On Friday, Sandro Schwarz had still not recovered from the flu that has left him bedbound all week, leaving assistant coach Jan-Moritz Lichte to lead this week’s training and speak to the press ahead of Sunday’s away game against FC Augsburg. "He will definitely be with us on Sunday. I fully expect Sandro to be at the training pitch on Saturday and travel with the squad to Augsburg," said the assistant coach.
Preparations for Mainz’s second away game of the year on Sunday were no different from usual with regards to concentration and intensity levels, or the training drills themselves, insisted Lichte. "We spoke on the phone every day. The plan for what the focus of our training sessions should be on had already been decided before the weekend. Anything that needed to be discussed from day-to-day we did over the phone, which meant we were able to implement everything as normal despite the head coach’s absence."
Cup-setter Caiuby suspended
With wins in Stuttgart and at home to Nürnberg, the Zerofivers made a perfect start to the second half of the season, giving the club every hope of a successful campaign. The team are unbeaten in four games stretching back to 2018 and will be looking to win a third consecutive game on Sunday. "99 percent of head coaches asked about the current situation would say that the most important thing is the next game. That’s just the way it is," explained Lichte: "We think this is our best chance at success. It’s no good to spend time wondering ‘what if’. We’re giving everything to win the next game, which is what the fans can always rely on. We will have to see if our plan comes together and we take home the three points."
As far as the opposition are concerned, there was a lot more than just football going on this work. After their defeat in Mönchengladbach, Augsburg find themselves just one point above the relegation zone with 15 on the board, and without a win in ten games. On top of that, issues with personnel made the headlines as Martin Hinteregger and Caiuby received suspensions. In other news, Jens Lehmann joined the club as assistant coach. The former Germany international goalkeeper has the job of supporting Manuel Baum and will apparently be responsible for the team’s defence. "Hinteregger was an important part of the team at centre back, but as is the case in every squad, there will be another player who can fill in and be given a chance to do just as good a job," said the Mainz coach. One candidate could be Reece Oxford, who has just joined the club on loan until the end of the season from West Ham United. Nobody had expected Caiuby to be available, since the Brazilian has been out for a while now.
It was the same Caiuby who secured Augsburg’s last competitive victory back in late October. The Brazilian scored the winning goal in extra time of the DFB Pokal game against Mainz. The final score was 3-2 to Augsburg, despite the Zerofivers having led twice. "We’ve obviously looked at this cup game a little closer and considered where we might be able to find more space going forward, or how we can deal with their crosses better. Our experiences in the two games we’ve played against them already this season obviously have a huge effect on our approach to this one," explained Lichte.
Hack and Niakhaté in the starting eleven
If you watch FC Augsburg at home, you know they play at a high intensity. "This is an intense team that go into a lot of fifty-fifty battles and press you quickly at the back. In the end, everyone knows that you can only be successful there if you take your own game to them. If you show passion and desire, if you’re ready to run and sprint a lot in order to keep up with the physicality of the opposition, only then can you start playing your football," said Schwarz’s assistant.
The 39-year-old did not reveal who would be replacing the suspended Stefan Bell at centre back on Sunday. Since Niko Bungert is also out ill, there are only two left-footed defenders available alongside Ahmet Gürleyen, in Moussa Niakhaté and Alexander Hack. "Our squad situation means it is likely that both will start," said Lichte, without suggesting exactly in which position.