The 40-year-old Sandro Schwarz is heading into his third season as the head coach of Mainz 05. The finished the last two seasons in the 14th and 12th position. Even though they lost their star Jean-Philippe Gbamin who joined Everton for a reported fee of £22.5 million, they have a young and talented squad.

They’ll face Kaiserslautern on 10 August 2019 in the first round of the DFB Cup and play on the first matchday of the upcoming Bundesliga season away against Freiburg. These are two doable tasks and especially against Kaiserslautern, everyone expects Mainz to go through to the next round.

This tactical analysis in the form of a season preview will look at the squad of Mainz and use their pre-season friendlies to predict how they might play in this upcoming season.

Squad and system

Beside Gbamin also the likes of Anthony Ujah, Giulio Donati, Gaëtan Bussmann and Gerrit Holtmann, and some other less important players left the club. Furthermore, René Adler and Niko Bungert both retired from football.

However, Mainz signed seven new players with an average age of 21.86 years and they paid all combined just £18.5 million while they received in total for their sales £24.3 million and so made until now £5.8 million profit. Of course, it’s hard to replace a player like the Ivorian Gbamin but Mainz spent it wisely on several young talents instead of buying one big name.

Here’s their current squad which has got an average age of 23.9 years and currently contains 29 players but it’s still possible that some players leave or join the club. The players are ranked in each position after their current market value from the highest to the lowest:

Goalkeepers: Florian Müller, Robin Zentner, Omer Hanin, Finn Dahmen

Centre-backs: Moussa Niakhaté, Stefan Bell, Alexander Hack, Ahmet Gürleyen

Full-backs and wing-backs: Aarón Martín, Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel, Daniel Brosinski, Phillipp Mwene, Jonathan Meier

Central midfielders: Pierre Kunde Malong, Edimilson Fernandes, Jean-Paul Boëtius, Danny Latza, Ridle Baku, Alexandru Maxim, José Rodríguez, Leandro Barreiro Martins

Wingers: Levin Öztunali, Karim Onisiwo

Strikers: Jean-Philippe Mateta, Robin Quaison, Dong-won Ji, Jonathan Burkardt, Cyrill Akono, Aaron Seydel

They used during their pre-season friendlies mainly a 4-3-1-2 formation and just in the game against Metz a 4-3-2-1 formation. In light of this, we can expect that Schwarz will prefer the 4-3-1-2 system during the upcoming season what is understandable since there are several good central midfielders in the squad and just two skilled wingers with Öztunali and Onisiwo.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Starting line-ups for the friendly between Mainz and Everton

Build-up

It is sure to say that Bell and Niakhaté will be the two starters in the central defence. These two played during last season 25 and 33 respectively games in the Bundesliga and this season won’t be much different. The two centre-backs are together with the three central midfielders responsible for the build-up.

The three central midfielders should always provide short passing lanes to keep possession. The two full-backs push up to provide width. Due to the narrow positioning of the three central midfielders and the offensive midfielder, the opposition often defends with a narrow block. In these situations, the full-backs have got a lot of space. However, another reason for their wide positioning is to stretch the opposition and create distance between the opponents in the centre which is vital for Mainz’s tactics as we will see later in this analysis.

The centre-back Bell is on the ball, the full-backs push up and you can see the diamond in the midfield

In general, Schwarz’s squad tries to build up their attacks with short passes from the back and wait for the right moment to progress the ball further up the pitch. As you can see in the image below, they try to solve pressing situations with short passes.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Mainz solves the situation with a passing combination

Furthermore, the players have a lot of freedom when it comes to their positioning during the build-up. In most situations, the central part of the three midfielders drops between the two centre-backs which go wide. Also, the left or right central midfielder sometimes position themselves deeper beside the two centre-backs two create a kind of a back-three. But also, the centre-backs are allowed to make unusual movements to create a passing lane as Bell does in the example below.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
The centre-back Bell moves out of the opponent’s cover shadow to create a passing lane

