FEATURE | Are Mainz underperforming or overachieving?

Mainz have been an established Bundesliga club since 2009 and now under Bo Svensson, former M05 defender, Die Nullfünfer continue to improve. But are they underperforming or overachieving? GGFN’s Will Shopland investigates.

What makes Mainz work?

Mainz are an extremely well-drilled unit. Bo Svensson has ensured that his side understand their duties to a tee and play together. This is highlighted by the side’s intelligence off the ball. The 05ers average 45% possession in the Bundesliga falling below the league average. However, this is the game plan deployed by Svensson.

This is reflected in the passing stats as only five other sides make fewer passes in the Bundesliga. Whilst they are surrounded by sides such as Schalke and Bochum, who are currently embroiled in a relegation battle. It is not a concern.

Another side attempting fewer passes is Union Berlin, who can be compared to not just who Mainz are now, but where Mainz can be. With Union currently outperforming their status at the top of the Bundesliga to the surprise of many.

However, it is the way in which Mainz utilise the ball that makes them a dangerous outfit. Whenever the option is on to play a ball forward Mainz elect to play it.

This is often benefitted by the fact that Mainz have a front line willing to continuously run in behind and look for space. A compact midfield three allows for ball retention as they wait for the moment to strike quickly.

Karim Onisiwo, Jonathan Burkhardt, and Jae-Sung Lee are the willing runners and the latter has been crucial to their recent results. Having been pushed further up the pitch due to the injury of Burkhardt, Jae-Sung Lee has flourished with seven-goal contributions in the last six league games.

His attacking instincts have enabled him to play off the new acquisition of Ludovic Ajorque with ease. The target man striker – brought in from Strasbourg – has held up the ball with perfection to link up play in the attack.

Despite Ajorque only having made six appearances for the Carnival Club he is leading the way for expected assists per 90 minutes. Showing that his addition to the side has aided an attack low on goals and creativity.

With just 19 goals before the World Cup in Qatar, it had seemed as though the injury to Burkhardt was threatening to derail their season. Nevertheless, they seem to have now found a more than promising plan B with 17 goals since Ajorques’s arrival. M05 are now sitting in seventh for goals scored, reflecting their league position of eighth.

Furthermore, Mainz set up in a 5-3-2 or a 3-5-2 and they are an extremely compact side. The similarities to Union Berlin arise again. The tight and compact nature off the ball makes it significantly difficult to unpick this side.

Only Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig allow fewer touches in the defensive penalty box than Mainz. A stat where they are superior to the joint league leaders Union. This tightness in defence goes hand in hand with the disciplined approach of Bo Svensson’s side. With the 05ers leading the way with the most interceptions in the league; it is not even close.

With 58 more interceptions than Hertha Berlin, there is no larger discrepancy within the league. The understanding of the opposition and when to step out to win the ball back is unmatched in the Bundesliga.

This only heightens their counter-attacking play, and with the signing of Ajorque, it is no surprise that Mainz have finally kicked into gear. A target man striker could have been the missing piece in the puzzle that perfectly links up the defence and attack.

Where do the issues lie?

Despite Mainz finally finding their feet in front of goal, there is still one issue that has blighted Bo Svensson’s plucky side this season. They keep letting goals in. This is not what one has come to expect from the 05ers under Svensson. So far this season Mainz have conceded 34 goals in the league. This is not awful, but it is not good either.

However, they are on course to concede 55 goals this campaign which would be ten more than the previous season. While seven sides have conceded fewer goals than them this campaign, only three sides were able to do this last year.

Mainz have continued their ability to limit touches in the defensive penalty area. Although, this year, lapses in concentration have enabled sides to create high-scoring chances more often. With an expected goals allowed of 33 this campaign, it was 43 last year.

The only other issue at large surrounding Mainz is the squad. Eight players that were crucial to their miracle survival bid in 2021 are still being regularly deployed now. This is not to say that these players are poor, in fact, most of these players are vital to the success of Mainz.

However, as seen with the acquisition of Ajorque. As well as signings such as Anton Stach and Jae-Sung Lee, bringing players with quality into the side can help push the club forward.

Mainz are not loaded with money; €8m is the club’s record transfer fee paid. Attempting to break into European competition for a side on minimal resources is not easy.

Union Berlin, once again, stand out as an example of how it is possible. The most Die Eisernen have ever spent on a new arrival is similar at €8.5m. They are now competing in Europe for a second season in a row while challenging for the Bundesliga title.

So, are Mainz overperforming or are they underachieving?

Mainz are no Bayern Munich, they do not attract a crowd of 75,000 plus. They struggle to fill out the 33,000 MEWA Arena. But, this is not a sign to stop.

Every year they are in the Bundesliga they are overperforming. A club of their size within the German game is more in line with that of a second-tier side. However, in many ways, this side is underachieving.

They have now found a way to score goals without Jonathan Burkhardt, and this will only stand them in good stead. If they can keep hold of Bo Svensson, constant improvement is needed within the squad. Stagnation would be a cruel blow to a side that has the potential to make strides within Germany.

GGFN | Will Shopland

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