The German top-flight’s lowest scorers take on a side who have shipped nine goals in their last three games tomorrow teatime, as the 2011/12 Bundesliga’s sixth fixture sees Mainz travel to second-bottom Kaiserslautern. After a firesale of attackers over the summer, Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz is under pressure already after watching his side scrape two barely deserved draws and lose three league games, scoring a mere two goals in the process. The Red Devils have conceded eight goals at the other end; two less than 12th-placed Mainz, who’ve netted seven times so far in the league. However, the latest visitors to Kaiserslautern have conceded eight goals alone in two of their last three games, after losing 4-0 at home to Hoffenheim last weekend, and throwing away a 2-0 half time lead against Schalke to lose 4-2 in the fixture before a 1-1 draw with Hannover.
This worrying bit of form comes after Thomas Tuchel’s side started the season with victories over Bayer Leverkusen and Freiburg. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all smiles at the club in the opening weeks of the 2011/12 season, as Mainz ruined the hard work of last season’s fifth-place finish by exiting the Europa League at the hands of Romanian outfit Gaz Metan. The club were also very nearly humiliated in the first round of the DFB-Pokal by lowly SV Niederauerbach too, but extra time goals from Sami Allagui and Petar Slišković saw Tuchel’s team sidestep that banana skin with a 2-1 victory.
Whereas last season, the coach’s constant tinkering when it came to formations and personnel was effective, ensuring that the squad could cope with the high-octane pressing tactics, this time round the scheme is floundering. The decision to bring Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting onto the left wing for the second half against Schalke, for example, was anything but a masterstroke by the rookie tactician. Therefore, a back-to-basics approach would suit Mainz best for this tie against a low-on-confidence Kaiserslautern side who’ll be roared on by the passionate Fritz-Walter-Stadion crowd to attack their guests.
Yet, right now, it’s clear Kurz and his players are struggling to get to grips for life without striker Srđan Lakić – the goal-scoring, line-leading Serb who joined Wolfsburg in the summer. And, with Ivo Iličević following the Serb out of the door a few weeks back (not to mention a whole host of other attackers), Kaiserslautern’s identity crisis looks set to worsen. Although the tactics generally involve the ball being shifted from front to back on the floor, a lack of confidence in possession and a mistake-laden defence stopping the opposition when out of it means that Mainz might not be facing the worst opponents in terms of them getting their own season back on track.
Lakić’s replacement, Itay Shechter, did at least score in the draw against Augsburg, but he and fellow new signings Olcay Şahan and Richard Sukuta-Pasu are yet to fully clamber onto the same wavelength as 2010/11 first-team stalwarts such as centre-midfielder Christian Tiffert – one of the most consistent assist-producers in world football last season.
When Mainz last came to town, back in January, a Lewis Holtby goal saw the visitors secure a 1-0 victory. A star player for Mainz last season, Holtby returned to parent club Schalke in the summer, one of a handful of key players to leave Tuchel’s squad over the summer. André Schürrle and Christian Fuchs have arguably left the biggest holes, though – the former joining Bayer Leverkusen after two seasons of exceptional service in the first team at Mainz, and Fuchs joining Holtby in Gelsenkirchen.
Marcel Risse, meanwhile, went in the opposite direction to Schürrle, making his loan move from Bayer to Mainz permanent (€800,000) earlier this summer. Risse is one of many attacking additions that Mainz have so far spent a total of €10.9million on, with other names brought to the Coface Arena including Julian Baumgartlinger (Austria Vienna), tricky left-winger Zoltán Stieber (Aachen), Nicolai Müller (Greuther Fürth), Mario Gavranović (Schalke), and Anthony Ujah (Lillestrøm SK).
Mainz, who by far and away have the better squad of the two clubs, come into this game with no real injury worries of note. As Mainz fan Anne Gillies noted on her Twitter account earlier on today, the fact that the squad suffer with so few injuries is a credit to Tuchel and his staff. Kaiserslautern, on the other hand, have a number of first-team squad players set to miss out on this game. These include Gil Vermouth, Dorge Kouemaha, Adam Nemec, Chadli Amri and Jan Šimůnek.
Kaiserslautern vs Mainz kicks off at 5.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.