In Simon Rolfes, the Bundesliga and its partner AWS have an expert who knows the Bundesliga from A to Z. Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Sporting Director, Rolfes wore Die Werkself's colours 288 times between 2005 and 2015, and represented Germany on 26 occasions. Rolfes is the ideal man to write a regular column for the 'Bundesliga Match Facts Zone' on bundesliga.com, analysing current trends and giving unique insight on the Bundesliga Match Facts.
This week, Simon Rolfes analyses how Mainz succeeded in completing one of the biggest escapes in Bundesliga history.
By Simon Rolfes
At the end of the first half of the season, 1. FSV Mainz 05 were level with FC Schalke 04 on just seven points, both entrenched in the automatic relegation berths. The gap to 16th place was eight points, with 10 between them and absolute survival. For the 05ers to secure their place in the Bundesliga next season with a game to spare is an almost unique occurrence in the history of the Bundesliga, since only one other club managed to recover a 10-point deficit on safety in the second half of a season – Eintracht Frankfurt under Felix Magath in 1999/2000.
This outstanding escape is strongly linked to Bo Svensson, who took charge of the team on Matchday 15 and, in the remaining 20 games of the season, picked up a total of 33 points. But what is it that the Dane, against whom I also played a few times in the Bundesliga, changed exactly?
Watch: the Bo Svensson effect
First and foremost: the system. While Mainz mainly played in a 4-2-3-1 formation in the first half of the season, Svensson changed this approach into a three-man defence, preferring a 3-4-1-2 system. This change managed above all to give more stability to the defence, since in addition to gaining an extra central defender, this system can be changed quickly into a five-man back line when transitioning down to defence. The stability provided by two No6s is therefore maintained, while the winger positions are sacrificed from the attack.
The difference between the two systems can be seen clearly here by looking at the Average Position data of Mainz's first halves against Gladbach on Matchday 5 (3-2 home defeat) and Matchday 22 (2-1 win away). Not only does the change in formation stand out, but also the compactness of the new system is remarkable.
It is a transformation which emerges also from a look at the statistics: up to Matchday 15, Mainz conceded an average of 2.2 goals per game, while under Svensson that average dropped to 1.2. The xG model also confirms this impression: while Mainz were averaging an xG Against of 1.9 for every 90 minutes before Svensson's arrival, that dropped to 1.3 under the 41-year-old. In other words, Mainz were conceding far fewer dangerous chances to their opponents.
Mainz were able to improve in particular on the wings under their new coach, both in a defensive and attacking sense. While Mainz conceded eight goals from crossess over the first 14 matchdays, only three goals came from a cross in the 20 games under Svensson. The more versatile system allowed full-backs Philipp Mwene and Danny da Costa, and also Daniel Brosinski more recently, to assume a more advanced position and, as a result, get forward more. A look at Attacking Zones confirms this: while only 64 per cent of Mainz's incursions into the final third were coming down the wing at the start of the season, this rose to 69 per cent under Svensson.
To summarise, therefore, Svensson strengthened Mainz above all in defence and on the wings. The number of big chances being conceded to their opponents, and the number of goals they conceded, dropped drastically. At the same time, Mainz's tactical transformation also gave them more of an edge in their attacking game, thanks to their further advanced full-backs.