Werder Bremen – Blindly Diving into the Abyss

Attractive football, loads of goals, and a team fighting for a European berth . . .

Frank Baumann and Florian Kohfeldt thought they had managed to create a side that could do all of those things. However, as the season has progressed, it turns out that the “Green-and-Whites” are in deep trouble. Defeats to opponents assumed to be weaker, injury after injury to key players, and the most-leaky defense in the league have contributed to Werder’s demise so far. Last time Werder’s defense was this bad, they were relegated at the end of the season.

Alarm Bells Not Ringing

That fact alone should send some serious shock waves through the dressing room at the Weserstadion. However, after the match against Hoffenheim, team captain Davy Klaassen didn’t seem to be too concerned. The win against Düsseldorf had shown what the team was capable of, the captain told the press, adding that the 3-0 defeat against Hoffenheim was a freak result. Klaasen went as far as stating that the game played more like a draw than a heavy loss to his team.

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Whilst it is true that Hoffenheim simply laid back, absorbed pressure, and waited for Werder’s defense to make mistakes, one wonders what game Klaassen was referring to. Werder’s attack didn’t create a single clear-cut chance against an opponent that had one of its weaker days. All Hoffenheim really had to do was to wait for the Werder defense to make one of its school boy errors. Three times the men in green and white obliged, gifting their opponents from Sinsheim one of their easiest away wins of the season.

All things considered, it is strange to see that the entire club seems to be staunchly caught in the belief that their squad is simply too good to get relegated. Werder coach Florian Kohfeldt, even after this weekend’s dreadful defeat, spoke about a huge party after the club manages to avoid relegation.

If one takes a closer look at the team so far, it seems clear that Werder seem more and more like a prime relegation candidate.

Can Kevin Vogt shore up the defense?

Given that Werder have conceded the most goals of all sides in Europe’s top five leagues over the last decade, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the Green-and-Whites are once against struggling at the back. It all started early with almost the entire backline being sidelined by injury. U23 captain Christian Gross needed to be brought into the senior squad in order to allow Florian Kohfeldt to have enough defenders available.

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However, since the dreadful start to the season, Werder’s injury woes have gotten slightly better. As of now, there are two teams (Fortuna Düsseldorf and Borussia Mönchengladbach) that have had their players sidelined more frequently than the boys from the Weserstadion.

Over the winter, Frank Baumann managed to secure the services of former Hoffenheim captain Kevin Vogt. The 28-year-old has given Florian Kohfeldt another much-needed option at the back. Vogt is quick, good with the ball at his feet, and great in the air.

Given his ability to create attacks from the back, Kohfeldt switching to a back three with Vogt playing in the middle seemed like a logical choice.

However, Kevin Vogt’s quality won’t be enough to save Werder from relegation if the team doesn’t stop making silly mistakes further up the pitch.

A Midfield without Ideas

Given that Philipp Bargfrede is out with injuries most of the time, the role of holding midfielder often falls to Nuri Sahin. The former BVB man is a fine player at his best, but these days he simply can’t keep up with the pace of a Bundesliga match over 90 minutes. Furthermore, the 31-year-old is not necessarily great at breaking-up opposition attacks, which has left the Green-and-Whites vulnerable at the back.

Whilst the transition from attack to defense must have given Florian Kohfeldt headaches strong enough to qualify for sick leave for the rest of the year, another dimension of Werder’s miserable form has been the fact that the club’s midfield hasn’t found its creative spark all season. Players like Davy Klaassen and Maxi Eggestein have been out-of-form all season, but they’ve been shoe-ins for Werder’s starting line-up, simply because their coach doesn’t have any other options.

In their last six matches, Werder have scored two goals, whilst conceding a whopping 17. Among those matches were narrow 1-0 defeats against Paderborn and Köln and a heavy 5-0 home defeat to Mainz 05.

The One-Man Attack

Milot Rashica is the last attacker to score a goal for Florian Kohfeldt’s side. The Kosovo international has 7 goals and 3 assists to his name, meaning that he has had a role in ten of Weder’s 24 goals (roughly 42% of the team total). Given that Werder has managed just a single measly goal since Rashica’s last goal back on matchday 15, speaks volumes about how important the 23-year-old’s goals have been to the Green-and-Whites.

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So far this season, there hasn’t been anybody else stepping up their game. It seems like age has finally caught up with Claudio Pizarro, whilst Josh Sargent tries his best without really getting at the end of too many chances. Japanese forward Yuya Osako was said to be the best candidate to take over the Max Kruse role at the start of the season. After 19 matchdays, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t delivered on that promise.

Key Injuries and Botched Transfers

Things look dreadful at the moment, if one considers all things mentioned above. Whilst the players certainly have to take their fair share of the blame, fingers should also be pointed at their higher-ups. Sporting director Frank Baumann took several gambles on the transfer market last summer, and it is fair to say that they didn’t pay off.

Firstly, there was the signing of Niclas Füllkrug. There’s little doubt that the striker potentially could have helped Werder Bremen to fill the gap after Max Kruse, but his sick file was long and riddled with serious injuries. His ACL tear at the start of the season was a blow to the team, leaving Kohfeldt with fewer options in attack than he would have liked.

Add to that the signing of Ömer Toprak, another player with a long injury history. Considering the fact that the defender has spent most of his days injured, one does wonder if Frank Baumann should have done things differently last summer.

Besides taking too big a risk on injury-prone signings, the club itself is in dire need of self-examination given the squad’s injury troubles this season. Granted, Werder fields the oldest side in the league, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Werder’s players on average spent a whopping 37 days away from the pitch with injuries. By comparison, SC Paderborn’s players spent 13 days away from the pitch.

To make matters even worse, seven players have been injured during their rehab phase this season. How on earth players who are in a phase of slow build-up can be injured at such an alarming rate is beyond most medical experts. It leaves the club with a lot of questions to answer.

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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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