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Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg – tactical analysis

The Bundesliga game between Mainz and Wolfsburg was not an offensive spectacle but provided some tactical insights concerning the current strengths and weaknesses of each side. Whereas Mainz struggled in the beginning of the season with the second-youngest team of the league, Wolfsburg have been successful und unbeaten under their new head coach Oliver Glasner.

Our tactical analysis reveals some of Wolfsburg’s defensive tactics and deals with the issues of Mainz’s attacking approach. Moreover, we take a closer look at the impressive pressing statistics of Mainz and explain why the might get misunderstood.

Lineups and formations

Mainz coach Sandro Schwarz stuck to his preferred 4-3-1-2 formation. During the attacking phase, the full-backs were supposed to attack down the flanks and put in crosses while the striking duo constantly threatened the space behind the opposition backline.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Lineups of Mainz and Wolfsburg [Credit: Wyscout]
Wolfsburg coach Glasner lined his side up in a 3-4-3. While the flanks were occupied by the wing-backs Jérôme Roussillon and William, Josip Brekalo and Admir Mehmedi positioned themselves within the half-spaces behind striker Wout Weghorst. The double-pivot in midfield consisting of Maximilian Arnold and Josuha Guilavogui covered the central areas in front of the backline during the defensive phase. And during the press, the ball near wing-back pushed slightly higher while the other one joined the central defenders to form a situational back four.

Mainz’s extremely aggressive high press

Throughout the whole game, Mainz pressed Wolfsburg during the build-up to stop them from cleanly progressing up the pitch. Therefore, Mainz’s attackers used their cover-shadows to prevent any passes into wide areas and forced Wolfsburg’s build-up into the centre of the pitch.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Mainz press with a 4-3-3 shape in the second half. The left-winger cuts off the wide passing option using his cover shadow. Since the midfield three is positioned narrow, Wolfsburg do not find space and hit the ball long.

In the second half, Schwarz switched formations to a 4-3-3 in order to be capable of “pressing Wolfsburg even more aggressively” (Sandro Schwarz).

The PPDA (=passes allowed per defensive action) value proves the aggressiveness of Mainz’s high press. Schwarz’s side only allowed 5.74 passes per defensive action which is extremely low compared to the average PPDA value of 10.84 of Wolfsburg’s opponents in 2019/20. That meant that Mainz disrupted the opposition build-up early on. Paired with their good defensive duel statistics (Mainz could win 75% of their defensive duels), the numbers show that Mainz’s defensive strategy allowed them to win the ball quite often.
However, one issue about the PPDA value is that it solely displays the number of allowed passes and not whether they outplayed the press. Since Wolfsburg regularly used long balls to progress up the pitch, they did not need many passes to create chances. And although Mainz could defend a lot of these balls, any situation which ended within the final third meant danger for Mainz’s goal.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Wolfsburg create a promising opportunity after Mainz tried to push forward with their defenders. That left them with equal numbers in the back though.

The positive effect was that the pressing of Mainz resulted in some good counter-attacking opportunities. Throughout the whole game, Mainz had six counter-attacks of which four resulted in shots. Usually, Wolfsburg allow their opposition only four counter-attacks on average per game with less than two of them resulting in a shot.

But as so often in tight matches, a set-piece situation was decisive to the result of the game. Wolfsburg were the more effective side and converted their only corner kick of the game into a goal.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Wolfsburg’s short corner-kick which led to their goal.

Wolfsburg used a short corner-kick variant and outplayed the Mainz defender in a 2v1. As a consequence, Wolfsburg got closer to the goal and could still put in the cross without much pressure.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics

Within the box, Mainz’s man-marking approach failed as defender Jerry St. Juste lost his direct opponent Marcel Tisserand who scored the decisive goal.

Wolfsburg’s counter-attacks

Another issue of Mainz was that they sometimes lacked numbers in the back when losing the ball. As at least one of their full-backs supported the attack to provide the necessary width in their 4-3-1-2 shape, Mainz offered space on the wings to transition into. In the situation below, for instance, Wolfsburg can start a counter-attack by playing into space on the wing which was left free due to Daniel Brosinski’s offensive contribution.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Wolfsburg’s attacking trio utilises the vacant space behind Mainz left-back Brosinksi. While central defender Moussa Niakhaté has to defend the right forward, the other two forwards can create a 2v2 situation on the other side.

