September 21, 2017

From Champions League to relegation battle? A preview of Werder Bremen’s season

A public feud between Klaus Allofs and Willy Lemke, an immediate exit from the Cup and bad results in pre-season friendlies have been the story of Werder’s pre-season. Should Werder’s fans be worried going into the season?

”Our goal is to reach the 6th place”, informed Klaus Allofs the German press. Not an uncommon goal for a team like Werder, considering that the team has played in the Champions League 7 times during the time Thomas Schaaf has spent at the club. However, nothing else seems to be normal at the Weserstadion this season.

A number of bad results in the pre-season friendlies, and Werder’s early exit from the cup are another reason for concern amongst the fans. Losing games to the likes of Heidenheim in the first round of the DFB Pokal and Danish side FC Midtylland didn’t exactly increase the fan’s confidence in the team. Allofs and Lemke airing their laundry publicly is a first during the 12 years he and Thomas Schaaf have spent at the club, and not a promising sign of what is to come (both Schaaf’s and Allofs’s contract run only until the end of the season).

The new signings

A number of established players left Werder after the end of last season. Amongst them former German international Torsten Frings, Dane Daniel Jensen and the versatile defender Petri Pasanen. Klaus Allofs was clear about that replacing those players, and rebuilding the team’s defense was his biggest priority in the transfer window.

Allofs chose to buy a number of young talents, Alexander Stevanovic (free transfer from Schalke) and Tom Trybull (from Hansa Rostock) who’ll most likely will be used in Werder’s U-23 team, giving youngsters like Florian Trinks and Lennart Thy the chance to move up to the Bundesliga squad. In addition to those talents Allofs managed to buy Mehmet Ekici for the proud sum of 5 million euros from Bayern Munich.

The defense was strengthened with former Nuremberg player and captain Andreas Wolf and Greek national team player Sokratis in central defense, while Schalke’s Lukas Schmitz has been brought in to give Werder more stability on the left back position.

The attack was only strengthened by the return of Markus Rosenberg, and considering his last seasons at Werder one has to say that the Swede doesn’t seem to be the cure for Werder’s offensive worries.

One thing that is for sure is that this isn’t the end of Werder’s transfer activities this year. Both Per Mertesacker and Tim Wiese have only one year left on their deal and it seems unlikely that either one of them will extend their contract at the club. Marko Marin is another candidate who could leave the club.  It has been rumored for months that Werder is willing to sell the left winger for the nice amount of 15 million euros.

Mehmet Ekici doesn't want to be compared to Mesut Özil, but the media has already started to call him "the new Özil".

Werder’s strong points

‘Attack is the best defense’ has been the motto which Bremen stuck to during the entire tenure of Thomas Schaaf. The midfield of the green and whites has been strengthened with Mehmet Ekici who is supposed to fill the void that Mesut Özil left when he went to Madrid. The plan is for Ekici to link up with Marin, Hunt and Borowski (when fit), while Phillip Bargfrede and Wesley are supposed to fight for the role of holding midfielder. Newcomers Tom Trybull and Aleksandar Ignjovski (likely to be signed in the near future) will certainly get a chance, but  they are most likely to be found on the bench at the beginning of the season.

Besides Werder’s midfield the team can also rely on their keeper, Tim Wiese. The German international has proven to be a valuable asset to the team during his time at Werder, and his stability is about the only thing that is more stable than an English tourist on Mallorca at the back.

Werder’s weak points

The northerners suffered last season from a defence that too often seemed non-existent.  The central defenders, mostly Mertesacker and Pasanen/Prödl were often caught out by quicker opponents, while former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre had a dreadful start to his career in Germany finding it difficult to adjust to the pace of the league and to the playing style of his new team. Clemens Fritz was probably amongst the most stable performers of last year’s Werder side, playing a decent attacking role from his right back position, while somewhat forgetting his defensive duties from time to time.

This year Werder has strengthened its defense with Lukas Schmitz, a new left back who most likely will give more stability and predictability to this position in Thomas Schaaf’s line up. Central defenders Sokratis and Wolf have also been signed by Klaus Allofs, giving Thomas Schaaf five central backs to choose from. Whether or not these new signings turn Werder into a defensive fortress remains to be seen, but considering the kind of football Schaaf likes to play it seems rather doubtful.

Werder are desperate for Claudio Pizarro to have a good season.

Another problem for the longest-serving Bundesliga coach is his dependency on the injury prone Claudio Pizarro. Last season proved again how valuable the striker is to Bremen, while the rest of the strikers(Arnautovic in particular) didn’t have a memorable season. At this point it has to be stated that Sandro Wagner played a good role for Werder in the second part of the season, mostly due to his ability to link up with Pizarro. Furthermore, Marko Arnautovic has finally begun to show some of his immense talent in some of the test matches, giving Werder’s fans the hope that the media will report on his goals and not his penchant for silicon breasts.

How will Werder’s team look?

Thomas Schaaf has sworn to a 4-1-2-1-2 formation(or a diamond-shaped 4-4-2 if you so prefer) for most of his time at Werder. Schaaf gives one of the strikers, or often both, defensive shores in order to help the midfielder of the team, effectively turning the formation into a 4-1-2-2-1. It is likely that Schaaf will stick to this concept this season as well, considering that it has been working for him for a number of seasons. It is, however, unclear which players he’ll use when the Bundesliga starts considering the fact that Bremen have signed a number of new players. The typical Bremen line up could then look something like this.

Wiese – Fritz, Mertesacker, Wolf/Sokratis, Schmitz – Bargfrede/Wesley – Hunt, Marin(Borowski could sneak in here) – Ekici – Wagner/Arnautovic, Pizarro

Prediction

How Werder will fare this season is rather difficult to predict. On paper the green and whites seem to have a decent squad. On the other hand the unrest and the poor results at the beginning of the season seem to have put a dent in the team’s confidence, and that might influence Werder’s start into the new season. Furthermore, many of the new players might need a couple of months to get into the swing of things, and to fully comprehend Schaaf’s way of playing football. In addition to that, one has to seriously doubt if players like Frings have been sufficiently replaced by Allofs. Not strengthening the attack and depending on old timer Pizarro (the Bundesliga all-time leader in goals scored by a non-German) could also prove fatal to Werder’s ambitions of reaching the Europa League. All in all, not a promising start to the season and we haven’t even had the first match day of the season yet.

If Werder catches another poor start to the season the team might actually be in the same mess it was last year, and fight against relegation. My pessimistic nature gives me reason to believe that Werder will struggle, and that the team will end up between the 10th and 14th spot in the Bundesliga this season.

What do you think? How will Werder fare this season? Leave a comment below.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-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 and on the @AufstiegPod.

5 Comments

  1. @Samuel: He looked promising last year. Borowski hasn’t been at his best in the pre season friendlies, so I think you are right about Trinks getting a few chances to start in Bundesliga matches this season.

    The other guy who could solve some of the problems Werder are having is Lennart Thy, but expecting him to solve the problems Werder have upfront is too big a ask for such a young player.

    @everybody else: thanks a lot for the nice comments, I really appreciate them!

  2. Enjoyed this thoroughly. I wish Bremen the best, but I have to put them at the top of my list of big clubs who might face relegation at the end of the season.

    Werder, thy name is Absteiger…

  3. Excellent season review, Niklas! You make some insightful and informed comments about the strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think the tumultous relations inside the clubhouse are as bad as they are at Wolfsburg, but like you I believe a mid-table, 8th to 10th place finish is reasonable.

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