Pros 15.03.2023 — 13:56 Uhr

Zentner: “Everyone looks forward to playing at home”

Robin Zentner looks back on the draw in Berlin, being sidelined with injury and Mainz’s record of developing goalkeepers, as well as the upcoming game against Freiburg

Zentner has kept six clean sheets in the Bundesliga this season.

The only goal Robin Zentner has conceded across all competitions this year came in Berlin last Sunday, as Jessic Ngankam scored from the spot after the hosts were awarded a questionable penalty following a supposed handball in the box. Zentner had kept a clean sheet in each of his last two games against Borussia Mönchengladbach and TSG Hoffenheim, after making his comeback from a back injury. This is just a bonus for the 28-year-old, who added that the most important thing is making sure to win games.

Learning from mistakes and developing confidence

The fact that Mainz were held to a draw by the Berliners was due to a poor first-half performance from the team, in which their opponents did exactly what had brought Mainz success in recent games. “They were aggressive in their challenges and wanted to win the second balls more than we did,” Zentner commented. Unlike the games in Leverkusen and against Hoffenheim, the Zerofivers enjoyed far more possession against a Hertha side that sat deep in their own half. “We weren’t able to really draw them out in order to beat them with long balls over the top,” the goalkeeper said about the first 45 minutes. The Berliners played with less intensity after the break, allowing FSV to “kick it into high gear,” effort that was rewarded with Ludovic Ajorque’s equaliser.

According to Zentner, the fact that Mainz managed to take points from a match in which they didn’t start well goes to show the growth the team has undergone, as well as the self-confidence that has built up as a result of previous games. “We knew that we would score and that we could make it through without conceding,” said Zentner. While questions could be raised about the decision leading to the penalty, the lead wasn’t an undeserved one for Hertha but rather a lucky one. After all, the hosts barely managed any clear-cut chances on goal, with the exception of a header in the second half. “Overall, 1-1 is a decent result because we didn’t play to our best,” the goalkeeper summed up.

Plenty of quality, even on the bench

With the exception of the first half in Berlin, FSV have been able to deliver consistently strong performances in recent weeks. “We always set ourselves the goal of giving it everything. We didn’t give up in Leverkusen either and ended up winning what was a 50/50 game, same as against Hoffenheim,” Zentner said. While lots of things have gone right for the Zerofivers recently, this is also due to the hard work they have invested. The key to this, according to Zentner, are the basics that the team have worked to perfect.

They are doing a great job and work very well together.

The goalkeeper was also full of praise for defenders Andreas Hanche-Olsen, Stefan Belll and Edimilson Fernandes, who have lined up as part of a back-three in each of the last seven games. “They are doing a great job and work very well together,” he said. Hanche-Olsen needed “no time at all” to settle in, makes few mistakes and is a tough tackler. Bell helps keep the defence organised, while Fernandes brings pace and technique to the table. “It’s a good mix at the back, and we’re also able to bring on more quality players from the bench,” said Zentner. Part of Mainz’s recent success can therefore be attributed to their squad depth.

The fact the Mainz have won four times at home in recent weeks gives the team confidence heading into their upcoming matches at the MEWA ARENA. “We realised what it was like last year,” Zentner said, referring to Mainz’s strong home form in 2021/22. “Now, it’s like ‘awesome, another home game!’ You know the stadium, you know the fans will be behind you,” Zentner enthused. The fact that everyone is looking forward to home games once again in an important factor in the team’s success, he added.

A balancing act 

Zentner made his comeback between the sticks against Borussia Mönchengladbach on matchday 22 and delivered a strong performance, denying Marcus Thuram on a one-v-one and keeping a clean sheet in the 4-0 win. His time on the sidelines wasn’t an easy one, as he tells it. “Because we started the year with two double game weeks, being sidelined for three weeks meant missing six games,” he said.

It was a bit of a balancing act, but I’m glad everything is back to normal now.

“It was a bit hard to know what was the right way to proceed,” Zentner said. On the one hand, you don’t want to lose any time in a phase like that and be back on the pitch as soon as possible. On the other hand, you pay a heavy price when you rush to come back and end up setting yourself back even more. It was a bit of a balancing act, but I’m glad everything is back to normal now.” Despite being out injured, the goalkeeper remained in close contact with his teammates. “I was here every day and saw the team, asked how training was going and watched the games while being in the dressing room before kickoff,” he said, having also taken part in winter training camp with the team. 

Zentner makes a strong save to deny Gladbach's Marcus Thuram on his comeback from injury.

Successfully developing goalkeepers at Mainz

In the first game of the year, as well as the five Bundesliga games following that and the DFB-Pokal last 16 clash against Bayern, Finn Dahmen was in goal for the Zerofivers. The goalkeeper position at Mainz was discussed a lot in the media over these weeks, but head coach Bo Svensson always emphasised that he had complaints about having several strong options in goal within the ranks.

“It is important for a team to know that the game is not going to change just because the regular number one isn’t playing,” said Zentner, aware of the quality of his goalkeeping teammates. He suggested that there is a lot of quality in training and noticeable competition for places and a will to succeed, but there is also a good relationship between the goalkeeping team and they have a lot of fun together. “The work with do together with the lads is high in quality but also fun,” said Zentner of his work with Dahmen and Lasse Rieß.

When you see Finn’s games or Lasse’s in the second team you notice the high quality, that’s no accident.

Zentner can’t really determine if Mainz’s goalkeeper development is special as he has only come through the system here and so can’t make a fair comparison. “I think that it is important that you don’t just learn keeping technique because in the end being a goalkeeper requires a lot more than that,” said the ‘keeper, referencing for example the coaching of playing with your feet and having a presence in the box. “As a goalkeeper, you don’t always have it easy. Almost everyone has phases where you don’t play. Dealing with that properly and being there when you’re needed is a big thing mentally. I trust everyone here to do that and think that that’s an important point. When you see Finn’s games or Lasse’s in the second team you notice the high quality, that’s no accident.”

Clean sheets as a bonus                     

Zentner remarked that keeping a clean sheet is a bonus as a goalkeeper – and something that Zentner himself has already done six times this season, the fifth-most in the league. He suggested that winning games is the most important thing though and staying solid as a defensive unit.

The same is true of the game against SC Freiburg on Sunday evening with the team once again looking to pick up three points. “We are facing a team that comes from a similar starting point and is also often compared with us,” said Zentner of the duel with Christian Streich’s side. “They are a top opponent, who goes through seasons very solidly and without much fluctuation in form.” But Zentner still doesn’t want to describe SCF as a role model. “I always have a hard time with that term, but it is already impressive the consistency they have in managing to stay right up there. It is nice to see, but obviously I would rather see us up there,” explained Zentner with a laugh.

Top opponent with consistency in all areas

Zentner outlined how Freiburg follow a clear plan, are well-disposed in attacking areas and, similarly to the Zerofivers, can rely on quality from the bench. “In all areas of the team they have their key players that have been at the club for a few years now,” said Zentner. Freiburg have managed to “keep their team  together well” over the past few seasons, said Zentner, which has helped them maintain the consistency that they have shown on the pitch.

The fact that SCF have the highlight of playing Juventus in a Europa League last 16 second-leg on Thursday before then travelling to play in Mainz on Sunday, should be “at the very least no disadvantage” for the Zerofivers, according to Zentner. The Mainz shotstopper suggested that the team have to play their own way on the pitch and use the energy coming from the home fans to their advantage. Following this formula, Mainz would have the basis for a successful Sunday evening and a fifth Bundesliga home win in a row, which would set a new club record.