How Bayern dominated Mainz to keep the Bundesliga title race alive

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis
artwork by @chapluana

Bundesliga game day 26 featured an interesting game between Bayern Munich and Mainz 05. After Dortmund’s 3-2 win over Hertha Berlin on the previous day thanks to a last-minute goal by Marco Reus, the Bavarians had to win this game in order to stay league leaders.

With a ferocious start into the game, Bayern scored with their first chance already in the third minute. In the end, Bayern left no doubt and convincingly won the game 6-0, with James Rodriguez scoring a hat-trick.

Mainz, on the other hand, stay 10 points clear of the relegation spots in 13th. This tactical analysis will be supported by statistics and explain how Bayern managed to recover from the devastating loss against Liverpool in the Champions League.


Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Starting XIs [credit: Wyscout]
Bayern started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. While Jerome Boateng replaced Mats Hummels at centre-back, Leon Goretzka started as a defensive midfielder alongside Thiago Alcantara. Javi Martinez missed the game due to an injury.

On the wings, Serge Gnabry was rested, so Thomas Müller and Kingsley Coman started. In the second half, young Canadian newcomer Alphonso Davies was substituted into the game and managed to score his first Bundesliga goal on his fifth appearance for the German champions.

Mainz coach Sandro Schwarz decided to use a compact 4-5-1 formation with Jean-Philippe Mateta as the lone striker. Apart from long-time injured Rene Adler, Emil Berggreen and Phillipp Mwene, Mainz, had their top-personnel available.

Bayern with a lot of possession

Unsurprisingly, Bayern had a lot more possession in this game. An impressive 69.9% of possession shows that Bayern were in control of the game. Unlike against Liverpool, Bayern were this time able to convert the possession into chances and ultimately, into goals. The ratio of 11-1 for shots on target proves that Bayern not only had possession but dominated the game. Bayern were patient and moved the ball a lot alongside their back line. When the pass into the attacking area was available, they passed the ball into the space between Mainz’ back line and midfield line.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Mainz defend tight and close the centre – Bayern not optimally positioned

Here, we see Mainz defending in their 4-5-1 formation, which can sometimes also be interpreted as 4-3-3 when the wingers push forward. However, under pressure for most of the game, it was a clear 4-5-1. With this kind of diagonal staggering, Mainz wanted to make it difficult for Bayern to get behind the midfield line.

With Mateta not putting any pressure on Boateng, Bayern could easily wait for a gap to arise. James Rodriguez, Robert Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka were positioned between the lines and were ready to create a dangerous attack.

One area Bayern may look to improve is in the back line in the build-up as positioning was far from ideal. Joshua Kimmich was caught out in the half space, making it easy for left winger Jean-Paul Boetius to keep an eye both on Kimmich and Thiago. As Kimmich doesn’t provide width, Niklas Süle stays in the centre some five metres behind Thiago. Thus, he fails to add value in this situation, effectively meaning that Bayern played this attack with one player less.

Bayern’s quality of possession play remains unsteady

Over the course of the game, Bayern showed a lot of good moments, as well as some tactical weaknesses. In some instances, Bayern found it difficult to break through.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Mainz midfield line defend tight – Bayern want to get between the lines

The massive midfield block of Mainz made it difficult for Bayern to find space in that tight playing area. We can see in the image that Süle once again isn’t pressured at all. He has no passing option apart from the horizontal pass to Boateng, which wouldn’t gain any space.

However, these horizontal passes were played a lot, as the opponent has to move and shift from one wing to the other. Bayern were patiently waiting for gaps to occur, while the players between the lines were searching for optimal positioning.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
A gap occurs – Thiago plays the through ball

Once there was a small opening, you could bet that Bayern would play the ball through. High-quality players like Thiago or Boateng used every opportunity that arose. In this image, Mainz don’t defend with the rigid structure that they should have.

The three central players are too tight, and since Boetius has an eye on Kimmich, the passing lane to James opens. Thiago played the ball though, allowing James to turn and attack the back line. Interestingly, Kimmich is again in the half space in this image, but slight inaccuracies in defence from Mainz provide a better result for Bayern’s possession game.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Bayern positioned badly

Despite the result, there were still instances like this one, where Bayern seemed to have forgotten everything Pep Guardiola once introduced to them. Coman, Goretzka, James and Müller occupy the same horizontal line. Usually, this should be avoided in order to make it more difficult for the defenders to keep track of all the opposing players while also observing the ball. Also, one would then get better passing angles and could use diagonal passes to gain space, move the opponent and create gaps in the defence all at the same time.

Mainz try to press Bayern on the wings here and fail in doing so as Bayern can easily solve the situation with Thiago staying perfectly in the open space and providing a good connection to the centre. The centre is wide open, as Mainz shifted aggressively out to the wing. So despite being badly positioned, Bayern actually still aren’t punished for that due to the lacking ability of Mainz to exploit these weaknesses.

