Belief in Bremen: Florian Kohfeldt’s Impact

Florian Kohfeldt: a name that not many outside of Bremen knew before October 2017. Having been at Werder Bremen since 2001, the 35-year-old has spent roughly half his life at the club.

From U21 goalkeeper to first-team trainer

Seventeen years ago, Kohfeldt began his Grün-Weiss career as a goalkepeer for Werder’s U21 team. In 2006, while still playing for Werder Bremen III, he took up his first coaching role as he became co-trainer of Bremen’s U14 side. One year year later, he found himself working as co-trainer of the U16 team. In 2009, Kohfeldt decided that it was time to retire from playing football. Thomas Wolter, the current youth academy director and one of Werder Bremen’s youth trainers at the time, says that Kohfeldt realized after only two or three training sessions that he did not have a future in professional football.

Ready for a new challenge, Florian Kohfeldt enrolled at the University of Bremen and began studying sports and health sciences. While attending university, he continued to play a role in Werder’s youth ranks. As Viktor Skripnik took over as trainer of Bremen’s first team in 2014, he appointed Kohfeldt as his assistant trainer. By the time Skripnik’s time at Werder Bremen came to an end, Kohfeldt had assisted him in various levels of youth and professional football in a total of 193 games.

After Kohfeldt’s longtime mentor was dismissed by the club in October 2016, Alexander Nouri was promoted from U23 trainer to Bundesliga trainer for the remainder of the season. As a result of Nouri’s jump from Werder Bremen II to the first team, Kohfeldt was given the opportunity to take over as trainer of Werder’s second team. Nouri impressed in his first season and was promoted from interim to permanent status, but he could not replicate the same success in the 2017/18 season. After Werder failed to win any of their first 10 games (5 draws, 5 losses), Nouri was dismissed and Bremen once again chose to make an internal appointment. This time, the club promoted Kohfeldt from trainer of Werder Bremen II to trainer of the historic Bundesliga side.

Kohfeldt’s career track as a Werder Bremen trainer is as follows:

08/2006 – 11/2006: U14 (Assistant trainer)
06/2007 – 06/2010: U16 (Assistant trainer)
06/2010 – 06/2013: U17 (Assistant trainer)
06/2013 – 12/2013: U16 (Head trainer)
01/2014 – 06/2014: U23 (Assistant trainer)
06/2014 – 10/2014: U15 (Head trainer)
10/2014 – 09/2016: Werder Bremen (Assistant trainer)
09/2016 – 11/2017: U23 (Head trainer)
11/2017 – Present: Werder Bremen (Head trainer)

More than just stabilization

Often, interim trainers are hired primarily to patch the holes of a sinking ship. Florian Kohfeldt has done much more than that, though.  By winning three of his first five games in charge, Kohfeldt collected more points (9) in five games than Nouri (5) did in 10. Included in this stretch was an impressive win in Dortmund, Bremen’s first in 10 years. Scoring just one goal and collecting just one point in five games, Bremen’s home form under Nouri was atrocious.

The Weserstadion has become a fortress under Kohfeldt. Bremen are yet to lose a home game since the 35-year-old took over (6 wins, 3 draws). After ten matchdays, die Grün-Weissen were on the 17th place, ahead of only winless Köln. Nineteen games later, Werder Bremen are on the 12th place and have climbed the table enough to turn early season relegation concerns into nothing more than a distant memory. Between matchdays 11 and 29, only two Bundesliga clubs collected more points than Bremen’s 31: Bayern München (49), Schalke (35), and Bayer Leverkusen (33).

Not only have Werder’s results improved, but their performances have, too. Using expected goals, a metric that measures the likelihood of scoring chances being converted into goals, it is possible to analyze the most crucial aspect of Bremen’s performances: are they creating more and better scoring chances than their opponents? In order to analyze Kohfeldt’s impact, it is most sensible to compare Werder’s performances under him to the same opponents Werder faced with Nouri in the first 10 games of the season.

Werder Bremen’s expected goals for (xG) and expected goals against (xGA) against the same ten opponents under both Nouri and Kohfeldt.

In six of Werder’s 10 games under Nouri, the chances they created resulted in the expectation of scoring less than one goal. Kohfeldt has clearly been able to get more out of his attacking players. In 7 of 10 games, Kohfeldt’s side were expected to score more than once and on three occasions they were expected to score at least twice. Die Grün-Weissen were expected to score 0.57 more goals per game under Kohfeldt than under Nouri. Similarly, Werder were expected to concede 0.14 fewer goals per game under Kohfeldt. This combination of more expected goals for and less expected goals against undoubtedly proves that Kohfeld puts Werder Bremen in a much better position to win. That much is proven by the results. Under Nouri, Werder’s opponents were expected to outscore them by 0.34 goals per game. Under Kohfeldt, though, Werder are expected to outscore their opponents by a margin of 0.37 goals per game. This difference in expected goals margin is eye-opening. The improvements that Florian Kohfeldt has made to both Werder’s attack and defense have resulted in Bremen’s expected goals margin increasing by an astonishing 0.71 goals per game.

