1899 Hoffenheim and FSV Mainz 05 met Friday evening at the Rhein Neckar Arena with the home team leading Mainz by two points in the table. After 90 minutes, Hoffenheim maintained their two point lead following a 1-1 result. The draw keepsHoffenheim’s unbeaten streak at home alive — they last dropped all three points at home back in August against Werder Bremen. But the other half of the unbeaten streak isn’t so glorious– in Hoffenheim’s eleven home matches thus far, they’ve drawn seven times and only won on three occasions, the last of which was on October 22 against Borussia Monchengladbach. Mainz have won once, lost once and drawn three times in their five 2012 matches.
Line ups & Formations
Hoffenheim: Starke – Beck, Compper, Vestergaard, Johnson (Braafheid 72′) – Rudy, Williams – Vukcevic, Firmino (Salihovic 79′), Weis (Babel 59′) – Lakic
Mainz: Wetklo – Caligiuri, Kirchhoff, Noveski, Zabavnik – Polanski – Baumgartlinger, Soto – Ivanschitz (Malli 59′) – Szalai (Choupo-Moting 69′), Zidan (Allagui 82′)
First Half Sees all the goals
Things looked promising for Hoffenheim in the first half. With the departures of veterans from their inaugural Bundesliga season, Hoffenheim now are fielding the youngest squad in the league. Markus Babbel, in his second week in charge in Sinsheim, saw 21 year-old Croatian born Boris Vukčević have two early chances on goal, with newcomer Srjdan Lakic also missing on a shot. The efforts by Vukčević saw fruition, though, in the game’s ninth minute, as his cross was accidentally footed into the Mainz net by defender Nikolce Noveski to give Babbel’s side an early lead. It was the unfortunate Noveski’s sixth own goal of his career — and his second of the season gifted to Hoffenheim. Before one becomes too critical of the Macedonian defender, however, it’s instructive to see that he’s played 173 matches in the Bundesliga and this season is completing over 84% of his passes, winning 66% of his tackles and 73% of his aerial challenges, solid numbers indeed.
Mainz struck back near the half hour mark. Prodigal son Mohamed Zidan, who had two previous stints with 05, has been a godsend to Thomas Tuchel’s team. He took two shots during the match, both on frame, and the second found the back of the net as he right-footed a cross from veteran Slovak defender Radoslav Zabavník. The goal was the third for Egyptian striker Zidan since he came home to Mainz, and shows the wisdom of acquiring the veteran for his leadership and goalscoring presence. Lakic had another scoring chance, but his header skimmed over the bar and the first half ended drawn 1-1.
Second Half Slumber
Unfortunately, the remaining 60 minutes yielded no more goals, perhaps not surprising in the fact that the two clubs have played a combined 17 draws this season. Lakic, looking for his first Hoffenheim goal, had an aerial opportunity four minutes into the second half, but couldn’t convert on Sebastian Rudy’s assist. Babbel brought in attacker Ryan Babel at the hour mark, but he missed a shot soon afterward. Although he introduced energy to the Hoffenheim’s plodding attack, the frustrating Dutchmen betrayed his efforts with too many failed passes in Mainz’ third of the field.
Tuchel introduced young Yunus Malli into the game at the same time, and although he showed some inspired flashes, nothing came of them. Tuchel also substituted in the club’s leading scorer, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, along with Sami Allagui, but the trio of subs could only manage to get off one shot at Hoffenheim’s goal.
For the neutral, much of the match was a snooze-fest as neither team could get a consistent attack untracked. Good defending, and poor offensive execution, was the overarching theme of the fixture that could have seen a nice move forward for either side had they shown the ability to score again. But the toothless finishing demonstrated by both clubs saw the game end in a 1-1 draw, with Hoffenheim in 10th place and Mainz in 12th. Hoffenheim had many more shots than Mainz (16-7), but could only force two saves from Christian Wetklo. The home side had a slight edge in possession and corner kicks, but in reality the game was evenly played.
Both sides seem to be in transition, particularly Hoffenheim. Veteran midfielder Sejad Salihovic only saw 12 minutes of action at the game’s end as Babbel tries to work some magic with his youngish squad. The team does enough to flirt too dangerously with relegation, but not enough to inspire much confidence as Hoffeneheim seem to be lacking in leadership and charisma on the pitch.
This is by no means the team that dazzled the Bundesliga during their the Hinrunde debut in the top tier. One can understand the offloading of the stars of that team, which never found trophies despite its attacking prowess, but the loan of 22 year-old Gylfi Sigurdsson to Swansea City this winter is more of a head scratcher. The Icelandic international has a goal and three assists in his short time with the Swans. The reason given for his loan to Swansea was Sigurdsson’s lack of playing fitness as he missed much of the season with injury, but it seems counterproductive to loan out a young attacker who could surely have found a spot in Hoffenheim’s lineup.
Thomas Tuchel’s Mainz side seem to have settled into a comfortable zone of mediocrity. Most pundits felt that it would be nearly impossible to replicate the season Tuchel had last year, with so many loaned players returning to their original teams. Considering their status as one of the smaller clubs in the Bundesliga, Mainz are doing ok, but like Hoffenheim, rarely inspire much admiration. From last year’s chart-topping Boys Band, Mainz have descended to cover band status, playing smoky bars in the provinces. But they look like they’ll survive to fight another season in the top ranks, which for a smaller club is always much of the battle.