The first game of this weekend’s Bundesliga action saw Schalke take on Mainz with both teams at opposite ends of the Bundesliga table. Schalke were looking to build on their impressive start to the season under new boss David Wagner; while Mainz, following a poor start to the season, were looking to build on last week’s win and start a climb up the table. In the end, it was Schalke who got the win and climbed temporarily into the Champions League places, and in this tactical analysis we will look at what went wrong for Mainz, and one common theme in Schalke’s offensive tactics which exploited an ongoing weakness in the Mainz team.
Mainz lined up in their usual 4-3-1-2 diamond while Schalke played in a 4-2-3-1 shape, often pressing with two up front. Mainz simply lacked quality technically for the vast majority of the game, struggling to win offensive duels and struggling to create chances as a result of their shape, as I will move onto in this analysis.
Schalke’s press was effective in the game in limiting Mainz’s build-up, and Mainz’s lack of quality and poor shape in the build-up also helped this. Below we can see an example of Schalke’s press, with two players up front pressing the centre-backs while the wide midfield players press Mainz’s high full-backs. Mainz therefore often had no options other than to play the ball down the line to the marked full-back, or go long. When played to the full-back, this forced them to win offensive duels within their own half which of course is risky. The number six within the diamond, Pierre Kunde, as well as Mainz’s whole diamond midfield, did a poor job of offering an inside pass which we can see below where a massive space is left for an inside pass but no Mainz players occupy it. This situation leads to Mainz losing the ball.
We can see a very similar situation below, where again Schalke’s press is effective while Mainz’s shape doesn’t help them try to overcome it. We can see the distance between the centre-back on the ball and the left-back is large, meaning a long pass has to be played. This gives the pressing player more time to run towards the full-back to press when he receives the ball, and when he does receive the ball, again there is no occupation of that central area to create an inside pass, so the ball is lost.
Mainz struggle to build
Mainz’s full-backs often took up very high position, with the midfielders then entering the vacant space and looking to build, but again, the lack of an inside pass hurt Mainz and was the main reason for their struggles in the game offensively.
We can see below Kunde struggles to get into the space quick enough, with the full-back already on the ball and being pressed with the passing lane down the line cut. None of the other players within the midfield diamond dropped either, and so the only options Mainz had in the game were to go long or try and go down the line, as mentioned earlier.
We can see again below Mainz struggling to adjust their shape to build effectively. Kunde here remains in the pressing Schalke players’ cover shadow, and again with the full-backs very high allowing themselves to be marked, Mainz have no options. A simple movement to move out of the cover shadow to receive the ball between the two pressing players would allow Mainz to progress up the pitch, but Kunde remains in the cover shadow and the centre-backs don’t risk any penetrative passes.
Schalke exploit Mainz’s weakness
Mainz’s midfield diamond had problems while pressing Schalke, and in particular, Danny Latza struggled to fulfil his role within the diamond, letting several passes progress past him into the half-space behind.
The role of central midfielders (number eights) within the diamond, when out of possession, is to prevent passes from being played inside or forward if possible. The number eights often press the opposition wide players, and so their role is to stop balls going down the line or inside, depending on the situation. If the ball is played down the line, the Mainz full-back should be high enough to aggressively press any wide player and so no inside ball should be possible, but we will come back to this later.
We can see the issue below, in that Latza was just too slow in pressing the full-back, and his body positioning and angle of the run didn’t allow him to cover the passing lane effectively. We can see in this example Latza doesn’t get across quickly enough, allowing a forward pass by the full-back down the line.
In a very similar situation highlighted in the next image, we see the same problem from Latza with added problems from the rest of the team. Again, Latza is unable to prevent the forward pass and is too slow to get in front and cut the passing lane. Then the pressure on the wide player from the full-back is non-existent, with the full-back positioned too deep to have any impact on the wide player. Therefore, the ball is played inside and Schalke are into the half-space, where they can look to get the ball into their strikers. The chain of events can be prevented by Latza pressing more intensely and getting in front of his man to cut the passing lane and leave Schalke with few options.
It is no surprise that when we delve into the stats deeper, we see this is a recurring problem for Latza who has allowed the most progressive passes past him of any player in the Bundesliga so far this season.
We can see another instance of Schalke exploiting the half-space below, with the ball played past Latza again. Here, there is no pressure from behind by Mainz, and so Schalke are free to play a third man pass and free Harit in the space, who caused problems all game. Contrast this to the aggressiveness we see from Borussia Mönchengladbach’s backline and we can see a problem for Mainz. It may well simply be a confidence issue for the defenders, who don’t want to be aggressive and get tight for fear of being rolled or turned easily.
Improvements in the second half
Midway through the second half, we did see some improvements from Mainz in their possession work. We can see below something pretty simple but something which was missing from Mainz’s play in the first half- a central player offering an inside ball. This allowed Mainz to look to progress the ball further forward without the use of long balls, which were ineffective.
It is therefore no surprise that once Mainz’s midfield players started to receive the ball in central areas, they were able to start to get in behind lines and cause Schalke problems. Here substitute Bote Baku drops between the lines to receive the ball and is able to drive at the defence. This came shortly before their goal and was one of the few times in the game Mainz got in behind without using a long ball.
It was another disappointing result for Mainz in a disappointing season for them so far, while Schalke looked decent but not too inspiring. It was a game that had a real intensity to it but both teams struggled to really effectively hurt each other. Despite this, Mainz really should have come away with a point but a lack of urgency in the dying minutes ultimately hurt them. It will be interesting to see if either team’s form changes much over the next few gameweeks.
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