Welcome back to the end of season update with FSV Mainz 05. In post 2.2 we discussed our progress before the winter break, with our amendment in tactical play and our ability to cope with a somewhat injury crisis.
So after the winter break we were forced back into reality with a home game against FC Bayern, followed by a trip to league leaders Hoffenheim. Performances from the players are really starting to click together now and the link up play in the final third is becoming very pleasing indeed. We came out the back of these 2 tough fixtures unbeaten, with a 0-0 draw against Bayern and a 3-2 victory against Hoffenheim. The latter showed me a real sense of character from the team as Hoffenheim really tested us, but our determination and tenacity paid off as we were under threat for many periods during the game.
Top performances continued to follow with the squad managing to cope well with league and Europa fixture congestion. The rotation of the squad during the season really paid off, with many of my youth prospects getting good game time, whilst keeping a very good moral. This is the only time in FM where I have noticed that squad harmony is almost at its maximum. Only twice was I confronted by players asking about first team football, once was from back up Italian keeper Val, who technically looks better than Weidwald but he never seems to command the defence and be the presence I want from him. I think it will be his last season with me as the GK position is one area where I would like to strengthen going into next year.
The other player to get unhappy was veteran defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos. Now as great of a defender Papa is, I wanted to play Simon at the back with Kempf. Kempf wanted to leave and Simon was his replacement but when no one actually came looking to buy Kempf I stuck with the two of them as my main partnership. Papa also had a 3 month injury during the season so I could give 2 of my youngsters a bit of a run. The simply wasn’t a place for Papa anymore and with his contract set to expire at the end of the season I just couldn’t promise him the game time anymore. Apart from these two occasions, we had no players coming to me bitching or moaning.
Back to the Bundesliga and the run just kept going, the front 3 of Sane, Lukasik and Gotze were really starting to put fear in the opposition. Young Bardhi who came in at the start of the season, cemented his place in the side as my AM, he has come on so well during the last year and finishes off my attacking diamond if you will. He scored an incredible 11 goals his first season and assisting 12. Sane was a standout, scoring and incredible 18 and 12 assists, whilst Gotze also scored 7 and assisted 13. Lukasik was my man of the moment scoring a quite brilliant 23 goals in 32 games, considering he had the long spell out at the beginning he has done ever so well. He was also given the captaincy after Julian Baumgartlinger left the club in the summer.
Our run continued through the season, managing to avoid defeat going into the last 2 games. We found ourselves in a great position in the table and it was incredibly close, basically 4 points separating the top 4. Hoffenheim top with 70, us in 2nd on 69, Bayern in 3rd with 67 and Dortmund 4th with 66.
Now Hoffenheim initially had a 8 point lead but recent form had dropped and were starting to show nerve at the crucial end of the season. I was chuffed with our progress so far and obviously wouldn’t turn down a run for the title but would happy anywhere in the top 4. Our last 2 games were against Gladbach and away to our arch rivals Frankfurt, 2 very tough opponents. All I knew is that we needed to continue the rich form, give it our all and hope that other results went our way.
We managed to demolish Gladbach 4-1 at the Klopp Stadium, goals coming from Sane and a hat trick from Jakub Lukasik. Taking it down to the wire, we was technically still in it with a game to go. All 4 sides still very close, it could be anyone of us to lift the title.
So it all comes down to this. the final game of the 21/22 Bundesliga season and what better way to end it with an away trip to arch rivals Eintracht Frankfurt at their fortress that is Commerzbank-Arena. I field a side that would clearly be the strongest and one who I had ultimate faith that the would put a shift in and do the very best for the team. Weidwald in GK, with Kuijpers, Kempf, Simon and Schmeltzer making up the back 4. Huber and Christiansen in the middle with Bardhi just in front of them, Gotze and Sane on the wings, with Lukasik our main man up top.
The game started and after 14 minutes we were 1-0 down to a Brayan Perea goal out of nothing, oh God please don’t let us be dicked right at the end, we have worked so hard. A live score update shows us that Hoffenheim are losing to Köln, not only that but they are 2-0 down. Come on lads, let’s turn this round, this is our chance. To make matters worse Bayern were in the lead against Braunschweig, they were currently sat top of the live table. Half time and we are still 1-0 down and the worst part is we haven’t even looked like scoring, a shadow of the last 20 games. I sat the boys down and calmly asked them “do you even want to win this match?”
Credit where it’s due Frankfurt played a very good first half, all I was hoping for no was a response in the second 45. a response is exactly what we got and on 48 minutes the boy wonder Lukasik popped up to level the game. Bayern were now 2 up and top by goal difference. Just past the hour and Bayern were 3 up and cruising, Hoffenheim managed to square things off at 2-2, what a dramatic end, but till enough time for another twist.
At this point I use the ‘touchline team talk’ and try to encourage the lads to push on, in search of a winner. Bingo, Lukasik pulls another one out the bag, we are now 2-1 up and looking good. Word is getting around the stadium that Hoffenheim have gone behind again, its now 3-2, drama with 15 minutes to spare. Then with 10 minutes to go Mario Gotze slides a cracking ball through the high line of Frankfurt and Lukasik is onto it in a flash, he takes one touch in his stride, then from an audacious angel drives the ball into the back of the net with his left foot. 3-1 up with just over 10 minutes left of play, the fans are delirious. Surely we can hang on, surely.
Then it blows…
Not only have we beaten our arch rivals 3-1 in their own back yard, but little old Mainz, went there and won the Bundesliga. Something that at the start of the season I neve thought would have been possible. i believed the side could be handy and cause a threat and generally hoped for 5th or above, never did I think we could go all the way under the radar and sneak in at the end, pure magic.
To make this incredible season even more of a epic one, we managed to gt ourselves to the Europa League final. Our run was pretty kind to us and we managed to draw Sampdoria in the final and well all I can say is… we made the season a double winning season. A 3-0 win in Lisbon saw Mainz bring home a European trophy home. Another excellent achievement for us as a club and the players. All the young academy boys who have come through and played a part in the historical year. No one more than my little gem of a midfielder, Roman Huber. I have grown a real soft spot for Huber and I’m not the only one, Roman picked up the fans player of the year award, beating the likes of Gotze, Lukasik and Sane.
So where do we go from here, well next season FSV Mainz will get to taste champions League football. I will look to strengthen but only in areas where I see fit, it definitely wont be a huge spending bonanza just because we won the league. 3 more youngsters will make their way into the squad and the next post will be taking a closer look at them and the development of the last 6.
Thank you for reading, I really hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have playing it. Writing about it brings back the same feeling making the glory even more special. Crazy to think this is where we have come since Dusseldorf sacked me.
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