Schalke defeated Mainz 1-0 at the Opel Arena courtesy of a great individual goal from Daniel Caligiuri. The game opened up after a cagey first half, the home side throwing everything at the visitors after Caligiuri’s 55th minute strike, but couldn’t find an equaliser due to poor finishing and a string of saves from Ralf Fährmann.
Mainz remain in the relegation play-off position but still have a sizeable advantage over Hamburg and Köln. There was no shortage of effort from the home side but the quality was lacking throughout. Schalke registered their fourth win in a row to consolidate second position in the Bundesliga and are well positioned to return to the Champions League next season.
There were a few talking points after the game, particularly an intriguing tactical battle between Sandro Schwarz and Domenico Tedesco.
Great tactical battle
Both teams lined up with three central defenders which forced most of the play through the wing-backs. Neither side were able to gain any advantage in the wide areas which became increasingly congested, while there was not enough guile or creativity in the middle of the park to create shooting opportunities.
Robin Quasion’s deflected effort was the best chance during the first half, both managers realising the conundrum and reacting with half-time substitutions. Schwarz brought on Alexandru for Danny Latza and Dominico Tedesco introduced Leon Goretzka for Alessandro Schöpf in the first attempt to turn the tide.
Maxim began well as he attempted to provide creativity behind the strikers, finding Anthony Ujah out wide who crossed to an unmarked Brosinski who dragged his effort wide. Goretzka’s class was visible immediately as he started to control the middle of the pitch and dominate the game.
Tedesco made another change in the 51st minute with Yevhen Konoplyanka replacing Marko Pjaca. Minutes later Schalke took the lead as Caligiuri evaded a number of Mainz defenders with a solo run to the edge of the box where he dispatched a wonderful curling shot past Florian Müller.
Game on at the Opel Arena. Advantage Tedesco.
Goretzka burst through once again after a nice 1-2 with Di Santo and saw his shot deflected for a corner. Schwarz had to react and decided to roll the dice with Yoshinori Muto replacing de Jong. Serdar forced a couple of smart saves from Fährmann as Mainz switched to a 4-4-2, Brosinski moving to right-back, Onisiwo pushing higher up, Quaison moving to the left wing with Ujah and Muto up front.
Tedesco’s high press demands a lot of work from his forwards and he made his final change with Breel Embolo replacing di Santo. With the home crowd getting fired up, Schalke were dropping dangerously deep allowing the hosts to dominate play.
Schwarz then made his final move as Levin Öztunali replaced Anthony Ujah. It was an inspired move, Öztunali tearing down the right wing and providing more threat in 14 minutes than most of his teammates managed all game. He had a shot saved by Fährmann and created numerous opportunities but Mainz were unable to capitalise.
It was a fascinating tactical tussle between two managers enjoying their first taste of Bundesliga action this season. Tedesco had better players at his disposal and more weapons off the bench which he used wisely, but Schwarz showed that he can hold his own despite having fewer resources.
Burgstaller is a pest
Some things are more noticeable when watching the game live, in this case I was immensely impressed by Guido Burgstaller. Not only is he a big physical presence up front that holds the ball up and brings teammates into play, but he is a good old fashioned pest.
Not quite in the Diego Costa class just yet, but the big Austrian is a specialist at getting under the skin of the opposition and unsettling defenders. It’s an underrated ability and one that often goes unnoticed, but have no doubt that Burgstaller is extremely important to this Schalke side and instrumental in the way Tedesco has evolved tactically.
Many doubted whether Burgstaller could make the step up from Nürnberg in the 2. Bundesliga, but he has become an integral part of Schalke who has many underrated facets to his game. He completely ran out of legs during the latter stages in Mainz, understandably so, but was still able to affect the game late on by being a good old fashioned pest.
Goretzka is class
It’s no secret that Leon Goretzka is good at football. Forcing his way into the German national team and earning a move to Bayern Munich is proof of that, but in this contest it was all too visible to see. He came on after half-time and looked to be a giant amongst men, and not only because he 189cm tall.
Goretzka displayed all the qualities of a top class footballer. He was calm and composed on the ball, knowing where to pass before collecting the ball and spotting gaps in the defensive line to exploit with a pass or a run. He was a large reason why Schalke came away with the victory and will be sorely missed next season.