FSV Mainz 05 1-1 Hertha Berlin – Analysis

In Hertha Berlin’s first game in weeks due to a COVID-outbreak at the club, the Berlin based team failed to get a proper foothold of the game, but clung onto a 1-1 draw against a dominant Mainz 05 in good form. Here is our full analysis of the match between Mainz and Hertha BSC on May 3, 2021.

FSV Mainz 05 – 3-1-4-2

Bo Svensson set Mainz up in a flexible 3-1-4-2 formation. The flexibility came in the variety of forms it adapted to over the course of the fixture. With Jean-Paul Boëtius often floating about the pitch as he pleased, the shape sometimes took the form of a 3-4-1-2 in attack, or 3-4-3 when pressing in Hertha’s half. But given how high Leandro Barreiro Martins often played in attack and how he often drifted into half-spaces high up the right side of the pitch, the 3-1-4-2 was the team’s most common shape.

While the back-three had a relatively easy time both in and out of possession, the front-men had a more difficult time in fulfilling their task of finding the back of the net. Alexander Schwolow was on form to make eight saves in the match, but Adam Szalai and Karim Onisiwo never fully convinced with their chances. Boëtius was more productive, even hitting the cross-bar at one point, but ultimately their goal was scored from a moment of magic from the team’s left-wing-back – Philipp Mwene. Mwene’s had a fantastic couple of weeks, first assisting the game-winner against Bayern Munich, and now scoring one of the season’s very best goals to draw the game level at 1-1.


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Mainz remained relatively patient in possession, circulating the ball around their centre-backs and looking for the right vertical channels to play forward. If none were available they would often play wide to the wing-backs, as they drifted deep to pick up possession. But these passes were often returned immediately, with the team only really looking to progress through vertical spaces first, before advancing into the wide areas. The central midfielders often looked to create space in between the lines to receive, particularly Dominik Kohr who always created distance for himself to receive away from the centre-backs. While some defensive midfielders drop deep to pick up possession to the left, right or central channels of a back-three, Kohr always remained high, as Boëtius and Barreiro pushed even higher into the half-spaces.

With 56% possession, Svensson’s team remained patient in finding their way forward. But there was still much in the way of quickness to their play, particularly once breaking into Hertha’s half. They were often very vertical in their approach, and when utilizing the wide areas often looked to create crossing opportunities. Both Mwene and Da Costa delivered several quality crosses into the box, but their front-men were wasteful in converting these chances.


Mainz operated in a 3-4-3 formation when pressing from the front, and a more robust 3-5-2 / 3-1-4-2 lower on the pitch in defense. Coming from a background as a winger, Boëtius was the one to drift with the wind, joining the front-line in the high press, and the midfield in the mid-block. The Dutch midfielder popped up everywhere on the pitch throughout the game, from left to right, back to top. His energy in the match was non-stop and unrivalled, even despite the high intensity from many of his teammates. Speaking of which, Svensson’s team clearly adopted a heavy metal approach. Their defending was robust and borderline wild, making 18 fouls in the match. Unfortunately for Die Nullfünfer, one of these fouls resulted in the game’s first goal. Marton Dardai produced a moment of magic from a free kick, delivering a delicious ball into the box on a plate for Lucas Tousart to head home.

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However, it was far from just rough and tumble without purpose. Mainz never let Hertha Berlin get a foothold on the match, and pressed vigorously throughout. They did so particularly vehemently in the wide areas, with the manager and coaching staff actively cheering them on to press more and more vigorously. A triangular combination of attacking midfielder, wing-back and centre-back often formed to shut down those wide areas, limiting nearly all of Hertha’s attempts to attack down the wings. Dominik Kohr also shifted left to right during the team’s press, but remained relatively central to stop passes into Hertha’s front two or diagonal switches of play. Their quickness in attack certainly translated to quickness in defense, and contributed to Mainz’s overall control over the match.

HERTHA BSC – 5-3-2 / 3-5-2

Pál Dárdai set Hertha Berlin up in his favoured 3-1-4-2 / 3-5-2 formation. However with very few moments of attacking brilliance in the match, they were forced into a more defensive-minded 5-3-2 for the majority of the game. Like Mainz’s formation, Hertha Berlin played with a high degree of flexibility within this system. Matheus Cunha and Jhon Cordoba often interchanged positions, while Matteo Guendouzi floated about in a variety of different areas on the left. While Hertha could never fully get a foothold over the game, they were reasonably resilient enough in defense, keeping the game at 1-1 in the end.


While Hertha BSC failed in most attacking phases of the game, they were relatively efficient in possession when in their own half. This was positive to see from the club, especially given how well Mainz pressed them into wide areas and stopped them from having time and space on the ball. Part of this was down to Hertha’s natural inclination to play into wide areas on their own accord. The centre-backs would circulate the ball around until they could play in a wing-back, or Matteo Guendouzi who would often drift into the left half-space or even all the way toward a position where you’d normally find a left-back. While Guendouzi struggled with the defensive side of the game, he was his usual self in possession, driving the team forward and looking to get on the ball whenever he could.

Hertha also utilized an interesting approach to reach their strikers directly during their build-up phases. The wing-backs would start high, but then drift lower toward the outside-centre-backs, in preparation for a pass. This movement would draw Mainz’s wing-backs with them, opening up space in the wide areas for the strikers and central midfielders to roam higher up the pitch and prepare to receive in behind. So instead of passing to the wing-back, the outside-centre-back would look to hit vertical high passes into the strikers to knock down or chase after. The three centre-backs completed 33 long-passes between themselves, and Jhon Cordoba in particular was decent in winning his aerial duels.

HSBC’s ultimate failures in the game did however still come within their possession. Specifically, their failures to create clear-cut chances. The Berlin-based team had no luck whatsoever in winning their individual battles up against Mainz’s back-three and only Matheus Cunha produced moments of magic. Even he failed to truly best Mainz’s defenders, and Hertha had to rely on a goal from a set-piece to break the deadlock instead.


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Out of possession, Hertha set up in a mid-block, leaving the game relatively open for Mainz to pass the ball about. Mainz had 9 shots on target in the match, and always looked the likelier team to score. The team’s 5-3-2 defensive shape didn’t do enough in stopping the wing-backs from delivering balls into the penalty area, nor could it truly cope with the creative movement from attacking midfielders Boetius and Barreiro. Hertha Berlin allowed Mainz to deliver 26 crosses in the match, 9 of which ultimately found a teammate. Both of these numbers are simply too high, and it’s almost a miracle Dardai’s team were able to keep the ball out of the back of the net. Simultaneously, HBSC were relatively solid at clearing the ball out of danger, even if they did not stop those attacks from happening in the first place. In the end, they hung on to a 1-1 draw, but it was a nail-biting affair for Pal Dardai throughout the ninety minutes.


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While Mainz dominated the game, Hertha Berlin ultimately hung on to claim a 1-1 draw in their first game back from their COVID-outbreak. The result does very little for either team, but was an entertaining, end-to-end fixture nonetheless. Hertha Berlin will look to take away the positives from this match and use it as momentum heading into their upcoming fixture against Freiburg on Thursday. FSV Mainz on the other hand will be wondering what might have been had they been more clinical.


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