Leverkusen 0-1: Mainz: Mainz go clear at the top thanks to Tuchel’s substitutions
Another impressive tactical decision from Thomas Tuchel, and another victory for Mainz.
Jupp Heynckes has played a variety of formations so far this season – here, he went for a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3. Stefan Reinartz played at the back in Sami Hyypia’s absence, whilst Sidney Sam was on the right wing, outside Lars Bender.
Tuchel is also somewhat of a tactical chameleon, but his 4-3-1-2 (as seen against Bayern) is clearly his first choice shape. Niko Bungert got the nod at right-back, and Sami Allagui returned upfront. The rest of the side was as expected.
4-3-1-2 v 4-3-3 is a relatively rare match-up in modern football, and this made for an interesting battle early on. The natural outcome in terms of possession was that Mainz had a spare midfielder, whilst Leverkusen’s full-backs were free. The early dominance would be about who could use their own advantage better.
Leverkusen on top
The answer was Leverkusen, who pushed both full-backs forward to provide a constant passing outlet on the flanks. Their advanced position meant that the two wingers could move forward closer to the lone striker Eren Derdiyok. The Leverkusen full-backs were closed down by the shuttlers on the sides of the Mainz three-man midfield, and Leverkusen could have been better at switching play from flank to flank to catch their opponents out here.
Elkin Soto and Marco Caligiri were also allowed to move forward into attacking positions when Mainz had the ball, although they were tracked well by Bender and Simon Rolfes. They generally made direct forward runs towards goal rather than drifting into wide positions, and with the Mainz full-backs pinned back well by Leverkusen’s wingers, Mainz’s play lacked any real width.
Mainz midfield advantage
Mainz had a 4 v 3 advantage in the centre of midfield, and were more patient in their build-up play. The free player was generally Eugen Polanski who played a classic deep-lying playmaker role in the Andrea Pirlo mould, although the lack of width presented him with few options on the ball, and he struggled to pass to a man in space. Leverkusen were obviously happy enough to allow him time on the ball – an alternative would have been to push Arturo Vidal forward onto Polanski, with the defence narrowing to take care of the 4 v 3 situation they would have faced.
The problem with a 4-3-1-2 is that the playmaker has an overwhelming burden on the creative front, and that was demonstrated well here, as Lewis Holtby was tracked closely by Vidal and struggled to make an impact on the game in the role behind the front two. Elsewhere, with the carrileros marshalled, the full-backs pinned back and the strikers high up against two centre-backs, it was only Polanski who had time to create.
Mainz’s only real chance in the first half came when the ball bypassed Holtby and Reinartz made a mistake in the air – with Adam Szalai chipping over the crossbar. In contrast with their general approach, Mainz were more threatening when they played direct football, and took advantage of the fact they had 2 v 2 against the opposing centre-backs, whereas Derdiyok was up against two strikers by himself. Still, the Swiss striker came closest to scoring in the first half, with an excellent glancing header that was inches wide.
No changes at half-time, and continuation of a first-half pattern that was rather underwhelming, especially considering that these sides had been goal-crazy until this fixture.
Tuchel has proved himself a master of tactical switches so far this season, and you don’t get much better than this one – Andre Schuerrle and Andreas Ivanschitz were both brought on in the 68th minute, and Schuerrle crossed for Ivanschitz to finish for the only goal of the game in the 70th minute.
Tuchel had removed one striker, Szalai, and the ineffectual Holtby to bring on the two attackers – switching to a 4-3-3 system that offered a more varied, wider threat than in the first half. The goal, a rare occasion Mainz attempted to go around the Leverkusen defence rather than through them, simply provided a different route of attack, and whilst a simple 4-3-1-2 to 4-3-3 chance was far from spectacular, it did the job well. Contrast this with Heynckes’ strategy – to opt for a double change, but within the same system – and Tuchel was rewarded for being the braver of the two coaches.
A fairly disappointing game from an entertainment point of view, but an interesting tactical battle in the first half, with neither side quite managing to string together passes in the final third. As congested midfield (seven central midfielders – compare that to just four in the Villarreal v Atletico game) part of the problem.
“Either I got the substitutions spot on or I fielded the wrong players in the first place”, Tuchel joked afterwards.Leverkusen 0-1: Mainz: Mainz go clear at the top thanks to Tuchel’s substitutions