January 23, 2017

What the Stats Tell Us About Mainz’s Season So Far

Information technology and statistical analysis in particular have revolutionized sports over the years and more football clubs across the world increasingly emphasize the importance of statistics in developing and managing their teams and its’ training regimes. While statistics only go so far in telling story they do provide an interesting insight into general trends on the pitch.

Thomas Tuchel and Mainz are slowly starting to turn their season around after a bysmal start. Departures of key players, injuries, formation shifts and 9 matches without winning a game saw the club as low as 15th in the standings but Tuchel is known for his tactical acumen and ability to adapt to chancing circumstances. Let’s look at some of the greater statistical trends this season and what they mean to Tuchel and Mainz.

Mainz struggle to get their passing game going

Generally speaking, Mainz have some of the lowest passing completion percentages across the league, a stark contrast to the free flowing side that finished in a European spot last season.  The loss of several key players meant that Thomas Tuchel had to go back to the drawing board and adapt to those losses and that transition came at a big cost as Mainz have found themselves in the bottom end of the standings for much of the season so far.

A flurry of tactical and personnel experiments no doubt resulted in that instability in both results and performance, something that Mainz are just slowly coming out of.  In particular, Mainz have struggled in building their game from the back.  Their goalkeepers, Müller and Wetklo have two of the league’s three worst passing completion percentages (49.29 and 40.91% respectively).  While goalkeepers are generally at the bottom end of these figures the same can be said of a lot of other Mainz’s outfield players as you slowly go up the pitch. Caligiuri and Fathi, who have mostly played in Mainz’s backline this season, have a 71.79 and 74.4% completion rate, generally a poor return for defenders.

A look at their midfielders and attacking players statistics hints at a breakdown of of their game further up the pitch, something that has been endemic to Tuchel’s team this season. Midfielders Risse and Stieber have a staggeringly low 58.7 and 70.93% respectively while Ivanschitz, Soto and Polanski have yet to complete 80% of their passes per game on average.  Perhaps that also explains Tuchel’s decision to switch from a flat 4-4-2 to a diamond, the latter being more conducive to retention and overall less risky.

Mainz's completed passes this season, average, percentage per game and total.

Won tackles and Pressing

Known for their intense running, Mainz have become one of the better pressing sides in the league and their wins against Stuttgart and Bayern in recent weeks have come as a result of effectively implementing that tactic.  This season and up until recently however, they have been sorely lacking in that category.  The two best ways to statistically categorize any form of pressing is through distance covered and the succes rate of challenges and tackles.  A requisite of any successful pressing side is the effective execution from all 10 outfield players of both progressive running and efficient tackling While Mainz are always proactive in their physical exertion they have been less precise in their tackles and won challenges which in turn has affected their ability to get results on the pitch.

Stieber, Ivanschitz and Allagui have been especially poor in their challenges, winning an average of 34% of their tackles.  Defenders and midfielders will almost always have better statistics than forwards in this category but with Mainz, the trend continues the deeper go in their half as well.  Soto and Polanski, who are two of Mainz’s most important midfield anchors, won only 45.25 and 51.90% of their tackles respectively, stats close to the likes of Gomez and Robben. That discrepancy in part explains Mainz’s disjointed form and performances and it follows that they are still seeking the right balance between tactics, output and precision.

Mainz's won tackles this season, average, average per game and total.

Personnel & Tactical changes 

Last year Tuchel garnered the reputation as the Bundesliga’s resident tinkerman, rotating from week to week without necessarily dropping in performance. A stronger squad coupled with the individual quality of certain players allowed Tuchel that freedom as well as the ability to come back strong at the end of the season and finish in a European spot.  A transition amidst the loss of said quality players as well as a decline in overall squad depth was always going to mean a slow transition though and Tuchel has had to perhaps rethink his plans more than even he wanted.

Tuchel started the season with a set formation (one that alternated between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 depending on in match sequences), surprisingly sticking to the same eleven every week with very few changes in between.  Two wins in the first two weeks were encouraging but then Mainz went seven matches without winning or keeping a clean sheet.  Tuchel needed to rethink his strategy and went back to his policy of rotation as well as a taking a bold tactical leap. The tinkerman was back and Tuchel played everything from a 4-5-1 to even going Italian and trying a 4-3-2-1 before settling on a 4-4-2 diamond.  Out went Risse and Stieber, who up to then played traditional winger roles and in came the likes of Baumgartlinger in a new midfield diamond and N. Müller up front as the second striker.  So far, Tuchel has used 23 of his 28 players on the squad and more importantly, they have lost only one of their last five matches since switching to the new formation.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

6 Comments

  1. Yes I have to say that I thought about it but it would have to be extensive enough to cover all the details, definitely an interesting project though which I would love to do at some point.

    I guess to put it briefly, statistics cannot track or interpret the various intangible elements of the game such as refereeing decisions or certain tactical decisions which change the course of the game or the role of a player. Also the scientific certainty of stats means that they don’t discriminate between different player roles on the pitch and to what extent they are relative to the result or performance, for that you have to analyze things individually and stats can skew that.

  2. Cristian,

    I love to see a post from you, or others here, about your philosophy of applying statistical analysis to football. In your introduction, you imply there’s a limitation, but I would love to hear about this limitation (what is it?). I know Brian Philips @ runofplay has written about sabermetric analysis’s short comings in football. So I’d love to hear you write about this topic.

  3. Agree, Stieber is better than this and these stats don’t necessarily speak for his quality, or the quality of any of Mainz’s other players. Stieber was a bit unlucky with injuries and his team’s form, sure he’ll bounce back, as most other players on the team will.

    Got the stats from Bild’s sport center of all places who are working with Opta this season.

  4. Hi Cristian!
    Stieber is much better than this.
    Where did you get those stats?
    Greetings from Budapest, Hungary!

  5. Thanks a lot Laz! Appreciate you reading!

    Stieber suffered an unfortunate injury and by the time he came back Tuchel had already adapted around him. He’s still young though and Tuchel knows how to handle a big squad so he’ll get plenty of chances.

  6. Very interesting!
    Any ideas why Zoltan Stieber hasn’t been performing? He was amazing in zweite last and I honestly thought he would become a steady starter for Mainz.

    By the way, love the website! Keep up the good work and keep on promoting the most entertaining football league in the world!

    Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden!

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