Mainz’s last third issues

With the incredible number of 83 passes to the final third and a success rate of 66.27%, Mainz were capable of getting into Wolfsburg’s defending third through passing more often than any other team this season.

Nevertheless, the home-side missed penetrating power within the last third. Often heavy overloads facilitated defending for Wolfsburg.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Since Mainz only occupy the right side of the pitch, Wolfsburg’s defensive unit can keep the space small.

Moreover, the narrow positioning of Mainz’s forwards disabled them to get behind the defenders with through passes.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Due to the narrow positioning of the striking duo, Wolfsburg’s back line can stay narrow as well and through passes are difficult to play.

Instead, they often received the ball turned backwards to the goal.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Since Mainz’s attacker is not offered a back pass option within his field of view, he has to wait for further teammates to move up the pitch.

In these situations, Mainz’s midfield sometimes missed back pass options. As a consequence, they often had to play out wide.

Mainz tried to create scoring opportunities with crosses from wide areas. All in all, Mainz put in 22 crosses with a success rate of 40.91% which is again a good value against Wolfsburg’s solid defensive department. However, Wolfsburg’s aerial superiority led to a lot of crosses being cleared by Wolfsburg. Glasner’s team could win 55.77% of their aerial duels, while Mainz’s success rate was way lower with 34.62%.

And instead of trying to get towards the end line to force another Wolfsburg defender out of their shape and get into a position to play a possible pass back to the edge of the box, Mainz tried to threaten the opposition goal with their crosses over and over again – without success.

Wolfsburg’s strong defence

Due to the dominance of Mainz 05, Wolfsburg had to defend a lot within their defending third. Nevertheless, they demonstrated their solidity in and around the penalty area.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Wolfsburg’s clearances throughout the whole match [Credit: Wyscout]
Throughout the whole game, Wolfsburg made 49 clearances which is twice as many as their average value of 19.23 clearances per match.

Initially, Glasner’s side would press the opposition in a man-oriented way.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Wolfsburg press Mainz in a man-oriented way. Their wide forwards press the opposition centre-backs while striker Weghorst prevents the opposition pivot to receive the ball in midfield.

But once Mainz had progressed up the pitch (often using chipped balls towards the attacking duo) Wolfsburg immediately fell back into a deep block behind the ball.

Wolfsburg’s defensive department focused on blocking the central passing lanes to the goal and therewith forced Mainz to play out wide. To defend crosses, Wolfsburg’s back three stayed in the centre while the wing-back on the ball side pressed the ball-carrier and attempted to block the cross.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
While defensive midfielder Guilavogui presses the ball-carrier, the other defensive midfielder Arnold supports the back three and creates a 3+1 setup.

The advantage of Wolfsburg’s double pivot in front of the back line was that the ball near defensive midfielder could shift towards the wing to support the wing-back while the other one joined the three central defenders within the penalty area. That way, Wolfsburg set up in a 3+1 within the box and covered the most dangerous zones. And even if opposition attackers received the ball, they were at least interfered by a Wolfsburg defender. As a consequence, Mainz could not score throughout the whole match.

Whenever Mainz attempted to shoot from outside the penalty area, there were enough Wolfsburg defenders positioned between attacker and goal. That way, Wolfsburg blocked a lot of attempts.

Bundesliga 2019/20: Mainz vs Wolfsburg - tactical analysis tactics
Mainz take a shot from the edge of the box. But with a lot of Wolfsburg defenders blocking the way towards the goal, it is difficult to score. In this case, the shot gets deflected and hits the crossbar.


To conclude, Wolfsburg won the game with a bit of luck despite the high pressure defending of Mainz. Although the statistics in our tactical analysis speak for a Mainz dominance, Sandro Schwarz’s side could not utilise their superiority due to their issues within the last third.

Oliver Glasner, on the other hand, will be satisfied with the defensive solidity of his side. Currently, Wolfsburg possess the best defence of the Bundesliga as they have only conceded four goals yet. And their defensive performance against Mainz displayed why they are so solid. With their defensive qualities within the box, they could frustrate Mainz’s attack and clear or block most balls. Nevertheless, Glasner will have to improve his side’s attacking approach in order to stay within the higher regions of the Bundesliga table.

Artwork by @chapulana

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