However, Mainz know that it makes no sense to just focus on the ball circulation and forget to progress the ball further up the pitch. In addition, they always have the two strikers upfront to have at least two receivers for long passes. Considering this, they don’t hesitate to try to find one of their strikers or the offensive midfielder with a long ball when all short options are shut down.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
All short passing options are too risky or shut down and so they play a long ball

Verticality

As already mentioned, is it important for Mainz that the midfielders of the opposition aren’t positioned too narrow. That’s because they focus on vertical passes through the middle to get into the last third. Especially the two centre-backs often try to find the strikers and the offensive midfielder with vertical passes through the middle.

Considering this, they circulate the ball until they find a vertical passing option and after the pass, they either involve the full-backs or the central midfielders who pushed up. But in general, you can say that their style of play is very direct. They don’t have possession to dominate the game but to keep the ball until they find an option for a penetrating pass.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Penetrating pass through the midfield
Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Another vertical pass

On average they got during their friendlies against Metz, Everton, Sevilla, Jahn Regensburg and Rayo Vallecano just 42.76% possession. So, they don’t need to stay in possession very long because they’re always looking for a penetrating pass.

As explained later, Mainz sometimes uses a very high and aggressive pressing. As soon as they win the ball in these situations, they instantly try to exploit the free space and look for a forward pass. In the image below, Mainz executes a good pressing and after they win the ball, they immediately try to get into a goalscoring position. In this case, Quaison receives a forward pass and scores just seconds later.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Good pressing by Mainz to win back possession
Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
They instantly play forward after they won the ball

Even though they don’t execute a lot of counter-attacks, when they start one, they once more try to progress the ball with vertical passes. In the five friendlies, they got on average 2.2 counter-attacks per 90 minutes but in these situations, they mainly used vertical passes like in the image below.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Vertical pass and the receiver Boëtius turns with the first touch to keep up the pace
Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
After the turn, he instantly plays the next vertical pass

Variability in the work against the ball

When the opposition is in possession, Mainz use different ways to defend. Most of the time, they sit back and try to stay compact with their 4-3-1-2 formation. In these situations, the two strikers are the first one who put slight pressure on the opponents. They don’t have a clear height from which on they press in at their opponent but mostly it’s about the halfway line.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Mainz in their narrow 4-3-1-2 formation and a lot of space on the wing for the opposition

Due to their compact formation, as you can see in the shot above, the main spaces for the opponents to exploit are on the wing. As soon as the opponents get with the ball into that zone, Mainz tries to isolate them and put pressure on them since it’s easier to create numerical superiority and press in at the opponents on the wing.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Mainz isolates their opponents on the wing

However, even when they sit back deeper, they can still switch anytime to the pressing. As soon as the opponents play a bad pass or someone has got a bad first touch, they use it as a trigger and start to put pressure on them. In the example below, Everton’s centre-back can’t fully control the ball with his first touch and so the right striker Burkardt instantly starts the pressing and his teammates also push forward.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Bad first touch by Everton’s centre-back is the trigger for the pressing

As already mentioned, Mainz also uses a very high pressing. Mostly the two strikers, the offensive midfielder, the left and the right midfielder execute the pressing and the central midfielder together with the back four also shifts forward to avoid a free space in the midfield. However, since they have no wingers in their squad, the five mentioned players move very ball-orientated to the according side and so the opposing wing is left free. Everton use exactly that free space in the images below.

Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
High pressing by Mainz
Mainz 2019/20: Season preview - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Everton can solve the situation with a long ball to the other side. The receiver is currently not in the image but he receives the ball in the marked space

Conclusion

This scout report showed that Schwarz’s team is very variable when it comes to the defending and focuses on vertical passes when they’re in possession. They have several ways to win back the ball what can be a big advantage because then they can adjust their defensive concept to the opposition.

It will be interesting to watch how Mainz will perform this season. It’s likely that they won’t have to do anything with the relegation battle and maybe they’re one of the positive surprises of this season.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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