It wasn’t a classic by any means but Greuther Fürth fans will remember this match forever. Die Kleeblätter won their first ever match in the Bundesliga after a fought-out 0-1 victory at Mainz thanks to a second-half Felix Klaus goal. Fürth were on the back foot for most of the game and Mainz will be disappointed not to have won the match but their poor finishing meant that Thomas Tuchel’s men are still winless this season.
Lineups and tactics
Tuchel made no changes from the 1-1 draw at Freiburg last weekend but changed from a 4-4-2 diamond system to a 4-2-3-1, with Szalai being the lone man up front, with Choupo-Moting and Nicolai Müller on the flanks and Austrian Andreas Ivanschitz playing behind the Hungarian striker. Fürth were forced to shuffle things around after the heavy 0-3 loss in the opening day against Bayern München. Mike Büskens changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. Sebastian Tyrala was the sacrificed man as Montenegro international Milorad Peković moved into central midfield partnering Stephan Fürstner and Edgar Prib moving from that position to a more familiar left-wing place. Sercan Sararer moved from the right wing to partner Djiby Fall up front.
On paper, Mainz’s 4-2-3-1 system was set to dominate Fürth’s flat 4-4-2 system thanks to their superiority in midfielder. The first 10 minutes had no clear dominator and ball master but things soon changed when Fürth striker Djiby Fall found himself inside the box 1-on-1 with the keeper after the ball rebounded off the Mainz defender. Fall ended up putting the ball wide of the goal with all of it at its mercy, only then claiming he thought he was offside, although his body language after suggested otherwise. And, from one big chance, to another. Elkin Soto found Szalai inside the box, who shot on the half turn only to find the gloves of goalkeeper Max Grün. Suddenly, the game had come to life.
Mainz were happy to keep the ball and it seemed like Fürth were also happy to try and catch Tuchel’s men on the break. However, most of the action happened in midfield, with both defenses leaving little space for the forwards and narrowing the play to the middle of the park. Soto was the main architect for Mainz and all the balls went through him, with clever passes finding the forward men who couldn’t do much with it. On the 20 minute mark, Ivanschitz played a beautiful ball that threaded through the Fürth defense and found Choupo-Moting 1-on-1 with Grün. The Cameroon international managed to beat the goalkeeper but ended up shooting into the side netting with the Fürth defender charging in. It wasn’t the easiest of angles but it wasn’t tight enough to warrant a miss and Choupo-Moting was left holding his head in his hands.
The game then turned a bit feisty, with a lot of petty and cynical fouling going on in the middle of the park, which mostly frustrated the Mainz players. This seemed to be fast becoming the match of missed chances as ten minutes before the break, Ivanschitz whipped a corner in which missed all the Fürth players and bounced off Niko Bungert’s knee bouncing inches wide of the post. This was the last chance of the first half.
Fürth seemed to start the second half a lot brighter instead of booting balls straight into Wetklo’s hands, but the pressure lasted no more than 5 minutes, when a cross by Nicolai Müller found Choupo-Moting’s head, but the ball went over the bar. This seemed to spur Mainz on and Die Nullfünfer regained possession, piled on the pressure camping outside Fürth’s half and made it seem like the goal was a matter of time. However, the fat lady had a whole different plan. Djiby Fall’s shoulder, which had been playing up the whole first half, finally said enough and Mike Büskens was forced to replace him with Ilir Azemi, along with Greek midfielder Thanos Petsos coming on for Peković. This proved to be inspired since moments later, Azemi cut inside on the edge of the area and fed Felix Klaus, whose somewhat erratic shot ended up as a lob which went over Wetklo and into the net. Totally against the run of play, Fürth were in front and what a goal it proved to be since this was the first goal in the Bundesliga for the men in white and green hoops. It was made all the better since it was scored by Klaus, a man who came from their youth team.
After the goal, Fürth seemed happy to sit back and hit Mainz on the counterattack, with the pressure growing on Mainz every second that went by. However, the difference was that now, Mainz were passing the ball in their own half instead of outside the Fürth area, which prompted the crowd to boo and unnerved the players even more. Choupo-Moting once again went close with a sidefooted shot that went just wide, but this could not disguise what a poor match he was having, losing most balls he touched. Tuchel brought on Marcel Risse and Eugen Polanski for Müller and Baumgartlinger with a quarter of an hour to go and Risse seemed to liven things up, making runs on the right wing and putting dangerous set pieces in, but always finding the same outcome: Max Grün. A cross by Risse himself found captain Nikolce Noveski at the far post, whose header seemed destined for the back of the net, only for Grün to make a great reflex save and once again deny the home side. Despite the 4 minutes of time added on, Grün’s hands seemed to be the end of the road for most of Mainz’s long balls into the box, a considerable difference from their slick passing outside the box in the first half and, in the end, Fürth held on to take all three points to the delight of their vociferous travelling fans.
It wasn’t the most entertaining match in the world but Greuther Fürth will not care one bit. Everything was set up for Mainz to take the three points today but they’ll only have themselves to blame for not doing so. Clear chances by Choupo-Moting and Szalai weren’t able to find the net and, eventually, they were made to pay for it. Szalai didn’t really have any role in the game and neither did Choupo-Moting, although the team insisted on attacking down his left flank instead of choosing the more effective Müller on the right. Ivanschitz provided the set pieces and most of them were decent although they had nobody at the end of them. Tuchel perhaps left his substitutions too late since Marcel Risse obviously had an impact after coming on although, in hindsight, Choupo-Moting should have been the one coming off, although perhaps his height was the reason why he stayed on for the high balls late on.
Fürth didn’t deserve to win the match and Djiby Fall definitely does not seem to be the player to score the goals to keep them in the Bundesliga, although it might be too early to judge him yet, but his unbelievable miss won’t do much for his case. Edgar Prib was anonymous throughout and more should be expected from him. However, their defense seemed to be the one of last year which conceded only 27 goals in the whole season, and not the one from last week, making very few mistakes.
There’s definitely room for improvement for both sides, especially Mainz, who need to start taking their chances more because these points against the smaller sides will most definitely come in handy at the end of the season. However, Fürth should be with their goalkeeper, who most definitely earned the Man of the Match award today after making key saves that earned the three points and could very well win more points for them as the season goes on.