Jens Keller lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1 with Ciprian Marica leading the line. Julian Draxler, Michel Bastos and Jefferson Farfán played behind Ciprian Marica, while Marco Höger and Roman Neustädter played in the midfield.
Thomas Schaaf opted for a 4-3-3, which saw Nils Petersen, Elijero Elia and Marko Arnautovic upfront. Kevin De Bruyne, Aaron Hunt and Tom Trybull formed the midfield three.
Werder Bremen were looking to snap their six game winless streak, and they started the match in fine fashion. Schaaf’s men pressed high up the pitch and forced Schalke’s centrebacks Benedikt Höwedes and Joël Matip to play passes from the back. By applying pressure on the Schalke fullbacks, who were looking to get the balls to their wingers, Matip and Höwedes had no passing options available due to Bremen’s pressing, which often forced them to concede possession.
The key man in the first half was De Bruyne; the Belgian midfielder played slightly ahead of Hunt and Trybull and he was the liveliest player on the pitch. Höger and Neustädter received several balls in the first half, but De Bruyne dropped deeper to create 3v2 situations in the midfield, and Bremen were able to quickly retain possession. De Bruyne found space in between the lines to receive the ball and link up play with the wingers, although the Belgian was unable to give Schaaf’s men the lead thanks to several fine saves from Timo Hildebrand.
Draxler stayed further up the pitch, closer to Marica, which led to Bremen’s midfield dominance in the first half. Without service from the full backs or wingers, Keller’s men were forced to play long balls, and Bremen’s defenders comfortably dealt with them. When they did receive the ball in key areas, they were unable to find an opening in the Bremen backline.
Keller made one change at half-time, bringing on Raffael for Michel Bastos. The former Hertha Berlin played behind Marica while Draxler was pushed over to the left. The change was made to provide Schalke with more attacking impetus going forward, which they severely lacked in the first half. Bastos was having a difficult time getting past Werder’s Greek defender Sokratis, so the change wasn’t much of a surprise.
In terms of pressing it was a tale of two halves, as Keller’s men pushed higher up the pitch and worked hard to close down the ball carrier. Höger and Neustädter got closer to Hunt and Trybull, who were allowed to spread balls across the pitch with ease. De Bruyne was unable to find spaces in between the lines and therefore Schaaf’s men struggled to keep the ball.
Raffael’s introduction also shook the match up. The Brazilian midfielder provided energy in the final third with his pressing and his darting runs off the ball. Farfan’s fantastic ball found the Brazilian, and although the initial pass didn’t lead to a goal, he worked hard to make sure the Bremen defence was unable to clear their lines which led to Draxler’s opener. His pressing forced Assani Lukimya to make a dreadful back pass and the Brazilian midfielder simply had to play a pass across goal for Marica to tap in.
Keller’s men sat back and played on the counter for the final 20 minutes and they were unfortunate not to increase their lead. Farfán and Raffael continued to attack the spaces that Werder were leaving but were unable to find the back of the net.
All in all, it was a game of two halves that saw De Bruyne find gaps in between the lines and help overload the midfield in the first whilst Keller’s half-time tinkering, along with efficient pressing, saw his side dominate the second half. The result sees Schalke build a three point gap for the final Champions League spot, while Werder Bremen extend their winless streak to seven games.
Image courtesy of dpa