Mainz were out of shape defensively a couple of times

Although they tried to stay compact and play as tightly as possible, Mainz weren’t always defending properly.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Putting pressure on the ball opens the gap behind

In this image, we see left winger Boetius once again a bit too highly positioned. Furthermore, central midfielder Levin Öztunali tries to put pressure on the ball and moves out of the midfield line. He opens up a gap behind him. Right winger Karim Onisiwo closes the passing lane to David Alaba on the wing. So Kingsley Coman, who cut inside, is open and can receive the ball.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Similar situation

Also here we see an image, where Mainz went for a back five without any reason in doing so. Thus, the midfield line misses a player. On top of that, we see a similar problem occurring as described above. Once again a central midfielder moves out of the midfield line to pressure Boateng. This opens up a gap behind the player moving out, so Bayern can easily get between the lines.

Bayern had problems when Mainz pressed high

One wouldn’t expect Mainz to be successful with a high press after seeing these problems when a midfielder moved out of the line to attack. Having in mind the excellent use of the cover shadow and the brilliant press by Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the Champions League clash against Bayern, there were obvious differences concerning the high press Mainz played. Similarly, Bayern struggled against that kind of pressure. Especially between the 20th and the 35th minute, it was a difficult game for the Bavarians.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Mainz press, but not consequently enough – Thiago can solve it

At the beginning of the game, there was the situation that we see in the image above. Mainz were able to limit Bayern’s passing options with a good press, but failed to close the passing lane drawn into the image. Furthermore, the back line lacked the confidence to defend high and follow Lewandowski, probably due to the early goal that they received.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Mainz press staying between the opponent

Later on, Mainz were more aggressive. Especially interesting was their pressing style, as they didn’t use the strict man-marking approach that most teams use. Mainz tried to defend between the opponent players in order to be able to control every player.

We see that three players are able to immediately pressure at least two players if one of them received the ball. As a reaction to that, Bayern increases the number of players in the build-up, as this seems to be the main approach by Niko Kovac in this season. We then have an 8vs5 situation in the first third of the pitch.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Neuer makes a mistake, as he is pressed by Boetius

In the 25th minute of the game, the high press was almost successful as Boetius pressed Neuer. He even intercepted the pass to Niklas Süle, but couldn’t control it. Here, Bayern have numerical inferiority, so Neuer should have kicked the ball long. He was lucky that this situation didn’t end up in a conceded goal.

Bayern defend well

Apart from that, we already mentioned that Mainz only had one shot on the target. Bayern defended well in this game. On those rare occasions when Mainz had longer possession phases, Bayern decided to defend rather deep.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Bayern defend deep and tight

They even used a similar approach to the one we have seen from Mainz, with a compact and tight 4-5-1 formation. The centre, as well as the wings, were closed. In this image, Mainz are posing no serious threat, as the wings aren’t occupied and there is no one between the lines.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Space between the lines, but Boateng anticipates the pass

On some occasions, Mainz managed to place a player between the lines, which caused problems for Bayern. Usually, Javi Martinez would defend a bit behind the midfield line at the defensive midfield position. With him missing, Bayern left gaps in this area. Jerome Boateng had one of his better days though and anticipated those passes between the lines many times. Nonetheless, Thiago should have closed that area better.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Once again Boateng moves out properly

This is another similar example, where Boateng moves out perfectly to close the open gap between the lines thanks to his great anticipation. Once again, Thiago and Goretzka aren’t able to close the centre.

Quality and mindset were decisive

Despite some tactical weaknesses, Bayern’s quality was obvious from the minute the game started. Also, the players were motivated to recover from the Champions League loss and wanted to secure the win due to its importance for the title race. Mainz, on the other hand, weren’t 100% convinced that they could win at the Allianz Arena, especially after the early goal from Lewandowski. The goal which made it three by Kingsley Coman provides a good example of the mental readiness of Bayern and Augsburg lack of confidence.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Thiago is under pressure against three opponents

Bayern have problems in the build-up, as Thiago is pressed by three opponents and loses the ball. Bayern aren’t positioned well and may run into a dangerous counterattack by Mainz.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Bad first touch – Thiago blocks pass

Mainz try to start a fast counterattack, but a bad first touch brings Thiago back into the game. He is able to block the pass. If it went through, Mainz would have at least a 3 vs 3 situation.

Bayern Mainz Bundesliga Tactical Analysis Analysis
Thiago to Coman – Game over

From Thiago’s block, the ball somehow comes to Goretzka, who lays it off to Thiago. With one touch, Thiago plays a great vertical ball out to the left wing to Coman, who then cuts inside and finishes. Instead of Mainz scoring and maintaining a chance to draw, Bayern finished the game as a contest. In the second half, Mainz knew that it was almost impossible to come back from a 3-0 deficit.


Neither team produced a tactical masterpiece. Mainz had a good 15-minute spell but weren’t able to keep the high pressure throughout the whole game. They made individual and tactical errors, which were costly in the end.

Bayern still showed similar weaknesses that led to them being out of the Champions League. In the Bundesliga, these kinds of weaknesses aren’t punished that cold-bloodedly though. The individual quality of the players is high enough to get such seemingly easy wins.

Mainz did everything they could to make things a bit more difficult for Bayern, but they were dominated in the end. Without being in danger of relegation, they can probably live with that though. Bayern, on the other hand, will be satisfied to still be league leaders and try to win a seventh consecutive title.

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