The first five months of this season have been a bit of a reality check for the fans of FSV Mainz who have taken time to settle in to their new surroundings at the Coface Arena. For long spells of the first half of this campaign, Mainz have been struggling at the foot of the table and facing a return to the Second Division.
After a tough summer in the transfer window which saw them lose star assets Andre Schurrle and Lewis Holtby, it looks as though the pressure is beginning to ease off Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel who has done some rebuilding work in the summer. Even in a tactical sense, Mainz have had to adapt to life without both players who lit up the Bundesliga last season in a very fluid 4-3-3 formation.
Instead, Tuchel has shuffled his pack to a 4-2-3-1 and after a rough start, it would appear Mainz are now looking up to a possible mid-table finish in the Bundesliga. Saturday’s goalless draw with Hamburg SV – a side unbeaten under Thorsten Fink – was Mainz’s fourth game in a row without losing with two draws and two victories.
The burden of creating goals has fallen on the shoulders of Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz and the experienced 28-year-old is enjoying his best spell of the season with four goals in his last six domestic games. With the voids of Holtby and Schurrle to fill, Tuchel delved in to the lower leagues in Germany and signed Zoltan Stieber and Nicolai Muller from Alemannia Aachen and Greuther Furth respectively, for a combined fee of £2m.
For a club who lacks the same resources as the vast majority of other Bundesliga clubs, scouting is a huge asset to Mainz and they also made some astute deals with Marcel Risse, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Yunus Malli joining from the youth teams of Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg and Borussia Monchengladbach respectively.
Before their recent run of good form, Mainz won just once in their first 10 games of the season which left them on the outskirts of the relegation battle. But a terrific turnaround against Stuttgart four weeks ago, with two goals from Anthony Ujah and one from Ivanschitz in the space of nine minutes, sparked scenes of joy on the pitch as Mainz secured an unlikely home victory.
And it got a whole lot better for Thomas Tuchel’s men who then took the biggest scalp of the season with a 3-2 victory over league-leaders FC Bayern at the Coface Arena. It was again Ivanschitz who got the ball rolling in front of 34,000 fans, and despite replies from Daniel Van Buyten, Mainz took control of the game through second half goals from Marco Caligiuri and and Niko Bungert to secure the win.
Given Wolfsburg’s terrible form under Felix Magath, Mainz were probably disappointed at how they ended up two goals behind at the Volkswagen Arena. But they were inspired by another Ivanschitz goal to pick up a point with Choupo-Moting netting a late equaliser. Their fourth game without a defeat came at the weekend with Hamburg failing to continue their excellent unbeaten run under Thorsten Fink.
The ‘Carnival Club’ - as they are known due to the popular festivals which take place in the city – are back in Bundesliga action on Tuesday against an in-form Cologne side who thrashed SC Freiburg 4-0 at the weekend. Stale Soblakken’s side face three games in six days with the original clash being called off due to the horrible attempted suicide by referee Babak Rafati pre-match.
As much as the clashes against Stuttgart and Bayern were massive tests for Mainz, any sort of positive result at the RhineEnergieStadion against a team who contain the excellent talents of Lukas Podolski would be just as impressive. The first half of the Bundesliga comes to an end for Mainz at Borussia Monchengladbach next weekend but a very tricky cup-match at Holstein Kiel will be one to keep an eye on.\