Season Preview 2014-2015: SV Werder Bremen

Nicknames: The Green and Whites, the River Islanders

Founded: 4 February 1899

Club colours: Green and white

Primary rivals: Hamburger SV, Bayern München

Fan friendships: Rot Weiss Essen

Trophies:

Bundesliga champions(4): 1964/65, 1987/88, 1992/93, 2003/04
DFB Pokal winners(6): 1960/61, 1990/91, 1993/94, 1998/99, 2003/05, 2007/08
Uefa Cup winners cup(1): 1991/92

Stadium: Weserstadion, opened in 1924, renovated in 1963-65, 1989, 2005 and 2008. 42,500 capacity at Bundesliga matches and 37,441 at international matches.

2013/14 finishes:

Bundesliga: 12th
DFB Pokal: Lost in the first round to 1. FC Saarbrücken

2013-14: Season summary

There were many question marks regarding Werder ahead of last season. Both sporting director Klaus Allofs and former head coach Thomas Schaaf had left the ship after many years at the club, leaving Werder to embark on a new journey with Thomas Eichin managing off the field and Robin Dutt managing on it. Eichin, who had been a player at Nürnberg and Gladbach before starting a career as the sporting director of the ice hockey club Kölner Haie, had his work cut out for him at the start of the season. The Green and Whites were still recovering from the lack of Champions League money due to their recent slump in form, while a few of their most experienced players still were on contracts that were drawn up during Werder’s formidable run in Europe’s finest club competition.

As a result the club’s best defender, Sokratis, was sold to Borussia Dortmund and Werder didn’t manage to keep hold of Kevin de Bruyne or Marko Arnautovic either. The dire financial situation forced Eichin to take a closer look at players who could join the club for little or no money at all, in addition to being not too demanding when it came to their salaries. Cedrik Makiadi was the star signing of the summer, arriving on a 3 million Euro deal from SC Freiburg. Additionally Argentinian striker Franco di Santo was signed to fill the gap after Arnautovic’s and de Bruyne’s departure.

However, the first couple of matches in the Bundesliga gave some Werder fans the faint hope that their team may fare better in the league than in the seasons prior to the 13/14 campaign, as both of the Green and Whites first matches were won by a narrow 1-0 margin (against Eintracht Braunschweig and FC Augsburg). However, the three consecutive losses that were to follow against Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt clearly showed that Werder Bremen were far away from being a side that could compete for the European places in the Bundesliga.

However, Dutt’s team became increasingly better at grinding out results, despite lacking potency in attack. Despite the questionable goalkeeping credentials of Sebastian Mielitz and Raphael Wolf,  Werder were able to keep ten clean sheets through the course of the season. However, despite often times being able to defend rather well over longer periods of time, the Werder defence often came unglued once the team had conceded a goal. Dutt’s team conceded three or more goals in a whopping total of 15 games that season. The 5-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Rückrunde and the 0-7 dropping handed to Werder by Bayern München were especially painful to witness for Werder fans.

Werder had become famous for their gung-ho attacking style under Thomas Schaaf, however, Dutt had to face a different reality upon his arrival. Both Nils Petersen and Franco Di Santo lacked the quality to set the Bundesliga on fire, and the midfielders behind them lacked in quality as well. Most of the attacking impetus was left to Aaron Hunt, who was trying to lead the team to the best of his abilities, however, the Werder vice-captain alone wasn’t enough to put the fear of god into the defences of the bigger teams in the league. For the campaign, Hunt finished  with a respectable record of seven goals scored while assisting his teammates on nine occasions.

At the end of the day Werder were supposed to start undergoing a transition under Eichin and Dutt. Despite temporary set backs and a number of performances that were thoroughly disappointing, Werder managed to gather enough points throughout the season to stay away from the worst turmoils of the relegation battle with a gritty and result oriented football.

Club reputation

Werder have always been perceived to be the second biggest club in Northern Germany behind HSV, however, the club has managed to outperform their biggest rivals on most occasions over the last few years due to long-term planning and smart management. During Thomas Schaaf’s reign the club developed a reputation for being among the most entertaining sides to watch in the Bundesliga, often times being involved in high scoring matches. Furthermore, the team managed to qualify for the Champions League six times in a row under Schaaf, causing many to think that the Green and Whites were Bayern’s fiercest rivals for the Bundesliga crown. Werder have only been relegated once from the Bundesliga and have managed to establish themselves as a club which is regarded to belong among the elite teams in the Bundesliga.