Kohfeldt’s keys to success

Tactics

Florian Kohfeldt is an intelligent and adaptable trainer. His frequent formation changes show that Kohfeldt studies the tactics of opposing managers and will not allow his Werder squad to become accustomed to any one formation after a series of positive results. Since matchday 11, Kohfeldt has employed four different formations. The formation that has worked best for Florian Kohfeldt’s Werder is the offensive 4-3-3. Kohfeldt has opted to use this formation in 10 of 19 matches, from which Werder have taken 22 out of a possible 30 points (7 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses).  

Florian Kohfeldt and Werder Bremen’s most recent use of the offensive 4-3-3 (a 2-1 win against Eintracht Frankfurt).

How exactly are Werder earning an outstanding 2.2 points per game using this formation? The versatility of many of the players at Kohfeldt’s disposal plays a large role in this formation working so well for Bremen. Up front, Zlatko Junuzovic, Max Kruse, and Ishak Belfodil are all capable of playing in the middle or on the wing. Over the course of a game, it is typical to see Belfodil and Kruse swap positions multiple times. Kohfeldt encourages rotational movement not just up front, but also in the midfield. Given that Thomas Delaney and Maximilian Eggestein function well in both attacking and defensive midfield roles, they are vital to Kohfeldt’s system. Often, they push farther up the field and get into wide positions, with two of the front three drifting into more central positions to maintain balance. When Delaney and Eggestein are nearer to the center of the pitch, pacey fullbacks Ludwig Augustinsson and Theodor Gebre Selassie are usually seen making deep overlapping runs on the wings. Belfodil’s goal (74’) for Bremen in the 2-1 loss to Hannover on matchday 29 is a clear example of the effectiveness of their rotational movement. Belfodil, who started the game on the right wing, took up a center forward position and played as a target man when Werder were down by two goals and in need of a response. Delaney and Eggestein both advanced further up the pitch, with Kruse and Junuzovic playing centrally so as not to allow for a gap in the middle of the pitch. With Junuzovic in a central position, Hannover central defender Salif Sané had to keep a relatively close proximity to the Bremen winger, which allowed space for Delaney to play a low cross into a dangerous area.

Communication

By watching Florian Kohfeldt in the technical area during a Werder Bremen game, it is clear that he is in near-constant communication with his players.

After Zlatko Junuzovic scored the opening goal (28′) against Eintracht Frankfurt on matchday 28, Kohfeldt called midfielder Maximilian Eggestein over to the technical area instead of allowing him to run up the pitch to celebrate with his teammates. While some trainers may overlook a seemingly inconsequential tactical miss, the Bremen trainer felt the need to clarify his instructions for Eggestein.

Having first worked with Kohfeldt at the U17 level in 2011, Eggestein says, “Regardless of what team he [Kohfeldt] is training, he has very clear ideas about football. He is very communicative about that.”

The Werder Bremen trainer develops relationships with his team not just as footballers, but as people. Thomas Wolter recalls Kohfeldt taking an interest in his youth players’ studies and says, “When a player had problems in school, he helped him. Florian is particularly good in mathematics.” Kohfeldt’s interest in his players as individuals has certainly led to the trainer being well-liked around the club. In response to a question about how the U23 team is holding up after Kohfeldt’s departure, captain Rafael Kazior said, “Florian has a phenomenal understanding of people. I can only tip my hat to him.”

On April 3rd, Florian Kohfeldt put pen to paper on a contract that will see him remain at the Weserstadion until 2021. Although it is too late for Werder Bremen to make a push for European qualification, Kohfeldt will be looking to instill further confidence in his team by finishing the season on a high note. 

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Zach Townsend

Zach Townsend is a freelance writer covering the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga from the United States. He follows and writes about German football all the way from the Schwarzwald-Stadion up to the Holstein-Stadion. You can find him on Twitter at @fussballerisch.

2 Comments

  1. @Henry: Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you pointing out my typing error in regard to Skripnik’s departure, as well as the midfield positioning of Delaney and Eggestein in my formation. Accuracy is very important to me, so I have made those two small edits. As for the expected goal (xG) numbers, here is the link to the SCF-SVW match: https://understat.com/match/8459. Like you said, Freiburg did very little in open play (as did Werder), but the xG of a penalty kick is 0.76. I think you may be forgetting that Werder actually conceded two penalties in that match. Janik Haberer took the second penalty very late in the match, but did not convert it (it was strange that Petersen did not step up to the spot again). Those two penalty kicks alone amount to an xG of 1.52. If you look at Freiburg’s shot chart, it is not surprising that their chances in open play amount to a measly xG of 0.28.

    I watch Bremen consistently and definitely plan to do a follow-up. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. Interesting to read and in my opinion in many parts not that far from what happens.
    Still few details to put a ? on.
    As somebody who studied stats and works a lot with them, we d need way more info about the ratios you write about.
    For example I watched the full game in Freiburg and without the very stupid penalty(typical forward action
    in the own box), this would be a zero-zero game. The numbers for that game are 0.35 for Bremen and 1.80 for Freiburg, who were not doing anything for the game and played similar harmless as they did all 2. part of this Bundesliga season. So these numbers I d love to see in detail how you got them.
    Eggestein and Delaney are placed on the “wrong” wing of the pitch. Truly the players change positions quite a lot in the idea of Kohfeldt s football, but Delaney pays regularly on the left(left footer) and Eggestein on the right(right footer).
    Just a detail but Skripnik was fired in 2016, not 2017.
    Will be interesting to follow how the story continues and to see how the numbers you use will be next season and how that might show up in the table.

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