The top of the Bundesliga standings worked out in the favor of Mainz despite Die Nullfünfer finishing seventh last season. They earned the last Europa League qualifying spot, but their stint in European play was short lived. They were knocked out by Greek outfit Asteras Tripolis 3-2 on aggregate. With the focus now on the domestic league, Mainz are still dealing with a larger number of changes than expected. The loss to Tripolis was eye opening and it hit at a horrible time.
Mainz finished with 53 points and slipped into a qualifying spot by virtue of the performances by Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. They had opportunities to move up in the table but took one step forward followed by one step back in the second half of the season. They were 5-0-5 in the last 10 matches on the season while battling Augsburg for the last qualifying spot.
Boss Thomas Tuchel employed an aggressive style of play that was fun to watch. They often pressed high with two or three players making it harder for the opposition to play out of the back. Tuchel asked out of his contract and was released in May. Shawn Parker did the same. Their departure, along with the transfers of Nicolai Müller and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, has brought more change, especially upfront, than Mainz expected.
Attacking full back Gonzalo Jara may have been the biggest summer transfer for Mainz. His only competition for the right back spot is Daniel Brosinski. Brosinski did get the start in the second leg of the Europa match. However, coach Kasper Hjulmand is concerned with his left back spot and could employ Jara there, which puts Joo-Ho Park on the bench.
Captain Nikolce Noveski and Stefan Bell are expected to be the center back pairing. The keeper starter is still in flux. 21-year-old Loris Karius will get the first shot. He is the oldest of the three keepers on the squad.
Young Johannes Geis is the rising star in the Mainz midfield. He made 24 appearances last year and showed remarkable consistency. Hjulmand is focusing on youth and giving Geis set piece duties. He is a creative player, but his excellent ability to tackle puts him in the holding role. Geis will partner with Niki Zimling once he returns from injury.
The changes impacted the front six the most, so building through the middle and in attack is the top priority. Filip Djuricic was just added to compete at an outside midfielder spot. Christoph Moritz and Elkin Soto are others who could find time on the edge. Devante Parker, Shawn’s brother, also saw some preseason playing time.
Shinji Okazaki is the man for Mainz. He was a gamble last summer, but it paid off with 15 goals. Now the pressure mounts for Okazaki. The striking core is thin, and new relationships need to be made to find the scoring touch.
The loss to Tripolis means that Mainz has never made the group stage of the Europa League despite three attempts. They were undefeated in preseason prior to that loss. It was a hard dose of reality.
Tuchel is a great tactician and still has a bright future in coaching. His aggressive style made Mainz hard to play. Hjulmand has big shoes to fill. His tenure at FC Nordsjælland and favored short-passing style earned him the job. It will be a sharp contrast to last year. The holes in the attack may call for a new approach, but it also likely means a struggle to score.
2014-15 Record: 12-7-15, 43 Points, 10th Place