After an inauspicious start to the campaign, the 05ers have now stabilised on the back of three straight home wins and the astute tactics of head coach Thomas Tuchel are beginning to pay dividends. A large part of their recent upturn in form, however, has been the return to fitness of their number one striker.
Knowing his capabilities
Szalai has been in prolific form for Tuchel’s side since coming back from a knee ligament injury. His last home appearance yielded a first Bundesliga hat-trick in the 3-0 defeat of 1899 Hoffenheim, while his strike in last week’s narrow 2-1 defeat at Werder Bremen drew him level with FC Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic atop the list of Bundesliga scorers.
"I’m just happy that things are going so well for me right now,” an upbeat Szalai told bundesliga.com. "I’ve been on a great run in the last few games and I know what I’m capable of." The 24-year-old insisted, however, that the success of the team takes precedence over his personal exploits, continuing at the weekend against Nuremberg. "We’re playing at home and we’re looking to take three points."
Tuchel looking for response
The result in Bremen was a particularly bitter one for Mainz to take after dominating the affair for long periods and spurning a number of good opportunities. In his post-match interview following the game in Bremen, Tuchel described the result as a “joke", admitting that it took him until Tuesday of this week to accept the defeat. Now, though, his focus is very much on Nuremberg, a team from whom his charges took four points last season.
At the pre-match press conference on Thursday, the 39-year-old alluded to the "physical strength" of Dieter Hecking’s side, and specifically Tomas Pekhart, likely to lead the line for der Club and perform a similar role to Szalai. Pekhart and his team-mates will no doubt look to use the delivery of Japanese international , who has four assists to his name in the Bundesliga this term and is a real threat from dead-ball situations.
Hecking wants more
Tuchel’s prediction of a competitive Nuremberg side is likely to be an accurate one. The Bavarian outfit had lost five of their last six games before last week’s edgy 1-0 win at home to VfL Wolfsburg, their first in the league victory since mid-September. They were also a hard nut to crack in their last away game at FC Schalke 04, evidence that the organisation is returning to the team after some defensive troubles.
Hecking’s challenge to his players, now that their defensive displays have taken an upward turn, is to get things right at the other end. "The performance levels have improved, but now we need to have the courage to attack,” said the 48-year-old, for whom victory could take his personal tally of top-flight managerial wins over Mainz to four.
Mainz: Wetklo - Pospech, Svensson, Noveski, Junior Diaz - Kirchhoff - Baumgartlinger, Soto - Ivanschitz, N. Müller - Szalai
Nuremberg: Rakovski - Chandler, Nilsson, Klose, Plattenhardt - Balitsch, Simons - Kiyotake, Gebhart, Esswein - Pekhart