Friday’s Bundesliga fixture between FSV Mainz 05 and VfL Wolfsburg featured two clubs who have improved their status during the second half of the season. Each club has moved up two places in the standings, Wolfsburg from 12th to their current 10th place status with Mainz moving up to the 12th spot. Not spectacular turnarounds, but considering that Mainz had a nine match winless streak earlier and Coach Felix Magath presided over the league’s largest personal turnover during the winter transfer window, fans of both clubs could be reasonably satisfied with their team’s progress, with Wolfsburg even having an outside chance for qualifying for the Europa League next season.
But the hopeful dreams of Wolfsburg fans received a severe jolt of reality at the Coface Arena, as the two clubs played to a scoreless draw.
Lineups and Formations
Magath went into Friday’s Coface Arena fixture without the presence of reborn goal-scorer Patrick Helmes. The former Leverkusen forward clawed his way out of Magath’s doghouse to score seven goals in his last eight matches. Wolfsburg have suffered a rash of injuries and illness recently, but both Marco Russ and Alexander Madlung, doubtful prior to the match, were able to start but Helmes wasn’t fit enough to make the Wolfsburg eighteen. The Wolves did go into the match having won their last three matches against Mainz, and four of the last five. Magath lined his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mario Mandzukic alone up top.
Friday’s match also marked the 100th game for Thomas Tuchel leading Mainz. Tuchel was again without the services of defender Bo Svensson and midfielder Marcel Risse, and replaced Julian Baumgartliner, Marco Caligiuri and Nicolai Muller from last week’s lineup with Maxim Choupo-Moting, Mohamed Zidan and Eugen Polanski. Tuchel’s formation for the match was a 4-2-3-1 with Zidan lined up centrally behind Adam Szalai. Chrstian Wetklo was back in goal after Heinz Muller shut out Bayern Munich last weekend.
First Half: Mainz Surge then Fade
Despite Wolfsburg’s recent successes against Mainz, and their need for three points in their quest for Europe next season, it was 05 who came out of the gate looking more confident. Mainz have been in good form, having taken seven points in their last four fixtures., and it showed. Zidan left-footed a shot from Elkin Soto towards corner of the goal in the 5th minute which Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio saved. In the twelfth minute Benaglio again was able to thwart Mainz as he stopped a header from Jan Kirchoff.
Without Helmes Wolfsburg were slow to get untracked, with Mario Mandzukic their main threat in the match, although Ashkan Dejagah and Ricardo Rodriguez had chances by the midpoint of the first half. The game action centered in the midfield for much of the remainder of the half, with Mainz owning a 55% edge in possession. Despite some work down the left flank, Wolfsburg couldn’t earn another good scoring chance. Zidan looked threatening at the end of the half, but his shot from a bad angle from the left was just wide of the far post and the half ended scoreless.
Second Half: Momentum Changes Back and Forth
Both coaches changed personnel to begin the second half, as Magath brought in captain Christian Träsch and dusted off seldom-used Swedish striker Rasmus Jonsson to replace Hasebe and Jiracek while Tuchel placed Tunisian international Sami Allagui on the pitch for the final 45 minutes, subbing out Andreas Ivanschitz.
Mainz came out from intermission energized again. Szalai gained a fine opportunity in the center of the box from Zidan but came up empty while a minute later Zidan again provided, as Allagui was sprung on goal from a Zidan pass, but was unable to get off a quick shot. Momentum swung in Wolfsburg’s favor near the hour mark. Wolfsburg winter acquisition Vierhinha became the meat in the center of a Mainz sandwich just outside the penalty area in the 64th minute, and Alexander Madlung blasted a rising shot from the resultant free kick that Wetklo was able to leap and push away, although momentum quickly changed as Zidan took advantage of a Wolfsburg defensive slip but slid the ball right to where he though Szalai would be, but wasn’t.
Although Wolfsburg led the Bundesliga with 464 crosses going into the match, Mainz were able to neutralize the danger often provided by Dejagah and Marcel Schäfer, who nevertheless covered the most ground of any player in the match. Mandzukic had two golden opportunities in the game’s waning minutes, but despite good efforts was unable to gain Wolfsburg the three points needed to legitimately sustain Europa League hopes. The Croatian striker and his Mainz counterpart, Zidan, each led their clubs with five shots during the match, with Mainz having the upper hand in possession (56%) and shots (15-11) and shots on goal (8-3).
For Wolfsburg, Friday’s match was a continuation of their season-long woes away from the VolkwagenArena, as they’ve earned only 12 points in 16 away matches. That statistic alone pretty well sums up Wolfsburg’s 2011-2012 campaign …. while maintaining a 9-2-5 at home. Although Magath has made strides re-building his club, they are no where near the quality that they displayed when Dzecko and Grafite headed the front line. There is still a mathematical chance of their qualifying for Europe, but by dropping two points at the Coface that chance seems quite doubtful. Helmes’ absence certainly didn’t help Magath’s cause, either.
For Tuchel and his Mainzmen, the point earned at home has them virtually safe from relegation. Considering their early exit from the Europa League coupled with only two wins in league play by the end of September, Tuchel has him team progressing and playing pretty decent football, although it can’t be said that he’s completely found the solution to the departure of last season’s stars Schurrle, Fuchs and Holtby, especially in attack with the club only scoring once in its last four matches. Mainz did complete more passes at a higher percentage than Wolfsburg, and although Zidan didn’t add to his Mainz goal total, the Egyptian has been a lifeline for Mainz with not only his goal scoring but his ability to create.
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