Reality

Since the third place finish to the 2009/10 season, conditions have been unravelling in Bremen.   The lack of TV revenue due to their absence from the Champions League has seen the departure of many key players over the last few years, leaving Werder a mediocre team at best. Dutt has had one transitional season to shore things up, but now the board and the fans are expecting to see progress compared to the last season.

Werder will have to do without Aaron Hunt, their best player from last season, who was signed by Wolfsburg, but they have signed Izet Hajrovic and Fin Bartels to add some more vigour to their attack. Furthermore, Spaniard Alejandro Galvez has been brought in to stabilise the Werder defence. If those changes are enough to give Werder a much-needed boost remains to be seen.

Philosophy

‘Don’t panic, keep calm’ has been the motto which the Werder bosses have applied over the years when it came to making crucial decisions. The city’s Hanseatic background clearly reflects in the way the club has been run over the years, however the flipside of that coin has been that the club, at times, has been too slow to react once a situation in need of fixing occurred. Four of the last five seasons under Thomas Schaaf saw the club finishing outside the European spots in the table. The fact that something was broken and a new impetus was needed became more clear during the last two seasons of Schaaf’s reign, but the club stubbornly stuck by him.

Former Freiburg and Leverkusen headman Dutt has been granted enough time to implement his ideas at the club. Currently Werder are undergoing a change that is supposed to take the club back to financial sound footing (the last three years have seen the club ending the season with financial deficits), meaning that some of the highest earners have been sold, with their replacements bought on the cheap. Furthermore, the club does also want to integrate more home grown youth players in its squad over the next few years.

On the pitch Robin Dutt has opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation at times, allowing Aaron Hunt to roam freely, whilst at times choosing to line up in a 4-4-2 formation. Under Thomas Schaaf short passing and attacking was the main focus, under his successor the first order of business was to defend in numbers(especially against bigger opponents). Gritty players with a fighting spirit, like Philipp Bargfrede, became more important as last season progressed, showing the casual onlooker that the Green and Whites no longer stand for the ‘we’ll outscore you anyways’ approach.

Plan B

Dutt has two strikers on hand, but most often he preferred playing only with one nominal striker. Either Petersen or di Santo were options to be brought on when Werder were chasing a lead, additionally the team has also the youngsters Özkan Yildirim and Davie Selke at hand should Dutt require more fire power up top.

Strength and Weaknesses

Werder have shown themselves to be a team that can defend well against decent opposition, and furthermore, the Green and Whites were also among the most ruthless sides in front of goal last season. However, there are still a number of glaring weaknesses. Once Werder have conceded a goal against a perceived stronger opponent, they always lacked the precision and creativity going forward to get back into the game, whilst allowing the other team too much space,  resulting in Werder conceding plenty of goals in such matches.

Take away from 2013/14

Werder’s fans stood behind their team the entire season, always knowing that it would be a tough task to stay out of the battle against relegation. Dutt even went as far as saying that he was happy to work “for the right club in Northern-Germany”, because matters were always analysed in a calm and proper fashion according to Dutt. The Green and Whites kept their cool throughout the entire campaign and finished in 12th, not really a good finish given Werder’s reputation, but still an improvement compared to the previous campaign(when Werder finished 14th).

Aaron Hunt was the key player in Werder’s attack, but the River Islanders struggled to create the same amount of scoring chances compared to prior campaigns under Schaaf. Watching Werder play football was maddening at times, given that the team at times lacked the capability to string together more than three or four passes. However, Dutt managed to develop in the Werder players a mindset that allowed them to take to the pitch fighting for every inch.

Trivia

Philipp Bargfrede’s father Hans-Jürgen was a footballer as well. He started out at Werder Bremen, but never made it to the senior squad. In the end the midfielder transferred to St. Pauli where he played for eight years.

Werder converted 17.8% of their chances last season. Only five teams in the Bundesliga were more ruthless in front of goal.

Clemens Fritz is the longest-serving Werder player. He’s been at the club for almost 3,000 days.

Werder managed to keep a clean sheet on tenoccasions last season. Only four Bundesliga clubs managed to concede no goal in more matches than the Green and Whites.

Izet Hajrovic’s brother Sead is also a footballer. He’s currently on the roster of FC Winterthur, a team playing in the second tier in Switzerland.

Nils Petersen scored three of his seven goals last season in a substitute’s role. Only four players in the Bundesliga managed to score more goals coming off the bench. In total five of Werder’s 42 goals were scored by players being subbed onto the pitch. The other two substitute’s goals were scored by Bargfrede and Leven Aycicek.

