Mainz - Four wins in their last five games mean that 1. FSV Mainz 05 are very much still on course for a European finish.
Strength in depth
Their latest success, a 2-0 home win over Hannover 96 in the Coface Arena in Matchday 21’s opener, took them to 33 points and level, albeit temporarily, with fifth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach. To be sure, there are a cluster of teams vying for those UEFA Europa League spots, but with a healthy momentum and a young, energetic side, Mainz appear to have a relaistic chance of repeating their 2010/11 finish, when they qualified for Europe for the first time in their history.
The performance against Tayfun Korkut’s Hannover side was not a vintage Mainz display, but it did showcase other qualities beginning to become apparent among the 05ers, ones just as important if their push for Europe is to endure. After a first half low on chances and dominated by an aggressive and tenacious Hannover midfield, Mainz found a clinical edge to open the scoring early in the second half through Yunus Malli, before substitute Maxim-Choupo Moting put the result beyond the fatigued visitors in injury time.
That the second goal arrived via the three substitutes - Ja-Cheol Koo and Niki Zimling combined to provide Cameroon international Choupo-Moting with a simple far-post tap-in - illustrated Tuchel’s intelligent reading of the situation with his side 1-0 up, as well as a new-found depth to the squad. Malli, Benedikt Saller and Nicolai Müller were an able supporting cast to lone striker Shinji Okazaki, before the substitute trio’s decisive contribution.
With ten wins from their 21 games and three already in 2014, Mainz have reasserted themselves as one of a cluster of sides pushing for a place in European competition next season, along with Gladbach, VfL Wolfsburg, Hertha Berlin and FC Augsburg.
The next three games may well reveal how realistic any ambitions for Europe are for the Karnevalverein, however. They have two daunting away games at Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Schalke 04, before hosting fellow high-flyers Hertha. In the first half of the season, Tuchel’s men failed to take a single point from the same run of games; they’ll now be hoping the new year continues to bring them better fortune.