Stuttgart 4 – 1 Werder Bremen – Stuttgart dent Bremen’s Europa League hopes

Werder Bremen’s dreams of qualifying for the Europa League have gradually disappeared over the course of the Rückrunde. Having managed just two wins since Januray, Thomas Schaaf’s side has barely maintained a top six position, but allowed the likes of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke to slip out of their grasp. Thanks to the inconsistency of Bayer Leverkusen and Stuttgart, Schaaf’s side has managed to stay in the hunt for European football next season. Fresh from a hard fought draw against Gladbach, the four time champions were hoping to get over their troubles at the Mercedes Benz Arena and pick up a win against fellow Europa League hopefuls, Stuttgart.

Stuttgart on the other hand, have been in scintillating form over the last few months. Die Schwaben were on an eight game unbeaten run and looking to keep their form going against struggling Bremen. Considering Stuttgart’s recent abundance of goals and Bremen’s inability to keep teams from scoring against them, a goal fest was in the cards.

Lineups and Formations

With Zdravko Kuzmanovic out injured, coach Bruno Labbadia gave the experienced Christian Gentner a start in midfield. On the left side of defense, Christian Molinaro was preferred to Arthur Boka. Gotoku Sakai continued to keep his place in the starting eleven since Khalid Boulahrouz was still injured. Labbadia left the rest of his side unchanged from the mid week clash against Augsburg.

Thomas Schaaf’s injuries woes continued. Bremen had to manage without attackers Mehmet Ekici, Aaron Hunt and Marko Arnautovic. In midfield, Philip Bargfrede was out injured and replaced by Zlatko Junuzovic, while Lukas Schmitz got the nod at left back due to the suspension of Florian Hartherz. Schaaf returned to his familiar diamond formation with Marko Marin at the head of the diamond and Naldo at the base.

Statistical dominance but not a great advantage on the scoreboard

Following last season’s meeting between these two sides, a lot was expected from Stuttgart and a Tim Wiese error was almost punished by Julian Schieber in the third minute. Wiese almost saw a communication error between his defenders gift the hosts an early lead, a couple of minutes after his own mistake. These early scares woke Werder up and they seemed fairly resolute from here on. They even managed to gain some venom in attack as Marin tested Sven Ulreich with a thunderous long range strike, but the young goalkeeper was more than up to it.

Stuttgart began to dominate the game with a large proportion of possession, but were unable to create any clear cut chances. Against the run of play, Bremen managed to score the opener as they caught the hosts off guard. A Wiese throw was scrappily dealt with by Molinaro, which saw Marin burst down the right flank to provide a delightful cross for Markus Rosenberg, who made no mistake from a few yards out. Bremen’s sloppy midfield was being outdone by Stuttgart’s well spread game, but their defense wasn’t deterred. Just past the half hour mark, Christian Gentner released a wondrous strike from
about 20 yards out leaving Wiese with no chance whatsoever. The scores were level and Bremen were only looking downhill from here. On the brink of half time Niedermeier latched on to a corner, but was brilliantly denied by Wiese. The rebound though was headed in by the lethal Martin Harnik and Stuttgart walked into half time with a confident 2-1 lead.

A toothless Bremen side were rightly punished

The story remained unchanged in the second half. Bremen’s attack seemed nonexistent, especially their most potent threat Claudio Pizzaro, and their midfield continued to struggle against that of Stuttgart’s. Seven minutes in to the half, Bremen were punished for some sloppy defending, as Harnik got his second goal of the night. Another corner was poorly dealt with and the ball trickled its way into the path of Harnik, who had almost nothing to do to double his tally.

The half continued in very gloomy fashion, as chances were hard to come by. Schaaf did all he could to instill some life into his side by bringing on Tom Trybull and Niclas Füllkrug, but it proved futile. The youngsters were unable to shake the solid defensive pair of Tasci and Niedermeier, while Pizzaro and Rosenberg continued to remain invisible. Bremen’s punishment was completed by none other than Cacau, who scored Stuttgart’s fourth of the night about three minutes from the final whistle. Once again Bremen were left watching, as Cacau just floated in and managed an easy header to seal the deal. 4-1 may have been a little too harsh on the Bremen defense, but Stuttgart made full use of every one of their chances on the night.

Conclusion

Bruno Labbadia has every right to be delighted with his side, as he has watched them move up from eleventh to fifth position in just a couple of months. At the moment, even Champions League football seems like a possibility. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s recent form has left a lot to be answered, but Stuttgart will be more than happy about it. Martin Harnik’s goal scoring brilliance continues as his tally increases to seventeen. Bayern Munich might prove to be an impassable obstacle, but beating Köln and Wolfsburg seem almost guaranteed. Europa League football now seems a surety for Die Roten.

Werder Bremen will be ruing their injury problems. Also, this over reliance on Claudio Pizzaro is beginning to cost them dearly. Schaaf needs to get his side back on track and ensure that they get all of the remaining nine points. The battle for fifth spot may be done and dusted, but the final Europa League place is technically up for grabs. With Bayern, Wolfsburg and Schalke to come, Bremen will have to pull out some magical performances if they are to qualify for Europe.

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