By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Schmidt praises "rebuilt" Burkardt: "He can operate as a solo nine now."

FSV Mainz 05 sporting director Martin Schmidt was full of praise for striker Jonathan Burkardt last night after the Rheinhessen's "comeback kid" helped lift his team above the relegation zone. 

The 23-year-old has returned from a long injury layoff looking stronger, more muscular, and (most importantly) fearless when it comes to contesting duels on the pitch. 

Former Germany U21 captain Jonathan Burkardt's sixth league goal since returning from a dark and injury ravaged period that sidelined him for the better part of 18 months could have hardly come at a better time for relegation-threatened FSV Mainz 05. Burkardt's equalizer against European contenders SC Freiburg helped lift BO Henriksen's Rheinhessen out of the relegation zone.

The point this gained bumped Mainz up to 15th place in the table. Following their own loss to Wolfsburg, VfL Bochum now occupy the relegation-playoff place. FSV sporting director Martin Schmidt made clear in his post-match comments that the team's place in the table was less relevant than Henriksen's side are now gelling and unbeaten in their last five league fixtures.

"What's important is that we held out against a Europa League contender away from home and picked up another point," Schmidt [as quoted by Kicker Magazine's Thiemo Müller said, "That's how we keep the pressure on the rivals behind us as well as those in front of us. The situation in the relegation battle makes the whole team work incredibly hard against the ball." 

The team's turnaround obviously owes a great deal to Burkardt. The 23-year-old has registered scorer points in all six of Mainz's last non-loss fixtures. A brace against Bochum on match-day 26 helped kick start the current streak. Burkardt has scored in the team's last two wins. His equalizer on Sunday featured great technical quality. 

"What sets Johnny apart is his intensity," Schmidt raved, "He throws himself into every challenge and goes hard against central defenders. I haven't seen this kind of tenacity and aggression from him before. He's done an exceptionally good job of rebuilding his entire body structure [during the long injury layoff]. He's packed on the pounds and become more stabile." 

"That's why he can play as a solo nine up front," Schmidt continued, "A couple of years back, he wasn't as valuable in that role. He's made a step forward for sure. Johnny heads fearlessness and courageously into the duels. He doesn't worry about dangerous fouls and always gets back up." 

Schmidt invested many words in his new "target nine" forward. By contrast, the team's head coach had far less to say on the matter. Henriksen actually made a point of emphasizing how little he had heard from Burkardt; a player seemingly content to do his talking on the pitch. 

"Johnny doesn't talk," Henriksen said, "He just does." 
 

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