Mainz 05 Season Preview: Can Mainz survive early injury woes? 
Mainz will be without Jean-Phillippe Mateta until at least October. (Getty Images/VI-Images)

Transfer Business

Mainz boss Sandro Schwarz has been shrewd in the summer transfer window, securing the permanent signing of former loanee Aaron Martin from Espanyol for a little over £5m. The Spaniard impressed at the Opel Arena on last season, and will surely solidify a defence which has already had to cope with the losses of the experienced Niko Bungert, who announced his retirement and the end of the last campaign, and Emil Berggreen who moved to FC Twente. There will be a touch of orange in the backline this season, as a four year deal for Jerry St Juste from Feyenoord will sure up any defensive worries. St Juste will line up alongside fellow Dutchman and De Kuip teammate Jean-Paul Boetius.

The acquisition of Swiss international midfielder Edimilson Fernandes from West Ham fills the gap left by Jean-Phillippe Gbamin, whose £23m purchase by Everton will bring a bit of flair to the blue side of Stanley Park.

Dong-won Ji's record at Augsburg hardly set the world alight, with 7 goals in 84 appearances in western Bavaria, but for the grand price of zero euros, he looked like a worthy addition to the attacking options of a side which struggled for goals in the first half of last season. However, a knee injury picked up in pre-season means the Korean is unlikely to feature before the winter break takes effect. Injury to star-striker Jean-Philippe Mateta, coupled with the sale of recent Derby Day hero Anthony Ujah to Bundesliga new boys Union Berlin, means Mainz will have to rely on the lively Karim Onisiwo for goals until the Frenchman's expected return at the end of October. 

The latest recruit is another Frenchman, Ronael-Pierre Gabriel from Monaco. The 21-year-old played four times for the senior squad in the Principality last season and £5m is a considerable bargain for a team that has shown a policy of buy cheap, sell high. 

Bayern Munich II's Jonathan Meier will add to the defensive options while Cyril Akono, signed for a little of £300k from 3.Liga side Preußen Münster could be thrown into the attacking line earlier than expected to fill in for the major absentees of Mateta and Dong. 

Manager

40-year-old Sandro Schwarz has endeared himself to the supporters of Mainz since his arrival at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, with his typical German passion being exhumed with every victory. The Mainz local has big boots to fill at the Opel Arena, with Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel two of the names to have previously graced the dugouts in the Rhineland-Palatinate capital. 

With a record of 25 wins from 74 matches, Schwarz is yet to launch Die Nullfünfer into the European side that they are capable of, but a gradual improvement from 14th to 12th in his two seasons in charge has shown they are very much a work in progress. His favourable transfers amongst the supporters mean this season could well be the campaign in which their potential to finish in the top half could finally show, even though a difficult start is predicted. 

Player to watch

While Mateta sits on the sidelines ahead of his much-anticipated return to action, all eyes will be on one man.

Karim Onisiwo: Quick, skilful and a man whose attacking spot will be challenged only by Robin Quaison in the opening weeks of the Bundesliga campaign. The 27-year-old netted seven times for 05 in 26 matches last season, but there is every chance he could breeze past that should the club opt not to acquire another attacker before the window shuts. 

Three goals in the final month of last season, coupled with a lively pre-season for the Austrian, suggests Onisiwo is riding a wave of confidence heading into a season where little has been said of the opportunity that awaits him. It remains to be seen whether he can carry the full load.  

One for the future

He has won the under-19 Bundesliga Südwest and battled relegation in the under-23 Regionalliga, and has now begun training with the first-team squad. The opportunity awaits Leandro Barreiro, who at just 19-years-old has already made nineteen senior appearances for the Luxembourg national team, something which Barreiro himself has called nothing out of the ordinary' for a country like Luxembourg. Jean-Phillippe Gbamin's departure to Everton means Mainz have no senior defensive midfielder options in their ranks, leaving the door open for Barreiro to improve on his total of one senior appearance under Sandro Schwarz. 

With vast experience of both winning titles and facing battles for the drop, as well as scoring goals on the international stage, it is only a matter of time before Barreiro is given the chance to prove his worth in the first team. This season could certainly be his making. 

Predicted Finish

10th. While Nullfünf's current squad won't quite have what it takes to sustain a top-half finish, they may only be a scrape away and should improve on last season's 12th placed finish. 

Two of the three promoted sides from 2.Bundesliga are arguably weaker than the three sides that were lost last season and they should have no problems picking up at least four points each from both Paderborn and Union Berlin. Mainz didn't pick up an away win at any of the three relegated sides and were fortunate that their home form made up for just four wins on the road all campaign. 

With defeat to 3.Liga side - and fierce rivals - FC Kaiserlautern in the DFB Pokal, frailties have already been exposed in the squad with a near full-strength side going down at the Fritz-Walter Stadion. It was not the best of starts but certainly gives Schwarz food for thought heading into the opener with Freiburg on matchday one. 

With an arguably stronger defence than last season, it is less likely to see similar results to their 5-1 defeat to Leverkusen and a 6-0 defeat in Munich, but initially, it is in the final third of the pitch where the concerns may creep in. 

What may begin as a season of bottom half struggles could indeed turn into something more promising when Mateta and Dong return to action, but if Onisiwo can find the kind of form from the end of last season, the boys from the banks of the Rhine could spring a few surprises. 

 

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