Mainz – Carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations on your shoulders, whilst stepping into the shoes of a much-loved compatriot is no mean feat, but it’s one Yoshinori Muto is hoping to achieve this season with 1. FSV Mainz 05.
The Japanese international made his full Bundesliga debut in the Matchday 2 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach and, while he didn’t get his name on the scoresheet, his performance certainly didn’t go unnoticed by head coach Martin Schmidt.
Stepping into Shinji’s shoes
Indeed, having covered over 12 kilometres in the 90-minute shift, Schmidt saw shades of Shinji Okazaki is his new strikers’ performance. "Yoshi, with his engine and his passion, did what [Shinji] Okazaki was doing for us before he left,” said the 48-year-old on the club's official website.
“I was delighted with his performance. He was relentless in irritating and pressuring the opposition, and, in a way, was our first line of defence, perhaps even the most important. By working so hard, he took a lot of pressure off our defenders.”
‘Not a striker that stands still’
The hard-working 23-year-old, who was caught offside on several occasions, did squander a golden opportunity to open his account in Germany’s top flight in a late one-on-one with Yann Sommer. However, Schmidt was unconcerned and instead chose to focus on the bigger picture.
“If he hadn’t been there, making those runs, Gladbach’s back line would have been able to push higher up the pitch,” explained the Mainz head coach. "He’s not a striker that stands still and waits for the ball. He shouldn’t play like that either, because it wouldn’t fit our game plan.” For Muto it was the first taste of the Bundesliga big time, for Mainz it was a first taste of what’s to come from their new No. 9.