Köln and Mainz met in a rare midweek match to replay the Matchday 13 fixture that was canceled a month ago. After an eventless first half, Mainz came out strong and took the lead through Allagui on 70 minutes before Lukas Podolski saved his team a point 5 minutes from time. Mainz missed out on their second away win of the season while Lukas Podolski reached a personal milestone, scoring a career high 14th goal in a single season.
Line ups and Tactics
Solbakken fielded the same eleven players that convincingly beat Freiburg 4-0 just 75 hours earlier, hoping to have finally found the right formula to instill some consistency in the side. Köln have not won back-to-back matches since September. The Norwegian coach stuck to his 4-2-3-1 with Podolski spearheading the attack and Clemens, Peszko and Jajalo the support.
The Bundesliga’s resident tinkerman meanwhile made several changes. Tuchel started Baumgartlinger, Gavranovic and Stieber instead of Caligiuri, Mali and Ivanschitz. Stieber played his first Bundesliga match since September. Tactically, Tuchel switched from the 4-4-2 diamond he has been using in the last month and opted for a 4-3-3, hoping perhaps to match Köln’s combative midfield with one of his own. It was very much a contrast of styles and tactics.
Sloppy first half
Köln were more aggressive in the opening stages, doing most of the pressing and less of the defending but Mainz were set out well and gave Köln very little room to work with. For all of Köln’s momentum early on, Tuchel’s midfield three, Baumgartlinger and Kirchhoff in particular, were very effective in denying Köln space. Kirchhoff and Baumgartlinger won a combined 36 challenges, a match high, and forced a lot of turnovers from Köln’s attacking players. Only Riether gave the ball away more times than Jajalo, Köln’s playmaker being severely restricted by Mainz’s astute midfield.
Overall, the first half was rather uneventful with very few chances created, a result down more to poor execution than the team’s individual systems. There were a lot mispasses and players struggled to read each other or get into good enough positions. A total of 61 passes were squandered and 18 fouls committed between the two sides in the first half. That was evident in two mistakes that could easily have resulted in the opposition scoring. Bungert waited to long to clear a ball and nearly hit it in the path of Podolski 15 minutes into the match while Rensing and Brecko’s miscommunication on the other end halfway through the half nearly resulted in an own goal.
As mentioned at the top, this match represented somewhat of a contrast in styles and tactics. Tuchel being the more experimental and adventurous coach while Solbakken is known for his organizational skills and a greater emphasis on possession. That contrast became more visible in the second half.
Mainz come back strong
Similar to their performance against Hamburg, Mainz’s persistence and intense pressing tends to make them more effective as a match progresses and in the second half, Mainz stepped up the tempo and really put the hosts under pressure. Köln had a golden chance four minutes after the restart after Bungert accidentally headed the ball in the path of Podolski, Wetklo making the block, but for the most part it was Mainz who had the upper hand for much of the second half.
Going back to the contrast of styles. Tuchel openly encourages his players to switch positions during a match and get forward in numbers. Allagui, who started as Mainz’s center forward, constantly moved out wide, especially to the right. On 60 minutes, he and an advancing Baumgartlinger combined well to create an opportunity for Mainz but Geromel was alert enough to clear the danger. If you look at Köln’s average positioning during the match, it is more linear and defined than that of Mainz, the Köln players being extremely well disciplined positionally and rarely abandoning their posts. It is why Köln can at their best be so difficult to break down but that kind of organization can also be a setback. Against the free flowing interchangeable Mainz, Köln were too passive in the second half and relied on counter attacks which rarely ever materialized.
Mainz eventually made that pressure count after more clever passing from Gavranovic and Baumgartlinger, the Austrian sending in an unchallenged cross for Allagui to head in, his first goal since August. It is only after that goal that Köln finally woke up and the hosts nearly punished Mainz after a lapse in concentration from Fathi and Kirchhoff allowed Podolski to get a shot off, Wetklo’s save coming off the post. Ten minutes later Köln built another attack from the right. Jajalo received the ball and immediately laid it off to Podolski who did not even think and released a shot from 24 meters with his famous left foot, driven low and inside post to level the match.
Both sides left it rather late to get going and squandered their chance to take three points from this match as a result. Mainz were poor in the first half and only got going after the break while Köln failed to make the most of their momentum at the beginning of the match and needed to concede a goal to liven up. In the end, it was a fair result.
Köln struggled to deal with Mainz’s pressure after the break and were lucky to concede only once. Even more worrying is their lack of danger in front of goal without their life insurance policy of Podolski, without whom they would have once again failed to get back-to-back wins. Solbakken will no doubt be unsatisfied with how passive Köln looked in the second half.
Mainz’s tactical change meanwhile yielded positive and negative results. On the one hand, play was a bit scrambled with players looking a bit uncomfortable in their new roles but its’ versatility worked well against a stiff Köln side. In the end it was a good result on the road as Mainz remain unbeaten in their last five Bundesliga matches.
Image courtesy of bundesliga.de
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