The diamond is Schaaf’s best friend

Werder Bremen is once again a force to be reckoned with at the top of the Bundesliga it seems.

After last season’s horror show, Werder Bremen’s fans were hoping for some better times this season. Thomas Schaaf’s men have so far delivered the goods, with a fifth place standing after 17 matches. The start of the season wasn’t too promising, with a cup defeat to third tier side 1. FC Heidenheim and a friendly defeat to Danish minnows FC Midtylland. However, ever since match day 1 Werder seems to be able to turn on the magic at the Weserstadion. 7 wins and 1 defeat at home makes Werder the fourth best home side in the league after 17 played Bundesliga matches (the top four all have 21 points at home, but the three teams ahead of Werder have 9 matches at home, while Werder only has 8).

Contrary to speculation, the drama surrounding Klaus Allofs and Thomas Schaaf’s contract extensions doesn’t seem to have impacted the team in a negative way. Brazilian defender Naldo coming back to the starting line up has also given Werder a new dimension, and the signings of Sokratis and Ignjovski have helped the team to take a step in the right direction.

Diamonds are forever

In an effort to try something new Thomas Schaaf tried to tweak his midfield diamond in some of the matches, letting either Pizarro or Almeida drop back deep into midfield, giving Werder an extra man there and creating a 4-1-4-1 formation along the way. When that failed Schaaf even tried a 4-2-3-1 formation with Arnautovic playing in the hole. In the end Schaaf went back to his preferred 4-4-2 midfield diamond and has stuck with it since. Some questions remain regarding the formation. Due to Mehmet Ekici’s poor start at the Weser, Schaaf took the step of benching the 5 million euros signing, and chose to play Marko Marin in the playmaker role behind the strikers. Marin is a natural winger, and it showed often throughout the season that he doesn’t feel too comfortable in that role.

Clemens Fritz has been transformed into a midfielder, to make room for the Greek signing Sokratis. Fritz’s efforts in midfield have been decent so far, but they haven’t helped Werder steady the ship. His counter part Aaron Hunt has had a topsy turvy season, at times being brilliant, other times being almost as dreadful as he was last season.

Werder’s biggest problems still occurs in defense. Schaaf’s midfield diamond sees the attackers and midfielders in the centre of the pitch, and relies on the full backs to provide the team with width almost exclusively. This in turn leaves the defense exposed from the flanks, and the big boys of the league haven’t had any problems taking advantage of that.

Claudio Pizarro has without a doubt been Werder's most vital player so far this season.

Don’t take ”The Piz” out of Werder

Besides Naldo getting back from a 16 month long injury and providing the team with some much needed stability and creativity from the back, there isn’t another player who can take a similar amount of credit for Werder’s good season so far than Claudio Pizarro. The Peruvian striker has scored 12 goals, and assisted 5 of Werder’s goals. His contributions to 17 of Werder’s goals means that the 33-year-old has been involved in 56.6% of the green and whites output. Last season Pizarro missed many games due to injury, having the former Bayern and Chelsea striker fit has given Bremen an edge they didn’t have in the 10/11 season.

Pizarro’s movement, his excellent passing skills and his killer instinct in front of goal have turned many tight games in Werder’s favor. Neither Rosenberg or Arnautovic can fill the Peruvians boots, and keeping him at the Weser is key to for Werder’s continued success this season.

Failing to impress away from home

Werder is only the 12th best away team in the league, with a dire 10-22 goal difference and five lost matches. The away losses have so far come against other top sides (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover 96). However, if Werder wants to become a side that challenges for the European spots, their form against the top sides in the league has to improve dramatically. The matches against Schalke, Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach were blood bathes that saw Werder give up defending, and some might even say, that it saw the team give up playing football all together.

Zlatko Junuzovic might be on his way to Bremen according to Bild.

January shopping

Bremen’s transfer activities in the summer saw sporting director Klaus Allofs and the head of the Werder board Willy Lemke argue in public. Allofs had already bought Mehmet Ekici for 5 million euros, and wanted to add Aleksandar Ignjovski and Sokratis to the squad. Lemke told the German media that Allofs had to sell a player first before new funds for transfers were made available. Allofs got his way in the end, and Lemke was probably happy to see Per Mertesacker being sold on the last day of the transfer window for around 10 million euros. Balance was restored, between Allofs and Lemke, and the balance sheet itself didn’t look bad either after Mertesacker went to London.