Verdict

If you are a Werder fan you are most likely going to prepare for another long and hard season, where moments of glory are more scarce than would be preferred. The team has some quality in the likes of Sebastian Prödl, Zlatko Junuzovic and Izet Hajrovic, but currently there are too many mediocre players on the pitch. The River Islanders too often lacked creativity and precision in their attacking phase of their passing game last season, and when the team attacked in numbers the old problems in defence from the Schaaf era were still visible. Much depends upon what Dutt has managed to do in addressing those key problem areas during preseason training. As things stand Werder are likely to find themselves in the lower half of the table once again, but they should have enough quality to avoid relegation.

The Boss

Before coaching Werder Robin Dutt made a name for himself by taking SC Freiburg from the second tier to the Bundesliga. In his last season at the club ended up in 9th position and Dutt was seemingly ready for bigger tasks. Upon joining Bayer Leverkusen, Dutt faced an uphill battle with many negative headlines and dire results (among them a 2-7 defeat to Barca in the Champions League). After taking over the sporting director position at the DFB, Dutt stayed out of the headlines for a couple of years. However, in the end Dutt was itching to return to coaching and decided to join Werder upon being offered the position as Thomas Schaaf’s successor. Dutt has proclaimed himself to be a friend of attacking football and plans this season to play a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond in midfield.

Odds to win the league

1/500

60 second dossier

  • Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 4
  • Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 6
  • Number of Matches drawn: 9
  • Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 4
  • Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 11
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in loss: 5
  • Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in draw: 2
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 4
  • Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 3

Top scorers in 2013/14

Aaron Hunt – 7 goals
Nils Petersen – 7 goals
Franco Di Santo – 4 goals
Eljaro Elia – 4 goals
Santiago Garcia – 3 goals
Philipp Bargfrede – 3 goals

Q and A with a club fan

Tobias Singer from the Werder blog MeineSaison.de was kind enough to answer our questions.

“Keep an eye out for…: Levent Aycicek. He is the most talented player Werder’s youth academy has produced in a long time. However he is also injury prone, but if he stays fit this should be his breakthrough season.”

“Terrace favourite…: Luca Caldirola at the moment. He has great tactical skills and works very hard. I think we will see him in the Italian national team soon.”

“Player you’d happily drive to another club…: He just left!”

“Advice you’d give your manager…: Don’t listen to advice from fans!”

“Opposition player you secretly admire…: I admire Philipp Lahm as a player (not very secretly, though). He is one of the most complete footballers I have seen and it will be hard for Germany to replace him.”

“Opposition player you despise…: Arjen Robben. Despite his world-class performances I can never see past his diving.”

“Where will you finish…: Somewhere between 8 and 14.”

“How badly are Werder going to miss Aaron Hunt?: Badly, but not as badly as one might expect. Werder has no single player to replace him directly, but his departure is a chance for tactical progress. Other players like Obraniak, Junuzovic and Hajrovic will have to step up.”

Fixture list

August

Hertha BSC(A)
Hoffenheim(H)

September

Bayer Leverkusen(A)
FC Augsburg(A)
FC Schalke 04(H)
VfL Wolfsburg(A)

October

SC Freiburg(H)
FC Bayern München(A)
1. FC Köln(H)

November

1. FSV Mainz 05(A)
VfB Stuttgart(H)
Hamburger SV(A)
SC Paderborn(H)

December

Eintracht Frankfurt(A)
Hannover 96(H)
Borussia Mönchengladbach(A)
Borussia Dortmund(H)

January

Hertha BSC(H)

February

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim(A)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen(H)
FC Augsburg(H)
Schalke 04(A)
VfL Wolfsburg(H)

March

SC Freiburg(A)
FC Bayern München(H)
1. FC Köln(A)

April

1. FSV Mainz(H)
VfB Stuttgart(A)
Hamburger SV(H)
SC Paderborn(A)

May

Eintracht Frankfurt(H)
Hannover 96(A)
Borussia Mönchengladbach(H)
Borussia Dortmund(A)

Crucial schedule stretch

Werder’s priority this season is to gather enough points as early on as possible, allowing the team to cruise as comfortably as possible through the Rückrunde. In that regard the stretch of matches between match day 9 and 15 seems to be crucial. During that time Werder have six opponents, all of which are seemingly beatable on paper. The home matches against 1. FC Köln, VfB Stuttgart, SC Paderborn and Hannover 96 provide an excellent opportunity to gather a lot of points in quick succession. Furthermore, Mainz, HSV and Eintracht Frankfurt are beatable teams (at least on paper) this season, even when they are playing at home. Given Werder’s extremely tough start to the season, it is crucial that the team starts gathering momentum and puts as many points as possible on the board during those matches.

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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.

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