NOT AN ENDGAME, BUT A GREAT OPPORTUNITY
Zerofivers can get another step closer to staying in the league in the Rhine-Main duel - Will Hack replace Bell?
The points average since he took over at the beginning of January is more than respectable: The Zerofivers have averaged 1.71 points in 17 games under Bo Svensson. One of the only four defeats to date came on the Dane's debut against upcoming opponents Eintracht Frankfurt. On Sunday afternoon (3.30pm CET), it will be a reunion at Deutsche Bank Park. While the Hessians have legitimate hopes of a first-ever Champions League appearance, Mainz, now with 35 points, want to take another step towards staying in the league.
Svensson replied to a journalist's question at the beginning of the press conference on Friday afternoon that he was not preparing his team for a final match against their Rhine-Main rivals. "We don't approach it like that." After all, the Dane reminded, a final usually consists of one match. The Zerofivers, on the other hand, still have the matches with Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg on matchday 34 to look forward to.
Equal in the second half of the season
Despite the good starting position, the Mainz coaching team will once again not deviate from the familiar, and so far so successfully practised, procedure of considering their own performance game after game as the measure of all things. "It will be a very difficult task, we know that. We have to face it. We need a complete performance to have a chance. That's where the focus is," said the 41-year-old, who reiterated that meeting one's own expectations can never entail a guarantee of results. "Even if we deliver a top game, we know that we are facing another team for whom everything is at stake, who deliver top quality" and have had a "very good season" so far. If you only take the standings since matchday 18 as a basis, a top match awaits in the neighbourly duel: 29 points from 14 games on the side of the hosts (rank 3) are compared to 28 points of the Rheinhessen (rank 5).
...our away record has been very good lately
Eintracht have also proved unbeatable at home this season, winning nine and drawing six of their 15 games. In this context, the Mainz head coach rightly points to his own performances on foreign grounds - the last defeat was more than three months ago (0-2 in Stuttgart, since then 4 wins & 2 draws). "We have quality and our away record has also been very good recently. I think you can expect an interesting, intense game," said Svensson, who knows about the high hurdle on the Main: "Frankfurt still have the chance to enter the Champions League three matchdays before the end, you have to have respect for that. The way they play and perform is very impressive. We want to hurt them, and to do that we have to implement our plan 100 per cent. As always, when you play against such good individual players, it's about being well protected in one-on-one situations and keeping the spaces tight, whether you're pressing high or standing a bit deeper. We need individual players who have a good day and maybe a bit of luck," said the 05 coach, listing some of the prerequisites for a successful afternoon on the Main.
Svensson is satisfied with the development of his team and admits to having been "surprised" by the speed of progress. At the same time, he calls for more clarity and precision after the disappointing second half in the duel with Hertha BSC. "It looked sloppy in all aspects of the game, we stayed below our possibilities and we clearly addressed that. The boys don't see it any differently, by the way," the ex-professional let it be known.
Alternatives up his sleeve
Incidentally, his "boys" on Sunday also include two players who had started the season as Frankfurt players. They are the two players on loan, Dominik Kohr and Danny da Costa, who switched sides in January - each on loan. "It is a special opponent for them," said Svensson, who, however, did not want to give a guarantee two days before kick-off. He also added that he had not obtained any insider information. "But we gave the boys a few squeezes in jest, that's part of it."
While both players should undoubtedly have good prospects of being named in the starting eleven, the head coach will have to make at least one personnel change after Stefan Bell saw his fifth yellow card against Berlin and has to sit out. It is obvious that Alexander Hack, who had already taken the role against Bayern Munich, will return to the team. "But it's also not entirely certain that we will have to finish the game with a three-man or five-man backline," said Svensson, leaving all options open. "There are a few alternatives, we have them up our sleeve."