Bundesliga MD 14 Preview: FC Bayern vs. FSV Mainz 05
At least it was long enough to pare down the injury list. Apart from Tanguy Nianzou (muscle injury) and Kingsley Coman (precautionary measure after the slight knock against Leverkusen), all first team regulars are available. In view of the upcoming list of fixtures, this is good news for Hansi Flick.
In January, the load will not yet be too heavy. Seven games in one month is a lot, especially given the mini-break and the congested calendar in the months before, but it is not a completely new situation for FC Bayern. After that, however, the work load is going to be ramped up considerably: Club World Cup, DFB-Pokal, Champions League, Bundesliga – the team has to contest all these competitions within just a month between the beginning of February to the beginning of March.
To be successful in all these competitions, Flick will need to use a wider selection of his players than in the final phase of 2020. However, it seems unlikely that Bayern are going sign new players in January. On the contrary, with Joshua Zirkzee a player will most probably leave the club on loan.
January will be particularly important for the coaching team because it affords the opportunity to better integrate the summer arrivals into the team. After the Mainz game there will be a whole week available for training. Then comes an ‘Englische Woche’ with games against Gladbach, Kiel and Freiburg within seven days. The cup game against Kiel in particular is a good opportunity to rotate the team and give second string players an opportunity for game time. The situation is similar against Augsburg and Schalke. Although both games are away from home, Flick could seize both opportunities to use the players he sees closest to the first eleven in training.
After the Schalke game, there will be time for another uninterrupted week of training. The focus will most likely be on recovery, but there will also be another chance to integrate players who were far far away from a first team place before the Christmas break. Then come Hoffenheim, Hertha and the Club World Cup. After these fixtures there will be few opportunities for consistently honing tactics and practicing movements in training, unless Bayern are surprisingly eliminated in some competition.
February will also perhaps be the first time that last summer’s new arrivals can be assessed more accurately and fairly. Even then, it will not be possible to pass a final judgement on each of them, but especially the players that were only brought in as stopgap measures anyway (Costa, Choupo-Moting, Sarr) can be better assessed then.
But first it is the turn of the year’s opener against Mainz 05. On paper, a home game against a relegation candidate in shambles who should be dispensed with as quickly as possible in order to be able to shift the focus on the important clash with Gladbach. But as is often the case this season: On paper is not on the pitch.
At Mainz, the festive period was anything but festive. Sporting director Rouwen Schröder and coach Jan-Moritz Lichte had to take their leave, while former long-standing Mainz manager Christian Heidel was brought back as head of strategy, sport and communication in a package with new sporting director and former first team coach Martin Schmidt.
Both not only know the club very well, but have great affection for it. Their passion and dedication was evident at their joint inaugural press conference, creating an atmosphere of optimism that Mainz hope they will be able to carry into the new year. Heidel made it clear from the beginning that he would be looking for a new coach and he gave Lichte the sack before he could possibly get a surprising result at Bayern, which would have made it awkward for Heidel to argue the dismissal at this point in time.
So Heidel and Schmidt took action before the unpromising away game at Bayern, sacked Lichte and made former Dortmund second team and Huddersfield coach Jan Siewert interim coach for just one or two games until Bo Svensson – their original target and another former employee of the club – becomes available.
Sports journalist and Mainz expert Mara Pfeiffer has commented on this in great detail on her website, weighing up the pros and cons of the personell shuffle and coming to the following conclusion: “The whole process is fraught with pitfalls and plenty of risks, which have rightly been discussed extensively in recent days, and of which one must be aware. But it also affords a tremendous opportunity.”
Just how tremendous an opportunity Mainz actually have will certainly not become apparent in the match against Bayern. But FC Bayern should at least be warned that there is a new spirit of optimism and the sense of a new dawn wafting through the corridors at Mainz. It cannot be ruled out that it has reached the dressing room as well. If Bayern are not prepared for that, they might wake up to a nasty surprise.
Mainz certainly have the quality to be an unpleasant opponent even for FC Bayern if they are able to catch a good day. To do so, Mainz will have to rediscover some of their old values: In addition to a tireless work ethic and aggressiveness, they will above all need to keep their tactical discipline in closing down their opponents, the courage to attack Bayern beyond the halfway line, and efficiency in transition.
Heidel played a decisive role during the time when Mainz were able to annoy the mighty FC Bayern time and again. Martin Schmidt, too, has not lost in four of his nine matches against the record champion as coach – including a single victory with Mainz 05.
At the moment, it takes quite a bit of imagination to envisage a future for Mainz in the Bundesliga that accurately reflects Heidel’s positive claim: “Forward to the roots”. The new head of strategy, sport and communication will have his hands full to get the club back on track in his three areas of responsibility.
So what can Bayern look forward to? Siewert, who was only appointed as head coach in the youth academy at Mainz in September, will not have been able to reinvent their football in such a short time. Nevertheless, with a new coach at the helm at the opponents, any meaningful tactical analysis is always difficult. Flick will not be able to prepare his team in detail to what his counterpart will be up to.
However, detailed tactical analysis and preparation is usually not the highest priority before games in which the individual class of the Bayern players outshines the opponent many times over. Preparing the players for the opponent as well as possible is certainly important, but in such games it is crucial to play to your own strengths most of all.
Especially Bayern’s passing game at the end of last year showed glaring problems that we were no longer used to. The causes were manifold: lack of positional play, lack of concentration, lack of proper weight on the passes, lack of form, injuries. The result were too many simple turnovers that practically invited every opponent to counter-attack. With the return of Joshua Kimmich, however, there is hope that things will improve again.
Bayern’s recent vagaries in form are exactly why it is so dangerous to already count the chickens against Mainz. If the shortness of the winter break has not allowed for Bayern to recover their once effortless superiority on the pitch, they will continue to toil and labor against any opponent in much the same vein as during the final weeks of last year. So the same as Mainz, Bayern in 2021 will want to take a trip back in time as well. Not “forward to the roots” perhaps, but surely “forward to the best form”.