November 22, 2017

2017-18 Season Preview: Werder Bremen — Can Alexander Nouri Take Werder Forward?

Basics

  • Name: SV Werder Bremen (Sportverein Werder Bremen von 1899 e. V).
  • Nicknames: Die Grün-Weißen, Die Werderaner.
  • Founded: 1899.
  • Club colors: Green and white.
  • Primary rivals: Hamburger SV.
  • Fan friendship: Rot Weiss Essen.

Weserstadion

  • Capacity: 42,100.
  • 2016-17 attendance: 694,974 (40,880 per match).

Trophies

  • Bundesliga Champion: (4) 1964–65, 1987–88, 1992–93, 2003–04.
  • Bundesliga II Champion: (1) 1980–81.
  • DFB-Pokal Winner: (6) 1960–61, 1990–91, 1993–94, 1998–99, 2003–04, 2008–09.
  • DFB-Ligapokal Winner: (1) 2006.
  • DFL-Supercup Winner: (3) 1988, 1993, 1994.
  • UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Winner: (1) 1991–92.

2016-17 Finishes

Bundesliga: 8th with 45 points (61 goals scored, 64 allowed, -3 GD)

DFB Pokal: 1st round (2-1 loss to Sportfreunde Lotte)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals: 7
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 6
Number of Matches drawn: 6
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 9
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 6
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: 3  
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory: 3 

Top 2016-17 Scorers

  • Max Kruse: 15
  • Serge Gnabry: 11
  • Fin Bartels: 8

Summer Test Results

Record: 4-1-3
Goals Scored: 9
Goals Allowed: 8

  • Ajax 1-2 Werder Bremen
  • Werder Bremen 0-1 Wolves
  • Borussia Mönchengladbach 0-0 Werder Bremen (3-5 on pens)
  • Bayern Munich 2-0 Werder Bremen
  • VfL Osnabrück 0-3 Werder Bremen
  • St.Pauli 2-1 Werder Bremen
  • Werder Bremen 1-0 West Ham
  • Werder Bremen 2-2 West Ham

Questions with an Expert:

The best Podcast around solely devoted to Werder Bremen is surely the wonderful Radio Free Weser run by Patrick and Bjorn, so I’ve got them to give me their take on the upcoming Bundesliga season from a Grün-Weißen perspective.

Keep an eye out for . . .

Florian Kainz. The Austrian creative midfielder is entering his second season with the club, having made a bit of a breakthrough into the first team during the waning months of the previous season. Werder have lacked an advanced playmaker in recent seasons, and Kainz appears to possess the ability to provide a creative spark both centrally as well as from wide positions. There was a lot of hype surrounding his transfer from Rapid Vienna last summer, and the fans will expect him to breakthough this season.

Terrace favorite . . .

The one. The only. Fin Bartels. Having previously played for Holstein-Kiel, Hansa Rostock, and Saint Pauli, Bartels has spent his entire professional career representing northern clubs. Fin Bartels is the type of player that an un-intiated opposition fan will likely underestimate. What he lacks in raw ability, he makes up for in his ability to read the game. Fin Bartels is the type of player that will play that pass another player might not see, or make the run ‘just so’ that unlocks the defense. Fin is our personal favorite here at Radio Free Weser – and we hope he gets a chance to play on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday nights.

Player that should be driven to another club . . .

Sambou Yatabare. Rumors have swirled around the Malian all summer, yet no one has pulled the trigger on purchasing him from Werder. Yatabare was one of the questionable signings made by Thomas Eichin in his waning days at the club. Banished to the U23s last season, all Yatabare is doing now is taking up a spot in the U23s which would be better served by giving playing time to one of several midfield prospects.

Advice you’d give your manager . .

Keep focused on football. Keep doing what you’re doing. You don’t go 11 games unbeaten in the Bundesliga without having a good plan in place. Perhaps make sure that the team prepares a “Plan B,” but Alexander Nouri is the manager for a reason, and we’re a couple of guys with microphones for a reason.

Opposition player you despise . . .

“Players we hate” is a recurring topic on Radio Free Weser – however given several transfers and retirements in the previous seasons, 2016/2017 was spent identifying new targets of our ire. For Patrick, look no further than Augsburg defender Kostas Stafylidis. Not only does the [expletive deleted] always seem to score against us – but he is also a bit of a dirty player, having been part of several notable injuries in previous seasons (Breel Embolo, most notably).

