th-Mainz’s position in the form table come the end of the Hindrunde.
It is hard to look past striker Szalai for Mainz’s best player so far this season. Cited as the 2012 Hungarian Footballer of the Year, he has put his injury worries and bad form of previous seasons behind him to become one of the Bundesliga’s premier strikers. In 17 appearances, he has totaled nine goals, as well as providing two assists. This means he has been involved in 38% of his side’s goals this season. His nine goals in the Hinrunde matches also is a greater total than the eight he’d previously scored in his first 50 Bundesliga matches.
Hopes for the rest of season
The obvious hope is that Mainz secure a return to European football and earn the opportunity to rectify the disappointment they encountered last season, when they were abruptly eliminated from Europa League competition by Romanian side Gas Metan. With a Champions League spot probably beyond reach, a place in the Europa League is certainly a reasonable objective. However, the competitiveness of the Bundesliga may see them fall short of this, with three points separating 6th placed Mainz from 11th placed Hannover.
For Mainz fans, there is one thing which they don’t want to happen. That is the departure of charismatic manager Thomas Tuchel. While he is destined for greater things, they hope he can prolong his stay at the club for some time yet. With Schalke having appointed Jens Keller until the end of the season, there is a possibility he could leave for the Gelsenkirchen-based club following the conclusion of the 2012/2013 season.
It has been a good start to the season so far for Mainz, in which they can count themselves as a minor surprise package. Their small squad may not be the strongest or the most talented, but their relentless team-spirit and adventurous football sees them regularly punch above their weight. Fortunately Mainz will retain central defender Jan Kirchoff until the end of the season, when he will join Bayern. With Thomas Tuchel at the helm, a place in the Europa League may just await them, as well as greater glory in the DFB Pokal.
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