The Cup is normally a mismatch of first division sides facing lower tier teams with the former usually coming out on top. Every now and then though, Bundesliga sides are pitted against each other early in the competition, serving up some of the most competitive games in the cup. An in form Hannover was drawn against a struggling Mainz but as the parlous nature of a domestic cup tells us, the result was not what most had expected.
Mirko Slomka only made one change after the impressive win against Bayern Munich over the weekend, slotting in Pander at left back instead of Schulz and returning Rausch to the starting line up. Tuchel, the tinkerman of German football, started Choupo-Moting and Ujah up front for Müller and Allagui. In midfield, he gave Malli his first start of the season, pegged with the responsibility of supporting the strikers, while Ivanschitz was left on the bench. He also rested first choice goalkeeper Müller, giving Wetklo the start.
Game of attrition
After Hannover’s historic win against Bayern Munich the Cup tie against a Mainz side who has yet to find last season’s form presented a perfect opportunity to add to an already impressive campaign. Thomas Tuchel and Mainz meanwhile felt hard done by, playing well in their last couple of matches but failing to turn performance into results. Fortune was finally on their side today however as they got arguably the best result of their campaign so far with a hard fought win.
For the most part, the match was a case of two sides neutralizing each other. Both teams enjoyed brief spells of dominance but failed to take their chances. Mainz started in usual energetic fashion, pressing the home side and often getting the better of them in the center of the pitch. As has often been the case this season though, they simply could not capitalize when it mattered most. Hannover’s patient and quick counter attacking football was lacking because of their paucity in midfield. Schmiedebach, who was so effective over the weekend against Bayern, struggled to get Hannover’s offensive game going. Kirchhoff and Malli were impressive in the middle, helping Mainz win 58% of the match’s duels and effectively denying Hannover the space to counter.
The other important byproduct of Hannover’s midfield deficiency was the space and it gave Choupo-Moting, who was the biggest thorn in the home team’s side. For the most part, Hannover were forced to conduct most of their play out wide, crossing 18 times compared to Mainz’s 12 with Pander being Hannover’s biggest threat with 3 shots on goal. Their biggest threat came mainly from set pieces and the game eventually went into extra time where Tuchel’s earlier decision to bring on Ivanschitz finally paid off. Cherundolo failed to track the Austrian, who latched onto a cross from Pospech and volleyed the ball into the short corner. As if that was not dramatic enough, Hannover won a penalty in the last minute of overtime after Fathi fouled Stindl in the box. Ya Konan’s weak penalty was saved by Wetklo and Mainz hung on to record a significant win.
Tuchel displays his tactical nous
Last season Tuchel garnered a reputation for being one of the most tactically astute coaches in the league. A self-proclaimed student of the game and notoriously erudite in his preparation ahead of matches, Tuchel was the master of adaptation, picking his line ups according to the opposition and getting results along the way. While that shrewdness may be fleeting this season he showed his acumen against Hannover, neutralizing their counter attacking game by winning the midfield.
So many sides succumb to Hannover’s counter attacks precisely because they fail to cut off their quick transitions from defense to attack. Pinto and Schmiedebach are Hannover’s key players and the most important components of those counter attacks. By playing what was effectively a midfield diamond Tuchel outnumbered Hannover in midfield and isolated Schmiedebach and Pinto from the rest of the team. Soto, Caliguri, Malli and Kirchhoff strangled the two Hannover midfielders from all sides and forced them into constant turnovers. Schmiedebach, who is usually so self-assured in his passing, was particularly poor and was eventually replaced by Slomka.
Furthermore, Mainz’s fullbacks occupied Rausch and Stindl with their forward runs, allowing them little room and time to help out defensively. Choupo-Moting also played an important role by dropping deep and pulling players out of position, sometimes playing as far back as the halfway line. It may not have been the smoothest performance but Mainz’s midfield performance essentially won them the game.
Here are the other results of the Third Round:
Holstein Kiel 2-0 Duisburg
Rott-Weiss Essen 0-3 Hertha Berlin
Karlsruhe 0-2 Schalke
Erzgebirge Aue 1-2 Nürnberg
Bayern Munich 6-0 Ingolstadt
Stuttgart 3-0 FSV Frankfurt
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 Kaiserslautern
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