Werder Bremen: Crunch Time for Robin Dutt

Werder Bremen had quite a start to the season. During the first three matches the Green and Whites managed to fight back to gain draws from losing positions to get a respectable three points from their matches against Hertha, Hoffenheim and Leverkusen. However, ever since the team lost 4-2 against FC Augsburg things haven’t been going Robin Dutt’s way. After the loss against Augsburg, Werder were destroyed by an injury plagued Schalke side before losing in a lacklustre fashion against Wolfsburg. The positive trend many fans had spotted at the start of the season had vanished, and at that point the team was seemingly on its way into a crisis.

To make matters worse the Riverislanders managed only to pull off a draw against their direct relegation rivals SC Freiburg this weekend. Beforehand the game had been declared a must win match by both coach Robin Dutt and sporting director Thomas Eichin. Werder haven’t started this badly into the season since their 1976/77 campaign – one can’t help but feel that this stat pretty much speaks for itself.

Bild and kicker have already reported that Dutt’s time at the club might be coming to an end provided that his team doesn’t manage to come up with a win in the near future. After the international break Werder are travelling to Bavaria to take on Pep Guardiola’s Bayern München, a match which nobody (neither the board nor the most ardent Werder fan) is expecting to win. Even a loss won’t see the coach being fired according to several reports in the media. However, there’s little doubt that anything else but a win against the Billy Goats from Köln is going to be good enough for the Werder board and Thomas Eichin.

However, there’s little doubt that Werder’s dire performance at the start of this season isn’t Dutt’s fault alone. Having said that, there’s little doubt that Dutt needs to figure out how he can change the current trend before it’s too late for him. Right now Thomas Eichin is still defending his coach in the press, stating that Dutt hasn’t lost the dressing room in addition to being able to give young players a chance to get into the team. However, if the coach wants to count on the support from his superiors over the next couple of matches there are a few elements he and his team have to work on. Additionally, Thomas Eichin and the officials at Werder should also be starting to take a closer look at what they have done over the last couple of seasons.

Short term – This needs to be dealt with straight away

The defence, oh the defence

Saying that Werder have a poor defence is like stating that no snowflakes are alike, but most of them are as similar to one another as two different Sting albums – it’s simply stating the obvious. Dutt’s team have so far conceded 16 goals and their opponents have hit Werder’s woodwork on 7 occasions so far. However, simply blaming Raphael Wolf and the back four in front of him would oversimplify the matter. As several goals have shown defensive lapses stretch throughout the entire team from time to time. Ricardo Rodriguez’ goal two weeks ago was one such example. It all started when Werder defender Marnon Busch lost the ball far too easily in the opponent’s half and then the mistakes spread through the entire team. In the end one could also put a massive portion of the blame on midfielder Izet Hajrovic who had lazily jogged back instead of trying to stay close to Rodriguez who was left all alone by the Bosnian in the end. Earlier in the same week Werder gave away three goals through avoidable mistakes in the match against Schalke. As long as Dutt doesn’t find away to get rid of those schoolboy errors which are committed by many of his players all over the pitch he won’t be in charge for too much longer.

Passing precision

Most Werder fans are probably looking fondly back on the days when Thomas Schaaf came along to introduce a cultured short passing game at the club. These day things are very much different. This weekend Werder managed to misplace 40% of their passes while against Leverkusen the Green and Whites even managed to misplace 49% of their passes. During Dutt’s tenure the lack of precision in the passing game has become an Achilles heel for the team. There are simply too many attacks breaking down because of sloppy passing. This has been going on ever since Dutt took over and it should have been sorted out some time ago.

Re-think your tactics?

Dutt has decided after last season that Werder needed to be more attacking this season. Most of the time he has played with two strikers up top, giving Franco Di Santo a free role allowing the Argentinian to roam. Di Santo has thanked his coach by scoring four goals so far, however, there’s little doubt that this sort of approach is going to be problematic in the next couple of matches. Winning the midfield battle is going to be essential against Köln and being able to defend well is going to be key against Bayern. Playing two strikers might be the wrong thing to do in both cases.

Long term – This needs to be dealt with by the end of the season

Make up for the loss in quality

Werder have over the last few seasons lost a number of quality players and they have so far not been able to replace them adequately. Both Zlatko Junuzovic and Sebastian Prödl’s contracts are up by the end of the season and as things stand it would come as a massive surprise if the two Austrians extend their contracts. Ahead of this season Aaron Hunt decided to leave the team, leaving Werder with few midfielders on the roster who are capable of inducing the team’s game with a bit of creativity. Bild has already written about Werder’s interest in securing winter break signings if the club can get rid of Ludovic Obraniak and Eljaro Elia. There’s no doubt that these two players have very little to add to the side right now (the Pole hasn’t gotten many chances to prove his qualities whilst Elia has managed to underwhelm most of the Werder fans with his lacklustre performances). Werder could use strengthening in all areas of the pitch, but strengthening the midfield with a player who can provide some creativity might be the first logical step to take at the moment.

Where’s the long-term strategy?

There has been big talk coming out of Bremen in regards of improving the team while reducing the budget. Right now it is hard to spot how they possibly could have achieved that. Most of Eichin’s signings have turned out to be decent players, but the decline in quality of the team overall has continued under his leadership. Werder have neglected bringing up youth prospects over the last few years and right now any talent making the first team is thrown into a difficult situation. Both Davie Selke and Marnon Busch come with a lot of promise, but right now Werder shouldn’t rely on those youngsters too much. Signing quality players on the cheap is difficult, but it is what is needed at the moment. Teams like Augsburg and Mainz have been able to pull of such moves for several years, now Eichin needs to do the same if he wants to see his club climb up the table over the next few years. Finding these players in addition to blending in the young guns is going to be the key here, but so far Werder’s transfer policy has been too inconsistent to yield good results. The fact that Dutt has never demanded to get more money for new signings speaks in his favour, given what he has been given to work with.

What do you think? Can Werder manage to get out of their current crisis?

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-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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