FEATURE | 1. FSV Mainz 05 face six (or eight) match battle for survival

“Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t,” was the way Sandro Schwarz described it after a 0-0 stalemate against Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Opel Arena. Unfortunately it’s been like that for most of this season and four games in a row now.

The Zerofivers created enough chances to win and were denied by some good work from Yans Sommer, but they haven’t scored since Yoshinori Muto’s equaliser against Wolfsburg on 23 February.

With six or eight crucial games coming up for Mainz 05, what did we learn from another draw?

Stick with Adler and back four

Schwarz has switched between a back three and back four throughout the season but it might be time to settle on a back four to see out the campaign. It worked well enough against Mönchengladbach with the central duo of Alexander Hack and Stefan Bell largely holding it together and providing attacking threat.

René Adler has been out injured since Matchday 9 but returned here and put in a solid performance including two sharp saves in stoppage time. 20-year-old Florian Müller was the hero in his first game at Hamburg where he saved a Filip Kostic penalty in a 0-0 draw, but it might be best to leave the youngster out of the pressure cooker environment for a while and let 33-year-old Adler steer the side home.

Nigel de Jong is done

I like Nigel de Jong, I realise enforcers have to make a living just like everyone else. The facts don’t lie however, since the Dutchman arrived in January he has started seven games with Mainz winning one and losing six, conceding 16 goals during his 507 minutes on the pitch. That’s a goal every 31.7 minutes.

He is of course not completely responsible for conceding such a high amount of goals but he has not been effective in his role. With Danny Latza and Suat Serdar playing well alongside Jean-Philippe Gbamin in a midfield three, there is currently no need for de Jong in the starting line-up. It hasn’t worked.

Gbamin is a midfield boss

Jean-Philippe Gbamin was the standout performer against Mönchengladbach. He was all over the pitch, making tackles and interceptions, winning aerial duels, instigating attacks and dribbling through traffic. He was immense and it’s no surprise his whoscored.com player ratings are higher when he plays in midfield and defensive midfield compared to central defence.

Schwarz has an abundance of central defenders to choose from in Bell, Hack, Abdou Diallo, Leon Balogun and the returning Niko Bungert. It makes sense to keep Gbamin in midfield where he can utilise all his skills and impact the game on a regular basis. Gbamin started in in central defence behind Nigel de Jong in two recent defeats against Schalke (1-0) and Eintracht Frankfurt (3-0), but recent results have been better with Gbamin in midfield and de Jong on the bench.

Stick with Blasis and Öztunali

Pablo de Blasis was trying hard to impress in front of his manager during the first half but it wasn’t quite coming off. The Argentine had a good effort saved to start the second and was busy buzzing around the left wing. He has been unproductive this season but perhaps the confidence gained from starting and coming close to a goal could spark him into life.

Levin Öztunali was injured on Matchday 14 and has been on the mend, but he returned to the starting line-up on the right wing and was involved in a lot of positive passing sequences. The final pass was lacking on numerous occasions but Öztunali appeared short on confidence and could be another to profit from the psychological boost of a prolonged run in the starting line-up.

What attack?

With 29 goals scored in 28 games you don’t need a calculator to see the problem. Emil Berggreen tried hard with little reward but four goals and two assists in 598 minutes is a good return for the big Dane. Robin Quaison has four goals this season and a useful option, it’s just not happening for Anthony Ujah since he returned to Mainz.

Yoshinori Muto has scored seven Bundesliga goals this season but is not fully fit. His return could provide a welcome boost to an attack that has struggled to consistently hit the back of the net. Muto’s style may compliment the robust Berggreen if Schwarz goes for a front two.

Keep fighting

Mainz have shown plenty of fight at the Opel Arena but Schwarz has been disappointed with some of the effort on the road. Last week 600 fans engaged with Schwarz to voice some of their concerns and he acknowledged: “They don’t expect us to completely dominate our opponents, but they do expect us to play at full intensity with a bit of physicality and aggression when we go in for our challenges.”

It’s called a relegation battle for good reason. Schwarz might have been rolling the dice when he made eight changes including Abdou Diallo’s forced withdrawal, but it made sense and was close to getting a much needed win. He is learning a lot about his team but what he needs now are battlers, especially on Saturday afternoon at fellow relegation battlers Köln.

By Matthew Marshall.


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