For Bjorn, the departing Granit Xhaka has been replaced by Michael Gregoritsch. When asked for a brief answer as to why Mr Gregoritsch deserved his hate, Bjorn responded with “That [expletive deleted] free kick goal.” Also, it’s always defensible to pick a creative player from your biggest rival to concentrate your anger into.

What will opposing sides underestimate?

Maxi Eggestein. The older, less heralded of the bros. Eggestein, Maxi has broken into the first team as a withdrawn midfielder, switching between being a deep-lying playmaker and a defensive central midfielder. He is primed to have a breakout season alongside Thomas Delaney and Zlatko Junuzovic in Werder’s central midfield – and opposing sides would be wise to focus too greatly on his teammates as opposed to him.

What are fans overestimating?

After several dismal seasons Werder went ahead and gave their fans hope of qualifying for Europe. It would be wise for fans not to overestimate how this team will begin the coming campaign. Though preseason results have been good, the team opens against TSG Hoffenheim and FC Bayern Munich. Fans should instead prepare themselves to be in the lower third of the table in mid Autumn.

Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting Weserstadion for the first time …

Bjorn is a big fan of taking the ferry to the stadium. An ancient city like Bremen is worth a visit on a non matchday – but why not take in the sights on the way to the Weserstadion?

Where will Werder finish? . . .

Anything less than 8th place is by definition, regression. The team is largely the same as last season, but Alex Nouri will have had more time to instill in the players his sense of how he wants to play. It will be incumbent on the team to prove that last season’s incredible run of form in the Rückrunde was not a fluke. Werder will be hoping to push on to the Europa League places this season – even if via the extra spot made available due to whoever wins the DFB Pokal.

What is your standout Werder memory from last season?

It is always difficult to overlook the 2-1 Nordderby victory from matchday 29 – however Werder’s best win of the season, for my money, was the 3-0 home thrashing of RB Leipzig. The match was near the beginning of Werder’s excellent run of 11 games unbeaten, and the totality of the victory was enough to convince even a Nouri-doubter like myself that he had something good going.

When Last We Saw Them

Without wanting to sound too clichéd, the 2016-17 Bundesliga season was very much a season of two halves for Werder- real Jekyll and Hyde stuff. The Hinrunde saw the club toying with the relegation places, seriously wondering where they were going to pick up the requisite points to survive. The Rückrunde however saw a superb Max Kruse-inspired resurgence where there was real hope that a European place could be achieved. In the end 8th was just about what the club deserved, but it could have been better, but then again it could have been a whole lot worse.

The season could not have got off to a worse (albeit now expected) start with a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich. What followed though was depressing to say the least with all four opening games ending in defeat. Christmas wasn’t a very merry affair with the club sitting 15th just one point off the bottom three.

The second half of the campaign began just like the first with four successive losses bringing an awful feeling of déjà vu to the Weserstadion as well as a feeling of unerring dread. But then it was like a bolt of electricity had zapped into the corpse of Frankenstein and the monster awoke. Nine wins and two draws in the next eleven games powered Werder upwards and finally gave the fans something to smile about.

Defensive frailties then burst the bubble on the European dream with three goals conceded in each of the final three games- all defeats as the surge petered out in the final games of the season (albeit with Elfmeter controversy at Dortmund!) .

Werder’s Ruckrunde surge (courtesy of Kicker.de)

From mid-January till the end of the season it was like a firework fizzing up into the sky with onlookers waiting for the ultimate explosion of light and sound. What they got in the end was a collision with a seagull and the damp squib of a dud rocket. The end of the season also saw the retirement of Clemens Fritz and the end of the road for veteran striker Claudio Pizarro. Both served the club superbly well and will be greatly missed.

Aspiration

European place. After finishing 8th last season and having a fighting chance of a Europa League place right up to the last, Werder should be seeking to improve on that this season and be looking for a place in Europe. That said it i hard to argue against the fact that the club finished where they deserved (or even over-achieved) in 2016-17.

The optimist will be looking for European qualification, the pessimist will be seeing a leaky defense and fearing another season of struggle.

Reality

The reality will probably be somewhere in between. A lot will depend on any summer signings and whether Alexander Nouri and his defensive coaches can plug the holes at the back.

