Qualification for the UEFA Europa League for the second time in five years was the end result of a season which far exceeded most expectations, but it came with a sting in the tail. bundesliga.com has the lowdown...
Three straight wins got Mainz nicely up and running, only to be followed by four defeats on the trot. As the season progressed, the team's results curve stabilised and they lost just one of their last half-dozen games of 2013. The general form curve continued steadily upward after the restart, a remarkable turnaround victory at 1899 Hoffenheim on Matchday 25 included. A tough battle down the final season straight ended with a Matchday 34 success against Hamburger SV to secure seventh place and the last available Europa League slot. The triumph came laced with disappointment, however, with the unexpected news that Thomas Tuchel would be leaving the club after five years in which he has overseen their transformation from perennial relegation favourites to Bundesliga diehards.
Doubts arising from the sale of Adam Szalai were soon assuaged by the performances of Shinji Okazaki, himself a new arrival from VfB Stuttgart. Deployed in his preferred central striking role rather than out wide, he responded with a 15-goal haul, most of those coming in the latter half of an ever-improving campaign. In the process, Okazaki also set a new record for goals scored by a Japanese player in a single Bundesliga season.
Particularly renowned for his tactical acumen, Tuchel certainly exacted a good return out of . The Cameroon international, set to feature at the FIFA World Cup, was Mainz's second-top scorer behind Okazaki on ten goals. Moreover, no fewer than five of them were scored off the bench, making him the division’s most prolific substitute of the season, alongside FC Bayern's Mario Mandzukic.
“We're driving a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle against a Formula One racer, and you're asking me why we didn't beat Vettel to the chequered flag?” Thomas Tuchel clearly had little desire to over-analyse the reasons for his team's 4-1 defeat at FC Bayern on Matchday 9.
It was not so much the result in isolation against a side battling the drop but the final-day 3-2 win over HSV that rounded off an over-achieving campaign by keeping Mainz a point ahead of FC Augsburg in seventh place and sealing a qualifying spot in the UEFA Europa League. It was also an appropriate send-off for Tuchel after five defining years in charge and leaves his successor, Kasper Hjulmand, with very healthy foundations on which to build.