Werder Bremen and Schalke have suffered disappointing seasons so far in the Bundesliga, but both teams vented some of those frustrations Tuesday evening in the final Group Stage games of the UEFA Champions League. Although Werder Bremen had no chance to advance into the knockout stages, Thomas Schaaf and his club exorcised some of their demons with a convincing 3-0 win over European Champion club Inter Milan. In Lisbon, Schalke secured the Group B title with a 2-1 win over Benfica. Felix Magath’s club finished with 13 points in the group, three more than runner-ups Lyon.
A Morale Boost for Werder Bremen
Werder Bremen are tenth in the Bundesliga table with 17 points , only two points behind ninth-place Hamburg, but conversely only a point ahead of Nurnberg and two ahead of Kaiserslautern, VfL Wolfsburg and St. Pauli. For a club that took the third spot last season in the Bundesliga with 61 points, the drop off in results this year has been precipitous. Werder have already lost six Bundesliga matches with two games remaining before the winter break after only losing seven times during the entire 2009-2010 campaign. They have been shut out in six of their last eight matches in all competitions, hardly befitting a club that boasts the talents of all-time leading foreign Bundesliga goal-scorer Claudio Pizarro, top-notch finisher Hugo Almeida and such attackers as Marko Marin, Aaron Hunt and Wesley. Perhaps typical of Werder’s frustrating season thus far was Almeida’s drawing a red-card and a three game suspension towards the end of their match with St. Pauli after scoring a hat trick.
Thomas Schaaf’s club has also struggled in their tough Champions League group, gaining only two draws in five matches and suffering the embarrassment of a 4-0 whipping by Inter Milan in September at the San Siro. So today’s payback in front of the Weserstadion faithful was sweet indeed, and although this wasn’t the strongest, most motivated Inter squad that ever hit the pitch, nevertheless a win against the reigning European champions should hopefully give Werder Bremen the confidence to turnaround their fortunes.
Schaaf had his team ready for this match. Werder Bremen dominated in shots taken, with 22 as opposed to Inter’s sum of 7. Schaaf’s men also had 60% of possession against Rafa Benitez’ Italian side. Werder Bremen got their first goal at the 38′ mark, when Torsten Frings corner kick found the head of defender Sebastian Prodl. Prodl’s goal-bound shot glanced off the head of Inter defender Ivan Cordoba, and Werder held the lead going into intermission.
Four minutes into the second half, Werder Bremen doubled their lead Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic scored on a left-footed shot, assisted by Almeida. Schaaf’s team avoided a scare at the 67th minute, when Esteban Cambiaso’s header looked goal-bound, and Inter were unable to pounce on the loose ball in front of Tim Wiese. Aaron Hunt, Almeida, Claudio Pizarro and Per Metzelder were unable to capitalize on good scoring opportunities as the half wound down before Pizarro netted Werder’s third goal two minutes before stoppage time, with Clemens Fritz getting the assist.
In addition to the morale-boosting victory, Werder Bremen benefitted by getting Almeida, Pizarro and maligned French defender Mikael Silvestre time on the pitch. Pizarro and Silvestre have been sidelined with injury, while Almeida is currently suspended from Bundesliga action. Credit Tim Wiese with the clean sheet.
Schalke Take Group B
In Lisbon, Felix Magath’s Schalke team put the finishing touches on the Group B title by handing Benfica a 2-1 loss. Amazingly, last season’s 2nd place Bundesliga club won back to back games for only the second time this season — the first instance coming only weeks ago when Die Knappen shut out Werder Bremen on the weekend and Lyon in Champions League action. Magath’s club followed that performance up with a humiliating 5-0 loss to Kaiserslautern that resulted in Magath’s disciplinary clamp down on his underperforming club. Magath demoted regular Jermaine Jones along with seldom-used Hans Sarpei and Alexander Baumjohan to the reserve squad. Magath also started practices an hour earlier and banned his players from using gloves, leggings and other winter wear as temperatures in Germany plunged. Furthermore, Magath shortened the player’s upcoming winter break to six days.
The Royal Blues responded with a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich following Magath’s actions. Although Magath’s discipline probably was a factor in the win, the result was also partially a mixture of German international goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s strong play and some good fortune as the Bavarians were unable to finish their legitimate first half scoring opportunities.
After being outplayed in the first half, the Royal Blues got rolling in the second half as Jose Jurado’s goal gave them the lead and defender Benedikt Howedes doubled it. Jefferson Farfan, who started the game on the bench as a result of a bout of illness, came in and raised the attacking tempo for Schalke as a second half substitute.
Farfan wasn’t part of today’s Schalke side. In a match in which Benfica outshot Schalke 22-6 (although Schalke actually had four shots on goal to only three for Benfica), led in corner kicks by a 8-2 margin and held 60% of possession, Magath and company made the statistics look meaningless as they built a 2-0 lead with Jurado and Howedes again netting before surrendering a late Luisao score with only three minutes left in regulation. The 2-1 win that resulted in Schalke winning their group gives Magath something positive to build on.
But will he? Sunday’s match away against second-place Mainz will be a genuine test to see what direction the Royal Blues are headed in. Will they continue their stop-start-stop trend or will the Royal Blues actually put a lengthy win streak together to head into winter break? There is no doubt that Magath is a winning coach, and I share the opinion of many that Schalke’s struggles are due to the offseason turnover of the back line along with the late arrival of many of the team’s incoming talents. But strong disciplinary actions can either build team unity or destroy it. We’ll soon see if Magath’s actions were the acts of a coach tightening his grip on his club or the desperate moves of a leader who has lost his followers.
Werder Bremen Lineup: Wiese, Prodl, Mertesacker, Pasanen, Schmidt, Fritz, Frings, Almeida, Marin, Arnautovic, Hunt Subs Used: Pizarro 76′ (for Almeida), Bargfrede 78′ (for Frings), Silvestre 83′ (for Pasanen)
Schalke 04 Lineup: Neuer, Metzelder, Howedes, Schmitz, Uchida, Papadopoulos, Kluge, Rakitic, Jurado, Huntelaar, Raul Subs Used: Matip 82′ (for Kluge), Edu 85′ (for Huntelaar), Jendrisek 88′ (for Jurado)