The performances of Levin Öztunali have been one of few constants for relegation-threatened Mainz in 2016/17, but the 21-year-old midfielder knows his own exploits will count for nothing unless the 05ers can secure their top-flight status for another year.
Ahead of the Rhine-Main derby with Eintracht Frankfurt – a game that could go a long way to determining the 15th-placed 05ers' fate – Öztunali told bundesliga.com why he has every confidence the club will be playing Bundesliga football next term.
bundesliga.com: Mainz have taken five points from their last four matches. Considering the losing streak before that, has the team stabilised at just the right time? How do you assess the most recent results?
Levin Öztunali: Following a barren spell of five defeats in a row, we fully embraced the relegation battle and finally started to pick up points again. In addition, the fans have got behind us like a twelfth man and have given us unbelievable support in the last few weeks. That's been good for us. Now it's vital to continue to claw back points. We have safety in our own hands. And we're confident that with a home win against Eintracht Frankfurt at the weekend we can take an important step in the right direction.
Watch: Öztunali turned on the style against former club Leverkusen on Matchday 22
bundesliga.com: Other teams are going on short training camps – in Mainz, the motto is "strength lies in peace". Does this put less pressure on the team?
Öztunali: There's no recipe for how a team can guarantee their safety – the only thing that helps is winning and picking up points. Whether a short training camp can contribute to it, everyone has to decide for themselves. I haven't felt the need for it. We have perfect training conditions here in Mainz and the complete focus, in any case, has already been on the end to the season.
bundesliga.com: Last season you already went through a real relegation battle with Werder Bremen. In what ways are you benefiting from that experience now?
Öztunali: That's always difficult to compare. Every season has its own unique features and challenges, and every relegation battle is different. But to remain calm and to have faith in your own strengths is, in my opinion, always a good strategy.
bundesliga.com: What is most important right now?
Öztunali: That we are gathering all our strength for the final sprint and take the remaining points so that we can also be in the Bundesliga next season. On Saturday, we will lay the foundation for this.
bundesliga.com: In contrast to the team, you are having a good campaign. Five goals and six assists is your personal best for a season. You are also Mainz's top scorer. Is that something to shout about or does the overall situation take the joy out of your achievement?
Öztunali: The season is only successful if we succeed in staying up. If I can contribute something to that - with goals and assists - then all the better.
bundesliga.com: What are the most important qualities and characteristics that the team has to call upon now? What strengths in particular will allow Mainz to stay in the league?
Öztunali: The team spirit here in Mainz is quite special. The solidarity within the team - but also between the team, the club and the fans - is very strong. That enables us to channel our strengths: we're aggressive, quick in transition and full-blooded in the tackle. We want to show that again on Saturday.
bundesliga.com: On Saturday there's the derby against Frankfurt – the team with the worst record in the Rückrunde. How will Mainz approach the game? Does the trend favour your team or are you preparing for Frankfurt to give you their best?
Öztunali: Frankfurt definitely won't leave the points in Mainz without a fight. They have proved often enough this season that they can play really good football. But ultimately we would be best advised to concentrate on ourselves. If we produce a typical Mainz home performance, we can beat anyone. And that’s also the plan for Saturday's match against Frankfurt.
bundesliga.com: How certain are you that Mainz will stay up without having to play the relegation play-off and why?
Öztunali: I'm absolutely convinced that we can do it because it's all in our hands and because I have 100 per cent faith in our team and our strengths. We also have sensational fans behind us. We all want to be in the Bundesliga next season.
Interview by Tobias Gonscherowski
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