First Sunday, then Friday: Normally not a lot of time for a top-flight side to prepare for the next game. This short Bundesliga week is something of a luxury for Mainz 05 – even if undesired. In contrast to Bayer 04, Mainz have not played in the week as they were knocked out of the DFB Cup at the end of October in a 3-2 defeat after extra time away to FC Augsburg. That was not the last disappointing away game this season at the Bavarian Swabian club. Last weekend, Mainz suffered a 3-0 defeat against a recently struggling FC Augsburg as they were unable to repeat their recent performances on the pitch that led to a four-game unbeaten run. The second half of the season had begun with two wins against VfB Stuttgart and FC Nürnberg. "It was a non-starter for us," declared coach Sandro Schwarz after the game. But the result could hurt the Rhinehessen club in terms of position in the table. Mainz are doing well with 27 points with a gap of 12 points to the play-off place of 16th – and they have not lost touch with the European qualification spots.
Mainz are one of the few teams in German professional football who play 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. The thinking behind that: two hard working and attacking full backs (currently Daniel Brosinski and Aaron Martin) on the flanks; a midfield with similar players who are able to circulate during the game plus a strike partnership with a clear definition of roles, currently consisting of the quick and busy Robin Quaison and big target man Jean-Philippe Mateta (pictured above). The latter, top scorer for Mainz with six goals, is one of five new signings brought in during the summer from abroad and a regular first choice straightaway. And central defender Moussa Niakhaté, left back Martin and midfielders Pierre Kunde Malong and Jean-Paul Boetius have all quickly become key players at Mainz in their first season and that reflects the smart scouting and transfer policy pursued in the recent past in the Rhineland Palatinate state capital.
The Mainz team is currently short of leaders. Goalkeeper René Adler (formerly at Bayer 04) and the club captain Niko Bungert, the two stalwarts in the team, have been sidelined this season due to injury; and midfield maestro Danny Latza could also miss the game against Bayer 04. The 30-year-old suffered concussion in a collision with team-mate Niakhaté at Augsburg and is doubtful for Friday's match. The other leading players Daniel Brosinski, who has recently been a bit dodgy, plus key defender Stefan Bell, who was suspended for the Augsburg game – and was seriously missed. The 27-year-old not only picked up a fifth yellow card of the season against FC Nürnberg in the week before but he also suffered a bruised foot. Curiously: This injury was also caused by a 'challenge' with a team-mate, in this case Brosinski. Head coach Schwarz is hoping that Bell will be available to play against the Werkself. His appearance looks significantly more likely than Latza's.
The many transfers from across Europe has made Mainz into a multicultural group on the pitch with 14 different nationalities in the squad. That cannot be ignored: Secondly, an equally important part of the club in addition to the impressive scouting network is youth development. Goalkeeper Florian Müller, central defender Bell and midfielder Ridle Baku are three regular first team players who came through the youth ranks at Mainz – a number that not every Bundesliga club has produced and it could even increase: And the U19 players Ahmet Gürleyen and Jonathan Burkardt have made their first Bundesliga appearances this season. The base for sustainable success at Mainz is definitely there.
In spite of the two wins in January, Mainz have looked shaky at times with the young team often looking inconsistent – particularly in the absence of leading players. In the past, the Red and Whites have qualified for the Europa League but that now appears rather unlikely this term. However, with a 12 point gap to the relegation zone there is little need to worry as the team has too much talent for that. In the end it should be a trouble-free season with a mid-table finish. Everybody at Mainz could see that as a success.
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