Mainz shocked Europe last week when they defeated the mighty Bayern München of Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena with a brilliant 2-1 win. The result leaves them in fifth in the Bundesliga, just a point behind Schalke 04 in the final Champions League spot, ahead of the likes of Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach. It’s a remarkable achievement for such a small club on a small budget. The success is down to flexible tactics, smart signing, a young coach and a lot of hard work.

Mainz have been a success story ever since their return to the top flight in 2009. Current Borussia Dortmund Thomas Tuchel was appointed that summer and stayed until 2014. In the 2010/11 season they started with seven straight wins and eventually finished fifth. That season saw a remarkable achievement in finishing in such a high position, the highest in the club’s history. However, under the leadership of Martin Schmidt, the club is on the brink of something even more special, Champions League-qualification. The team has impressed all season and find themselves fifth with just a point to make up on Schalke in fourth. It remains a big ask to reach that coveted spot, but the win and performance at Bayern showed what Schmidt’s men really are made of.


normal shape
Normally, this is the way we are used to see Mainz set up. Two banks of four, with the wonderful Yunus Malli playing off the striker, usually Yoshinuri Muto. In defence it’s 4-4-1-1 and in  attack 4-2-3-1 as the wingers pick higher starting positions. For the Bayern game, however, Schmidt changed into a different set up.

He chose to go with a 3-4-3 which became a 5-4-1 later on in the game. The line-up was: Karius
The change worked perfectly, and highlighted the tactical nous of the young coach.

Centred pressing

press front 3
As we all know, Bayern likes to build from the back and play centrally for two thirds of the pitch before unleashing their wingers in the last third. Schmidt’s way of stopping Bayern to play was to press centrally with his front three, as can be seen above. They also started the press high, and the wing-backs weren’t afraid to join in the pressing as can be seen in the following illustrations below. Bayern were frustrated by the aggressive pressing, and lost the ball in their own half on numerous occasions in the first twenty minutes.

high press

high press 2
The right wing-back Donati (circled in blue) is joining in the high press and so is the excellent Julian Baumgartlinger (circled in red) who isn’t afraid to leave his central midfield role to press Vidal.
high press 3
We can again see the narrow positioning of the front three in the initial pressing, forcing Bayern to play wide.

high press 4
And again. Also Baumgartlinger pressing Vidal high again.

high press 5
The front three again and the left-wing back Bussmann pressing high. Bayern couldn’t get their normal style going.shape541
After the first twenty minutes, Bayern started to gain more control and Mainz retreated into a 5-4-1 (replicated by Thomas Tuchel and Dortmund three days later), where Clemens and Jairo joined the midfield two and Donati and Bussmann joined the back-three.

shape541 2Bayern were still forced wide due to the compact and resilient Mainz team.compact
Just look at the minimal space between those lines. No space to play the passes between the lines Guardiola wants his team to do. Well done Schmidt.

Stopping the wingers

While Bayern obviously like to play through the middle, it’s on the flanks that they are most dangerous. Against Mainz they had Ribery, Robben, Coman and later on Douglas Costa on the pitch. Schmidt’s way of counteracting these players and the dangers they pose was the use of the five-man defensive line. The central pressing forced Bayern wide, but thanks to the third centre-back and the cover that brings, ensured the full-backs/wing-backs Donati and Bussmann could be straight out to press the winger. This means no time for the winger to get any sort of speed going. The wide midfielders also helped out to double up on the winger.
Bussmann straight out to press Coman. Jairo gives support.

Donati out to press Ribery. Clemens gives support.

Bussmann v Robben. Jairo gives support.

The substitutes Daniel Brosinski and Douglas Costa goes head to head. Clemens in support.

Bayern put in 27 crosses in this game, a sign of their frustration at the lack of chances created through the middle. The defensive line defended these brilliantly though, and if you see the two images below you understand why.
Look at all those Mainz players in their own third. All eleven of them down there, in fact. A sign of resilience, hard work and togetherness.
spare man in box
Tactically, the back-five gave Mainz a spare man in their own box, as can be seen above, defending 4 v 3 instead of 3 v 3.


Mainz only had about 20 % possession in this game, and you can’t win a game by playing 0-0. Mainz instead produced stunning counter-attacks throughout the ninety minutes. Both goals came from counter-attacks of sort. The first one started with the goalkeeper Karius.
Mainz win the ball and it’s played back to Karius. The back three is highlighted as he plays it out to Wack.
Wack goes for a wall pass with Bussmann. Bayern try to press. Look a the six Bayern players about to get caught out.
Wack plays a long ball forward towards Clemens.
Clemens beats Bernat in the air to flick it on to Donati. Four Mainz attackers against three Bayern defenders from the halfway line.
Donati plays a perfect ball across the box for Malli (in yellow) who back-heels the ball to Jairo (in red) who finishes emphatically.


Martin Schmidt came up with the perfect tactical plan to defeat Bayern. Max Allegri will definitely take great pleasure from Mainz win and performance into next weeks crucial Champions League tie. He outwitted Pep Guardiola tactically and continued to show his talent as an up and coming star in Germany, especially as he defeated Bayer Leverkusen and Roger Schmidt a few days previously. His team has been impressive all season and if they can reach that final Champions League spot then he will be talked about in the same breath as predecessors Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.

His Mainz team include excellent players like Baumgartlinger, Karius, Jairo and the brilliant Yunus Malli and the challenge in the summer will be to keep these players. Securing Champions League football most likely will keep, but if they get pinched by bigger and richer clubs then Mainz will surely replace them as well as they’ve recruited them. The end of the season should have the Mainz fans extremely excited, and the Bayern win is one they’ll never forget.