From few goals against to too many
Part one of our 2018/19 season in review
After a reunion with various Zerofiver legends to mark the celebrations of the two promotion anniversaries, things have settled down at the Bruchweg. The season is over, with pre-season preparations slated to begin at the end of June. Sandro Schwarz’s side were able to successfully stay up while also thrilling the fans with spectacular performances at the end of the season. We want to take one last look at the season that was. In Part One, we’ll focus on the first leg of the season.
Schwarz previously said that this season could be divided into four phases: the time of defensive stability, followed by the time of an improved offensive showing after the switch to a diamond formation. Then the time of complacency, during which the results failed to appear. And finally the fourth phase which combined all the previous ones. Two of these phases came during the first half of the season.
A stable and strong performance
“We had a good start to our pre-season, a strong start into the season, and overcame obstacles,” said Schwarz. The team made a statement during their first official match, after successfully dismantling a tough opponent in FC Erzgebirge Aue during the first round of the DFB-Pokal. All that with just ten men, as Moussa Niakhaté was shown a red card for a late tackle just 134 seconds into the match. “The entire performance was a strong one. No question, under those circumstances. A challenge that we successfully overcame,” said Schwarz after the 3-1 victory.
The Zerofivers took this mindset, as well as their quality, with them into the Bundesliga. A win against Stuttgart in the opening match of the season, a point won in Nürnberg. Seven matches in, the Zerofivers found themselves sitting in eighth place (nine points) with a goal difference of 4:4. “If you see our goal difference then you’d think that we parked the bus in front of the net and defended it to death. That’s not the case,” said the head coach. “The way we defend is top notch. We managed to keep things together on offence as well.” But, the Zerofivers lacked the ability to finish.
“We talked a lot about how we could improve our finishing within the box and within the final third of the field,” said Schwarz, as the team went into its second phase of the season. The key was switching from a 4-3-3 or a flat 4-4-2 to a diamond formation in the midfield. The change brought about strong performances, spectacular games likes the win at home against Bremen, as well as successfully taking a point off a strong Eintracht Frankfurt side. Or the away win in Freiburg with a strong counter-attack, a defensive line that played high, and a strong midfield—something that even the opponents had praise for. “Mainz will only get better, as they have recruited many good, talented, and fast players,” said Freiburg head coach Christian Streich.
Going into the break with 21 points
On the flip side, as their offence improved and became more dangerous in front of goal, Mainz also experienced a decline in their defensive strength. “We let in too many easy goals,” said Schwarz. For example, against Mönchengladbach, against Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund, in Leipzig, or during the 1-1 tie with Hannover 96.
Still, the team picked up 21 points during the first half of the season, and ended in twelfth place. They went into the break seven points clear of the relegation playoff spot and ten points clear of the relegation zone, safely in the middle of the table. “We definitely had the feeling that we could have gotten more points,” said Schwarz, who was still focused on the big picture despite his side failing to score in five games. Much of what happened in the first half of the season should be seen as relatively normal. Schwarz had to integrate an entire group of new players, and was playing with the youngest Zerofiver team on average to date. The team still managed to deliver decent performances and fought its way out of any weak spots.