15th September 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Going into their third Bundesliga match of the season at the weekend, Mainz 05 were in dire need of some points.
Having suffered consecutive 1-0 losses in their opening two fixtures against newly promoted Hannover 96 and VfB Stuttgart, games that would've been earmarked as excellent opportunities to gain points, facing Bayer Leverkusen meant there was a distinct possibility Mainz could suffer three consecutive losses to start the campaign.
Being unable to score in their two early defeats only compounded their issues, but in truth they'd still played some encouraging football, with bad luck in regards to the VAR system not helping their cause either. Ahead of the Leverkusen clash, sporting director Rouven Schroder willed his side to improve and lift the mini malaise. "We want more grit and we have to go for it a bit more. We really have to improve in these areas in the next few weeks, but we can't allow a doomsday mood to seep in," he asserted.
Mainz accordingly responded by emphatically defeating a talent laden Die Werkself 3-1 at the Opel Arena. The fact the 05ers went a goal down early and managed to comeback with such character was another huge positive to be drawn from the win.
Undoubtedly one of the most significant catalysts for the stirring victory was the exhibits of Levin Oztunali, who had an exceptional day out vs. one of his former clubs whom actually discarded him only a couple of years ago.
Operating as his team's right sided central attacking midfielder within Sandro Schwarz's 3-4-2-1 formation (or 5-2-2-1 depending on perceptions), the imposing attacker offered a brilliant outlet from which to animate so many of his team's attacks. Although his two assists highlighted his exemplary set piece taking ability and capacity to use his strength to hold the ball up, Oztunali shone in many other facets of the game too.
To start with, his movement to find space in front of the Leverkusen backline in the right half space afforded him a strong platform to receive possession away from the more congested centre, while also giving him a strong connection to his striker Yoshinori Muto and fellow attacking midfielder, Pablo de Blasis. Muto did a top job of widening the space for Oztunali to work in, with his stretching runs into depth successfully creating extra space in between the lines for him to inherit possession.
His complimentary relationship with the Japanese forward didn't end here, however, for whenever Muto would drop deep in search of the ball, Oztunali would make astute diagonal runs into the newly vacated space so the centre forward slot always remained occupied. This not only kept the Leverkusen backline on their toes but also ensured Mainz had a crucial central presence and reference point at all times.
In addition, the way Mainz's three furthest forward attackers in Oztunali, Muto and De Blasis would regularly create 3v3 situations against the Leverkusen backline put them in very advantageous position to be a threat in behind, knowing one mistake by an opponent couldn't be covered for.
Technically accomplished, the 21-year-old demonstrated his tidy dribbling skills and passing qualities to combine in confined areas and to be of great use in his team's ball construction and retention phases. Indeed, his four chances created and two successful dribbles aptly depicted his aptitude in these regards.
Ahead of Mainz's colossal clash with Bayern Munich at the weekend, getting all three points at home to Leverkusen was critical and should really kickstart their season after their frustrating start. It certainly won't be easy for the carnival club to come away with anything against Carlo Ancelotti's star studded lineup, but having Oztunali in such fine form will go along way towards improving their chances. Moreover, the Mainz faithful will be absolutely relishing witnessing his progression, as he's continuing his promising development since joining them last term, a season which was the best of his young career.
Already with roughly 80 Bundesliga appearances, an impressive figure for a player of his age, the man who took home the European U21 Championships with Germany in the summer is unquestionably primed to enjoy an even better campaign this time around.
With the Munich giants falling to Hoffenheim last weekend and not looking their all conquering selves, the Reds might just be ripe for the picking for Oztunali and co to take full advantage of.
More by Edward at Licence to Roam
Levin Oztunali Primed for a Great 2017/18 Campaign with Mainz 05
15th September 2017. By Edward Stratmann.