It stands to reason that Werder won’t go on a massive shopping spree this winter, considering the team’s healthy position in the league table, and the fact that Thomas Schaaf isn’t facing any injury worries. The only possible transfer object that has been named by the German media so far is Austrian playmaker Zlatko Junuzovic. The 24-year-old playmaker from Austria Wien has only half a season left on his contract and would come on a free transfer in the summer if Werder would like to wait that long.

Werder wants also to get rid of its Brazilian midfielder Wesley. The 7.5 million euro man who came from Santos at the beginning of last season has failed to impress Thomas Schaaf, and Werder are looking to sell him for 6 million euros according to Bild.

Prediction

Werder have shaken off last year’s terrible form and are finally looking to the top half of the table and trying to qualify for a European spot. The current line up has a number of weaknesses, the centre back pairing of Wolf and Naldo doesn’t seem to work perfectly, and the full backs have to supply the width in every attack, leaving the holding midfielder and the two centre backs often times terribly exposed and overwhelmed. The other top teams in the league haven’t had too much trouble taking advantage of Werder’s weak defense. If the team wants to be a contender for a Champions League spot, or a Europa League spot, these issues need to be handled by Schaaf.

Knowing Werder and Schaaf, it seems unlikely that Schaaf will deviate from his tactics, and there will be plenty of goal mouth action at both ends in most of Werder’s games, along with some unpredictable results. The team seems to have the potential to finish in the top 6, thanks to their good form at home and Claudio Pizarro. Schaaf and Allofs extending their contracts has brought some much-needed reassurance at the Weserstadion, and important players like Tim Wiese and Clemens Fritz do now know what the future has in store for the green and whites. Considering the amount of quality that is behind Werder Bremen in the table, one has to say that they don’t seem to be good enough to end up on a European spot. The team will finish somewhere between 7th and 9th at the end of the season.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

3 Comments

  1. True. Bremen have always played the risky game well till now but we saw how much they can suffer if they fail to replace a player once, they were very dependent on Ozil for their offense and Arnautovic was not a suitable replacement at all and neither has Marin proved to be.

    While the 4-4-2 has proven to be useful agains he weaker opponents, but again only due to the brilliance of Pizzaro, it hasn’t been effective against the more organized opponents. A team like Monchengladbach, who have weaker players all around with exception to Reus and Arango, has shown how good they can become when played with the suitable formation. That is one area where Schaaf has failed IMO, he has continued with the diamond formation when its weaknesses have been clearly exploited and will continue to be in the second half of the season. He is not comfortable playing other formations and he hasn’t been able to adjust.

    I don’t understand why Schaaf doesnt play he 4-2-3-1, like he did in 09-10, when he has very good players like Marin and Hunt who can occupy the winger positions and Ekici can play behind Pizzaro.

  2. Well, my point wasn’t that Bremen are a top side, even if their table position would suggest so. Therefor I mentioned the defeats you were talking about, and the defensive short comings of the midfield diamond. I don’t think that they’ll finish in the European places(hence the prediction at the end of the article).

    Well, Schaaf has 5 strikers at his disposal, and very few quality midfielders, that might be one of his reasons to play the 4-4-2 system Bremen are currently fronting. Bremen have always been great at re-inventing themselves, and finding cheap and good players that could transform the side from an average team into something special. I think the next transfer window will show which direction Bremen are taking.

  3. I don’t really agree with the notion that either Bremn are a top side nor that he diamond formation is their best article. Bremen have been beaten very badly (5-0 Monchengladbach, 5-1 Bayern, 5-0 Schalke) by sides above them and therefore I don’t see hem being close to them.

    As for their formation, the diamond was not very successful last season without a proper playmer and I thought that buying Ekici should solve the but his form has been bad and therefore they are back to playing Marin there. Even then, with Marin and Hunt, I don’t see why they shouldn’t go back to playing 4-2-3-1 when they had Ozil with Marin and Hunt on the wings.

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