How Mainz stopped Bayern – in ten steps

September 30, 2010

Lewis Holtby, the young Mainz central midfielder

Mainz are THE story of the European season so far – top of the Bundesliga with six wins from six.

Five wins from five was good enough, but few expected the run to continue, since they faced a trip to last season’s champions. But Mainz triumphed 2-1 over Bayern, using a 4-3-1-2 formation and pressing all over the pitch.

For background information on Mainz’s start to the season, Raphael Honigstein (as ever) has a most interesting report, in a piece written before the Bayern game, focussing largely on Thomas Tuchel, Mainz’s manager.

Honigstein’s piece following this game also featured quotes from Adam Szalai on his side’s tactical approach to this game. “Our mission was to put on pressure and to destroy their passing into the centre…we wanted to force them to play it via the full-backs. When the ball was out wide, one of our holding midfielders moved out. That worked well.”

Here are ten ways they managed to stop Bayern.

The basic shape

Tuchel is a tactical chameleon, having played three separate systems in his six matches so far this season - 4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1, and 4-3-1-2. Here, he favoured the latter, with a flat back four (light blue) behind three central midfielders (dark blue). Ahead of them was Holtby, a central attacking midfielder who got through a lot of defensive work (yellow). The two strikers are off screen to the right. It is also notable that Bayern's 4-4-2 (rather than their usual 4-2-3-1) gives them no central playmaker, just two strikers upfront waiting for service.

Holtby running…

The main factor in Mainz's approach was heavy pressing all over the pitch. Holtby was a key factor in this, tirelessly closing down Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger early on. As noted in the Bayern reports from the games against Wolfsburg and Roma, Bayern are playing a more possession-based approach than last season, happy to retain the ball in non-threatening areas in the midfield. They weren't able to do that, because of Mainz's pressing.

…and tackling

Holtby's job was to run between van Bommel and Schweinsteiger, and try and stop them playing a forward pass. In the photo above, he was closing down van Bommel, here, he goes for Schweinsteiger.

Outside central midfielders

As Szalai says above, the strategy for dealing with the full-backs (a problem area when fielding a 4-3-1-2 against a four-man defence) was for one of the three central midfielders to come out to meet them. Here, veteran Miroslav Karhan closes down Danijel Pranjic, whilst the other two central midfielders remain as a double pivot ahead of the defence. This forced Bayern to play uncharacteristic quick crossfield balls, many of which were waywarn and went out of play.

Pressing from the front

The pressing started from the front - here the two strikers close down Daniel van Buyen and Holger Badstuber, so Bayern are unable to play out from the back.

Force Klose to come short

Eventually, Bayern became so frustrated at not being able to keep the ball in the centre of the pitch, that Miroslav Klose (pink) started dropping into a deep position, where he was clearly uncomfortable and struggled to help. Here he drops very deep, and one of the Mainz central midfielders tackles him.

Midfield barrier

For the second half Mainz switched to something more like a 4-4-2, but their midfield still stayed narrow, shuffled from side to side and broke up the passing in the midfield. Here, in the second half, they still retain three midfielders in the centre of the pitch, forming a barrier between the ball and the defence.

Striker drops back

This meant that the Holtby (who was removed at half-time having got through an incredible amount of running) role was no longer on the pitch, in theory giving van Bommel and Schweinsteiger more time on the ball. But Mainz' strikers dropped back to help out - here Sami Allagui (black), who spent the first half high up the pitch, comes back to pressure van Bommel.

Schweinsteiger drops in

Bayern eventually became so tired of their centre-backs being pressed from goal-kicks that Schweinsteiger had to drop in and become a Busquets-style centre-half, and distribute the ball from deep.

Continue to press

But otherwise, the pressing continued. This is in the final five minutes, with Mainz 2-1 up. Sit back and defend deep? No way - four Mainz players remain high up the pitch, trying to stop Bayern building up from the back. At times they rode their luck, but the key to Mainz's victory was ultra-aggressive pressing (helped by the energy of the three young attacking players they started with, aged 20, 22 and 24), and Bayern simply couldn't handle it.

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