Nuremberg - Almost four years after winning promotion together in 2008/09, 1. FSV Mainz and in-form 1. FC Nuremberg are both in contention for European football ahead of their meeting on Sunday (kick-off 15:30 CET).
Tight at the top
Despite his side climbing the table in impressive fashion, losing only to Borussia Dortmund since the turn of the year, Nuremberg head coach Michael Wiesinger maintained that his side would “continue to be realistic”, while Mainz counterpart Thomas Tuchel referred to targeting a Europa League place as a “burden.”
Last week’s “brilliant” comeback in the 2-2 draw away to VfL Wolfsburg saw eleventh-placed Nuremberg close the gap on this weekend’s visitors, currently sitting in sixth, to just four points.
“The mood in camp is good and we need to show that on the pitch,” said Wiesinger. “However, I’ve said it a number of times before: We will continue to be realistic,” explained the 40-year-old, who took over from Dieter Hecking in January with the sole purpose of ensuring der Club’s Bundesliga survival. “I’m not going to waste any energy talking about Europe. That wouldn’t be appropriate. The fact we aren’t looking towards the Europa League doesn’t mean we aren’t confident though. Our goal is to reach the 40 point mark.”
Goalscoring hasn’t been Nuremberg’s strong point this season, but while the return of Tomas Pekhart will help, two key players in that sense are Japanese international Hiroshi Kiyotake, involved in 42 per cent of Nuremberg’s strikes this season, and Alexander Esswein. "Mainz are incredibly unpredictable," the latter told Radio Gong 97.1. “They play very good and very variable football. It will be a tough test for us, but we’ll give it our best and want to win the encounter.”
To that end, FCN have a plan in place. “The pivotal thing is striking the right balance between attack and defence, which sometimes means taking risks, but that doesn’t mean we’ll forget our work off the ball,” said Wiesinger during his pre-match press conference on Friday. “We know that Mainz are difficult to play against and there is a reason for that.”
Indeed, just like their hosts, Mainz have only suffered one defeat in 2013, a
3-0 loss to league leaders FC Bayern Munich, and seem to be flying under the radar somewhat in the race for European football. Not that Tuchel minds too much. “Setting Europa League qualification as a target can often prove to be a burden,” explained the 39-year-old. “We’re pursuing our day-to-day and performance targets. That’s why we’ve been successful.”
Hungarian Adam Szalai, who’s scored over a third of Mainz’s goals this season, agrees with his boss. “The success of the team counts and nothing else,” stated Szalai, who will lead the line with Shawn Parker and Ivan Klasnic both sidelined. “We’ve got to be aggressive without giving away too many fouls,” said Tuchel. “Paying attention to our pressing is important. Nuremberg are picking up points, but we’re confident coming into this fixture.”
Nuremberg: Schäfer - Balitsch, Nilsson, Klose, Pinola - Simons - Chandler, Kiyotake, Feulner, Esswein - Pekhart
Mainz: Wetklo - Pospech, Svensson, Noveski, Junior Diaz - Baumgartlinger - Zimling, Soto - Ivanschitz - N. Müller, Szalai