Werder Bremen’s Hinrunde – Catastrophic defence and tactical disasters

Werder Bremen’s finish to the year of 2015 left most of their fans wondering what on earth has happened to the team that managed to start the year with 5 wins in a row. The performance in the 2-1 loss against Frankfurt left an awful lot to be desired, especially the catastrophic 2nd half display which only left pharmaceutical reps peddling heart medication in the greater Bremen area with a smile on their face.

What are the reasons behind the Green and White’s demise in this season’s Hinrunde? Star striker Claudio Pizarro talked about his team potentially being able to get close enough tocompete for one of the Champions League spots after Werder managed to win two matches in a row at the start of the season, but now it’s once again crystal clear that the Riverislanders need to fight against relegation for the rest of the season.

The defence – systemic issues

Not keeping a single clean sheet throughout the entire Hinrunde tells a story of its own. No matter how you look at it, the defence has clearly not worked out the way it should have so far this season. Going behind in 12 out of 17 matches and only managing to get two draws in those 12 matches shows how much Werder have been struggling at the back. However, simply pointing at Felix Wiedwald and his back four is a bit unfair in that regard. If a team concedes 32 goals within the space of 17 matches there are usually more systemic issues at hand rather than some defenders not doing their job properly.

A good example of how Werder time and time again concede unnecessary goals was apparent in the 2-1 goal scored by Eintracht on Saturday afternoon. This time around midfielder Florian Grillitsch had made a good defence run to help out left back Janek Sternberg, but instead of clearing the danger in a situation where the defence was under immense pressure he decided to try to pass the ball along.

In that situation trying to solve the problem at hand with a pass into a dangerous area was simply uncalled for and in the end Werder paid the ultimate price by setting up Stefan Aigner for his first goal in a staggering 20 matches in the Bundesliga. This tendency to fall behind from slapstick comedy goals has gone on for the entire Hinrunde and it has been Werder players from all over the park who have made avoidable, but crucial mistakes when it comes to defending.

A much larger issue at hand is that the team seems to be inconsistent in how they react to the opponent being in possession. The pressing game of the team seems to vary too much throughout an entire 90 minutes. Sometimes the Green and Whites manage to keep the distances between the midfield and defence small and the players are making all the right runs to leave the opponent no good options in attack. But, often times when the ball is lost upfield the space at hand for opposing clubs are massive and the team seems to be entirely incapable of switching quickly from attack to defence at some stages of matches. This tendency to drop off in quality is highlighted by the fact that Werder have conceded 27 of their 32 goals in the last hour of play (only four teams in the league have conceded fewer goals in the first 30 minutes of play than Werder).

Additionally it has to be said that the team simply doesn’t seem to be capable to play consistently good football throughout an entire match of football. The last three matches at hand saw Werder be either good or decent in one half and being absolutely shambolic in the other 45 minutes of football. After a good first half the team’s performance usually has fallen through the floor and other times the players managed only to pick up the pieces after a dreadful first half (which often times meant that they were already facing an uphill battle having to come back into the match from a deficit).

Simply pointing to the back four consisting of Gebre Selassie, Vestergaard, Glavez and Garcia would be unfair, as they aren’t entirely at blame for many of the goals the team have conceded.

Tactics – failures to react

Another tendency that has crept up throughout the entire season is the coaching team’s refusal to react to what is happening on the pitch. In the match against Frankfurt Pizarro’s legs were gone after 60-70 minutes, but the Peruvian was on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes. Janek Sternberg had a dreadful day at left back, but was also allowed to play for the entire match. Skripnik’s decision to take off Bargfrede may have been rooted in the fact that the vital midfielder had just returned from an injury, but he could have at least addressed one of the other issues when he decided to make changes in the middle of the second half.

At other times the fans have been rather surprised by the line ups fielded by Skripnik. The fact that Assani Lukimya has been given 10 matches from the start has raised many eyebrows around the Weserstadion, as the error prone defender tried his best to keep out of trouble on the pitch. Whilst Luki, as he is called within the team, is certainly a brilliant defender at Bundesliga 2 level, there is little that suggests that he should be a regular in a Bundesliga side. In the match against Frankfurt the defender left his teammate Gebre Selassie alone with Alexander Meier for the Eagles equaliser, while he should have made sure that there was a lot more pressure on last season’s top scorer.

Transfers – Expect a busy January

One could argue that Skripnik’s failure to react to what is going on in a match may also be rooted in the fact that the depth of the team isn’t exactly brilliant. The fact that Werder tries to blend in more and more youngsters is a good thing, however, the quality of said youngsters can’t measure up to the quality produced elsewhere in the Bundesliga. Sporting director Rouven Schröder has already confirmed that Werder fans can expect a busy January transfer window.

Making more debt seems preferable if it means that the team can avoid the financial hit of being relegated to the Bundesliga 2. The lack of creativity upfront has been apparent, additionally the holding midfield has been a trouble area for the Green and Whites. Bild has already brought up Sebastian Rudy of Hoffenheim as a possible new signing in January, but it seems rather unlikely that a national team player captaining a direct rival in the battle against relegation would be transferred in the middle of a season to another struggling side.

Furthermore, it is rather doubtful that Werder are capable of dishing out the transfer fee necessary to reach an agreement with Hoffenheim. Additionally, one wonders if Werder are going to sell a couple of players to get some fresh blood into the team. Felix Kroos would be one of the candidates who could fall victim to Werder’s need to make some major changes. Furthermore, some of the talents who are not getting any playing time at the moment could leave the club on loan deals.

Given the financial constraints it wouldn’t be a surprise if Eichin and Schröder are once again aiming for creative solutions on the cheap. Like last year the pressure is immense to get these decisions right, because much is at stake.

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Header photo: PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images

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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.