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Sports

Slippery slope looms for Mainz as Bundesliga form takes a turn

Mainz are the determined club that thought they could, but their Bundesliga position cannot mask a poor run of form. They must arrest that if they are to preserve the top-flight status they battled so hard to get.

Thomas Tuchel's men began the 2013-14 season in the sort of form that conjured up memories of their fifth-placed finish three seasons back. Led by lightning-quick Nicolai Müller, Mainz's accomplished wins against Stuttgart, Freiburg and Wolfsburg made for good watching.

The ensuing three league games have been anything but. Mainz have leaked nine goals in that time, scoring just two consolation goals in the process.

Their scintillating start means the club lies in seventh on the table, but that is misleading. Mainz are reaching for handholds to keep themselves above the abyss that will eventually open up at the bottom of the table, but are teetering on freefall.

There are indications the turnover of key players might have caused too much tumult. Mainz faced that same issue after losing Lewis Holtby and Andre Schürrle - the invaluable members of the team of 2010-11, nicknamed the "Boyband." While unable to match the heroics of the previous season, Mainz were still able to stay up even after their two stars departed.

But how keenly a club feels the loss of players correlates directly with the success of their replacements. Among their departures this European summer, Mainz lost Adam Szalai (Schalke), Jan Kirchhoff (Bayern Munich), Marco Caligiuri (Eintracht Braunschweig) and Andreas Ivanschitz (Levante).

Ivanschitz and Szalai contributed 20 goals between them last season, while Germany national team prospect Kirchhoff was a key part of the defense and Caligiuri handy in midfield.

One could argue the latter has been replaced by the arrivals of Christoph Moritz (Schalke) and Johannes Geis (Greuther Fürth), while the additions of left-back Joo-Ho Park and winger Shinji Okazaki could prove sound.

But they do little to fix the two problems areas for Mainz this season - defense and attack.

With Kirchhoff gone and Tuchel finding it hard to sign quality defenders, Mainz have again had to rely on aging trio Bo Svensson, Nikolce Noveski and Zdenek Pospech. All three have been brave, bold and big when it mattered. But all three are also 34 years of age, and present a mouthwatering prospect for an opposing striker possessing any sort of speed.

Kirchhoff, 22, would have conceivably replaced one of Svensson or Noveski in the heart of defense, but is now instead waiting for chances with Bayern Munich.

Limited choices up front

The biggest losses, however, are that of Ivanschitz and Szalai. Tuchel brought in Sebastian Polter (Wolfsburg) and Dani Schahin (Fortuna Düsseldorf) to bolster his front line, but neither has scored yet this season and the mantle has fallen solely on brilliant forward Müller.

Thomas Tuchel faces a tough test after a run of four-straight losses in all competitions. Photo: dpa

Thomas Tuchel faces a tough test after a run of four-straight losses in all competitions.

Tuchel probably wakes up in the middle of the night in cold sweats contemplating what he would do should the 25-year-old go down injured.

His men made it four-straight losses with defeat to Cologne in the German Cup on Tuesday, with the sole goal of the game perhaps unsurprisingly coming from Marcel Risse - another player who was at Mainz last season, and who has proved himself one of the second division's best players this campaign.

Worrying about who is gone and who is there, of course, will do little to improve Mainz's season.

The club is one for which success has hardly come easy. It took until 2004 - under Jürgen Klopp - for Mainz to reach the top flight of German football, lasting three seasons before relegation.

In 2009, they again won promotion, and have remained in the Bundesliga since. Persistence delivered Mainz to where they wanted to be, and only persistence will keep them there.

The 2013-14 season may be just six matches old. Having waited so long to join the Bundesliga, however, Mainz have not a moment to waste.