Looking at the clubs in the Bundesliga next season, it could be argued there is no side that you could definitively say are clear relegation candidates and it could well be a very interesting campaign both at the top and bottom end (even if Bayern walk away with yet another title).

Last season saw Werder consistently poor in the first half of the campaign and then consistently good in the second. A bit more of the consistently good would be welcome.

The Boss

Coach Alexander Nouri’s stock amongst Werder fans could not be higher right now after taking the reins last September with the club in a precarious position before leading the recovery and almost achieving European qualification. The former U23 boss showed that even as a novice he had the capabilities to lead in the Bundesliga

Nouri was rewarded for his efforts with a contract extension at the end of the season, but he’ll be wary of the second season syndrome- especially having witnessed the rise and fall of his predecessor Viktor Skripnik.

Philosophy

The coach will in all likelihood stick to his preferred system using three center backs in what will be a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 system. He has already come out in pre-season saying he is going to be more hands on in training rather than observing from the sidelines.

Nouri quickly evaluated the players at his disposal last season and crafted them into an effective attacking unit. He developed defender Milos Veljkovic into a Bundesliga starter, while also successfully converting Maximilian Eggestein into a holding midfielder.

The loss of Serge Gnabry from the left side will be a blow, but the hope is that wing-back Ludwig Augustinsson will be able to fill the void and deflect attention away from the frontman.

 

He knows the talent in the U23 squad and it could be that youngsters such as Jesper Verlaat and Idrissa Touré get a chance this season.

Plan B

Let’s just pray to the footballing gods that Max Kruse stays healthy as the options to replace him are limited to say the least. With the departure of Serge Gnabry, another important source of goals has gone and Werder will be desperate for one of their other forwards to start contributing. Aron Johannsson still hasn’t really convinced, Ousman Manneh shows promise, but Werder look overly reliant upon Kruse.

Nouri will look to hold his nerve with the three man defense with Niklas Moisander, Milos Veljkovic and Lamine Sané first choice, but beyond them do Werder have adequate back-ups? The coach’s switch back to a back four against Hoffenheim at the end of the season was at his own admission a failure (5-0 down after 50 minutes!)

Notable Transfers 

Out:

  • Florian Grillitsch (Hoffenheim)
  • Clemens Fritz (Retired)
  • Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich)
  • Raphael Wolf (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
  • Santiago Garcia (Deportivo Toluca)
  • Felix Wiedwald (Leeds United)
  • Claudio Pizarro (?)
  • Melvyn Lorenzen (ADO Den Haag)

In:

  • Ludwig Augustinsson (FC Copenhagen)
  • Jerome Gondorf (SV Darmstadt)
  • Jiri Pavlenka (Slavia Prague)
  • Yuning Zhang (West Bromwich Albion)

Strengths

Scoring goals. Despite the topsy-turvy season Werder ended up as the Bundesliga’s fifth highest scorers hitting the back of the opposition net 61 times. Alexander Nouri’s men were no slouches at creating chances and in Max Kruse they have a striker who is rediscovering his best form- remember he was close to being in the 2014 World Cup squad for Brazil. The other attacking members of the team all chipped in with important figures. It is safe to say you won’t be witnessing too many goalless draws in matches involving the Werderaner.

Weaknesses

Conceding goals. Whereas Werder are up in the top five scorers in the league, they ended the season with the worst defensive record in the entire Bundesliga conceding 64 goals in their 34 games (an average of 1.88 per game). Bottom of the table Darmstadt conceded one fewer showing exactly where Werder’s Achilles heel lies. The three-man defense and the goalkeeper were exposed far too often and the upcoming season will have to see an improvement in this area if history is not to repeat itself.

Frank Baumann had already identified the center of defense as a priority in the summer transfer window but it remains to be seen whether the club can attract the caliber of player needed to solve a dire problem.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

The start to the season will tell us a lot about Werder. The Grün-Weißen open with an away trip to Hoffenheim before facing champions Bayern in their first home game. Hertha Berlin, Schalke and Wolfsburg follow. Last season Werder opened with four losses last season- something that they’ll be desperate to avoid.

Verdict

7th place. Competition for the European places is going to be fiercer than ever this season and realistically there could be twelve or more clubs vying for those spots. Surely the defense will improve, but whether it is to such an extent that Werder are genuine contenders for a top six berth is unclear.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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