While qualification for the Europa League was impressive, the extra games it brings could end up hurting Mainz. Martin Schmidt has a tough task keeping his rebuilt team on an upward trajectory but he does have a plan.
Mainz often lose their best players at the end of a season. But this summer they lost someone even more important when long-serving sporting director Christian Heidel agreed to join the revolution at Schalke. Heidel was integral into establishing Mainz as a Bundesliga club but they must now undergo another squad rebuild without him.
Their impressive sixth-place finish last season means the club will be fighting on numerous fronts this term. Although their league placing means they weren’t forced to qualify for the Europa League group stage, the extra games may still take their toll.
But this is a fit side, as demonstrated by their form in the second half of last season when they won 32 of their 50 points after the winter break. However, having once again lost a number of prominent players in the close season, Mainz will have to make significant strides just to maintain their Bundesliga standing.
Transfers: Another summer looking to replace departed stars
Few German clubs can rival Mainz’s ability to turn a profit on players they acquire in the transfer market. The flip side, of course, is that these sales often require them to part ways with important players in their squad. True to form, two of the side’s key figures left in this summer, former captain Julian Baumgartlinger and goalkeeper Loris Karius. New sporting director Rouven Schröder has spent most of the summer trying to find the right replacement for Mainz’s departed stars.
The latest Mainz rebuild started at the back. Goalkeeper Jonas Lössl was the first part of the puzzle, joining from French club Guingamp to replace Karius . The Danish international has started over 200 games in Denmark and France despite being just 27-years-old. He brings a level of experience that the club hope will complement and compete with the budding talent of Jannik Huth for the number 1 jersey.
Schröder’s approach elsewhere on the pitch has been a little different, with youth often favored over experience. Mainz acquired 21-year-old midfielder Jose Rodriguez from Turkish club Galatasaray and 20-year-old defender Jean-Philippe Gbamin from French club Lens. Both players have a physicality and an aggressiveness similar to that displayed by Baumgartlinger in his time at the club. Whether the young pair will be regular starters is up for debate though, with Danny Latza and Fabian Frei pushing for bigger roles in their second season with the club.
Perhaps the most productive business Mainz executed in the off-season was securing permanent deals for Jhon Cordoba (pictured top) and Christian Clemens. Both players spent last season on loan at Mainz from Granada and Schalke respectively and both evolved from bench players to crucial cogs in Mainz’s attack. The club also added former Eintracht Braunschweig youngster Gerrit Holtmann, who registered three goals and three assists in his last seven 2. Bundesliga games last season.
Head coach: Martin Schmidt
When Schmidt took over from Thomas Tuchel’s successor, Kasper Hjulmand, in February 2015, he insisted on a tactically-simple but wholehearted style that helped Mainz stay firmly away from the relegation zone. That same mentality then helped the club work their way back towards the top of the table last season despite the departures of Johannes Geis and Shinji Okazaki.
Schmidt requires his team to be athletic, wanting his players to run more and work harder than their opponents. That’s why his team went to the American state of Colorado in preseason, a place where Schmidt could work his players in high altitude to get them in shape. The results of his exhaustive training sessions could be valuable in a more demanding campaign.
Key player: Yunus Malli
Though he tailed off in the second half of last season, Malli’s emergence as a goalscoring attacking midfielder helped turn Mainz into a dangerous outfit going forward. With Baumgartlinger, a crucial cog in Mainz’s defensive setup, no longer at the club, Malli’s presence in attack will be even more important.
He will not be alone of course, Cordoba and Yoshinori Muto should provide Mainz with a range of attacking options but Malli will have to be the one guiding them forward. His performances will be vital for a team that wants to use its athleticism to win games but can’t rely on it entirely
What to expect: A tough team, but a mid-table one
Mainz’s achievements last season are commendable but many German teams who play in the Europe League have struggled in the Bundesliga. When Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt reached the Europa League group stage in 2012-13, they both dropped to the bottom half of the Bundesliga table. Augsburg went though a similar grind last season when they finished 12th, just two points off the relegation play off place, despite qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League.
That said, Schmidt proved how difficult a hard-working team can be to defeat. Mainz also have a lot of players of similar quality, giving Schmidt many options to execute his tactical plans. Mainz’s Bundesliga campaign could be their toughest yet, but one can never count out a tenacious team that works harder than any other in the division.