Jiří Pavlenka, the Man Trying to Keep Werder Bremen Afloat

As seems to have become the norm in recent years, the season has not started well for SV Werder Bremen. Die Grün-Weißen grabbed their first three points of the season on match day 12 with an emphatic 4-0 win against Hannover 96, but this surprise result cannot cover up the many cracks that have appeared during their dreadful start to the season. Over their first 11 Bundesliga games, Werder amassed a measly five points, five draws and six defeats leaving them in 17th position. The wretched start has seen coach Alexander Nouri, who did so well last term to guide Werder from the relegation zone to 8th place, relieved of his duties and replaced by Florian Kohfeldt.

There are a few factors that have contributed to Werder’s poor form such as injuries, conservative tactics and poor individual performances. But the performances and attitude of one player cannot be questioned what so ever. Goalkeeper Jiří Pavlenka has been in outstanding form this season, and it is down to him that Bremen still find themselves not all too far from safety.

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Werder acquired the services of Pavlenka from Slavia Prague in the summer. Paying a modest €3 million for the 25-year-old Czech international, Sporting Director Frank Baumann and Pavlenka’s compatriot Jaroslav Drobný were able to persuade him to make the move to the Weserstadion. With the departure of the somewhat unreliable Felix Wiedwald, leaving Werder with an ageing Drobný as their only senior goalkeeper, Pavlenka was brought in not only as a quick fix but also as a long-term solution.

At 25 years of age Pavlenka is still a few years off the peak of his career, although he still has a wealth of experience. With 103 top flight appearances for both Baník Ostrava and Slavia Prague in the Czech Liga, Pavlenka also made four appearances in last season’s Europa League and has four caps for the Czech Republic. Such experience and natural ability has given Bremen perhaps their only consistent performer so far this season.

Between the Bremen sticks, Pavlenka has been superb. Although his pass completion rate of 54% is decidedly average (this has probably been affected by Werder’s long ball tactics) his shot stopping ability and dominance in his penalty area have been second to none. Evidence of this is Jiri’s superb statistics. Pavlenka saved 77% of the shots he faced during match days 1-11 by making 47 saves, both Bundesliga bests this season. Such a high save percentage has been matched only by Augsburg’s Marwin Hitz, although he has faced fewer shots and made 10 fewer saves. Pavlenka has also completed 40 of 45 interception attempts (e.g. catching crosses of playing sweeper keeper) proving that he is a safe pair of hands.

What perhaps is the best indicator of Pavlenka’s impact is the drastic reduction in the number of goals that Werder concede. Although goals have been hard to come by (7 in the first 12 games) Werder have been defensively resolute, conceding only 14 times. Only Frankfurt, Schalke and Bayern have conceded less goals thus far. This time last year the Green-Whites had conceded a whopping 31 league goals, the leakiest defence in the Bundesliga.

Pavlenka has put in some standout performances this term, most noticeably in the surprise 1-0 win against Hoffenheim in the DFB Pokal and in the 0-0 draw with fellow strugglers Köln. In the league he has kept 4 clean sheets to earn Werder some valuable points. The reduction in goals conceded, coupled with Pavlenka’s solid displays, indicates that the swapping out of Wiedwald for the Czech has proved dividends.

If Bremen are to avoid only their second ever relegation from the top flight this year, they will need to improve offensively. But they can do so safe in the knowledge that at the other end of the pitch, Jiri Pavlenka and his tightly organised defence will be making Werder a tough team to beat.

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Alex Brotherton

Alex is a 20 year old aspiring football writer from Manchester UK, currently on a gap year. He intends to study Journalism at uni starting 2018. He was drawn to German football because of the competitiveness of the league, the quality players and the immense stadium atmospheres. He has supported Manchester City since 2004 but adopted Werder Bremen as his German team a few years ago. Alex enjoys writing about, talking about, watching and playing football, and also is a big American football fan. He has a passion for travel, photography and experiencing different cultures, is a keen runner and a fan of Bruce Springsteen Follow Alex on Twitter @alex_brotherton

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