When security forces at the Weserstadion opened the gates, there was no holding back from the fans’ side. They stormed onto the pitch and celebrated the fact that Werder is staying in the Bundesliga for another season. Even the Green-and-Whites’ coach Viktor Skripnik had shown an uncharacteristic outburst of emotion on the sideline as his squad managed to escape the relegation play-off through their deserved 1-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
There’s little doubt that the fans deserve a lot of the credit for Werder’s unlikely turnaround in the last five matches of the season. After Bremen’s dire 2-1 loss to Augsburg, the fans booed the team and officials off the pitch, and it seemed like most fans were in favour of sacking Viktor Skripnik. However, when Thomas Eichin decided to keep the Ukrainian around, the fans didn’t question the decision nor continue to boo the officials, rather they got even more behind their team. The Green-and-White “Wonderwall” was created, which saw the team bus being greeted by thousands of fans as team neared the stadium. After the game against Wolfsburg, Zlatko Junozovic remarked that “for fans like these, we are more than happy to work as hard as we possibly could.”
Three wins and a draw in the last five matches show that the players have done just that. Furthermore, it also proves Thomas Eichin was right when he decided to keep Skripnik. However, it is very clear that nobody at the Weserstadion wants to undergo a similar ordeal next season. In all likelihood, the post-season analysis is going to question everything, including the coach’s position at the club.
Arguments for Skripnik Staying
Even though the Ukrainian has been under heavy fire for parts of the season, there are several points speaking in his favour. He has always been calm and collected and he delivered on the task to keep Werder in the Bundesliga after the team had screwed up the Hinrunde. It’s easy to forget, but Werder had managed to gather a measly 15 points in the first half of the season. After the winter break, Claudio Pizarro got back to his old form and scored twelve goals, and Werder’s win record improved. Their 23 points gathered make them the eighth best side in the Rückrunde. As a matter of fact, Werder are only three points away from Borussia Mönchengladbach who occupy fourth in that table.
Six wins and five draws from 17 matches is good for a team that was among the favourites to go down after the Hinrunde. Furthermore, the team scored an incredible 33 goals. Only Dortmund (35 goals) and Bayern(34 goals) managed more goals in the Rückrunde.
Furthermore, Werder’s six losses can be seen under the positive aspect that the team didn’t stand a chance in two of those six matches (5-1 to Gladbach and 5-0 to Bayern). Away matches against Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and against Bayern München in the cup showed that Werder actually can have a fighting chance against the big boys of the league. Even though Skripnik has been under a lot of heavy criticism for long stretches of the season, that in itself should be a massive point in his favour.
Another positive aspect of the last half of the season is the fact that Werder and Skripnik managed to turn the dire home form into a decent one. In the Hinrunde, Werder only won one game at the Weserstadion. In the Rückrunde, the Green-and-Whites lost only once at their home ground. Being 13th in the home table isn’t a massive achievement, but it’s a great improvement considering Werder were at the bottom of that stat midway through the season.
Skripnik had asked Thomas Eichin to strengthen the squad during the winter break. With the improvements made and with Claudio Pizarro and Clemens Fritz stepping-up big time, the Green-and-Whites managed to escape the mess they were in after the Hinrunde. Granted, it took them the entire Rückrunde, but it’s been a long time since so many good teams with point totals far beyond 30 were involved in the battle against relegation. Keep in mind that HSV managed to secure the relegation playoff spot with just 27 points a couple years ago.
Probably the biggest point in Skripnik’s favour is the last five matches and the turnaround that happened after the home loss against Augsburg. Weinzierl’s team had been clever and managed to get two goals from three shots, whilst Werder had squandered a number of chances. It’s not strange that the fans wanted the coach gone after such a match, especially considering the situation in the table. However, when it was decided that Skripnik had to stay, the team showed a lot of mental strength getting themselves out of the mess. Additionally, the fitness level of the Green-and-Whites was rather impressive towards the tail end of the campaign.
The Case Against Skripnik
Taking a look at the entire season shows why there are many critics of the Ukrainian coach. The defence has been a mess the entire season, having conceded 65 goals and only keeping two clean sheets all season long. Given the quality of the back four and the midfielders at hand, that is simply far too much. Yes, Felix Wiedwald might not have had a flawless season, but to blame the high number of conceded goals only on the keeper would be unfair and, most of all, inaccurate.
Tactically speaking, Skripnik still has a lot to learn. Whenever he has been outsmarted by an opposing coach, he simply doesn’t seem to be able to come up with changes that could turn things around on the pitch. That has been a theme of the entire season at Werder. The substitutions made by the Ukrainian have at times been confusing; at worst, changes led to even further destabilisation of the team.
Werder conceded 17 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches. Only Frankfurt did worse, allowing 18 in the final quarter-hour. Even Stuttgart, the league’s worst defense by some margin, outperformed the Green-and-Whites in that stretch of matches.
Furthermore, Werder fell behind in a whopping 23 matches and managed to come back to win just one of them (3-1 over Schalke), managing a total of nine points from those matches. Even Hannover and Stuttgart took more points from matches in which they trailed this season. Skripnik’s tactics worked a treat in many matches, but when they haven’t, there’s been nothing to suggest that the Ukrainian coach knows how to turn matches around.
Another problematic area at the club seems to be that of player development. Skripnik himself admitted that Werder would have been relegated without the run of form Clemens Fritz and Claudio Pizarro enjoyed. Relying so heavily on two players well past the age of 35 is dangerous. A lot depends upon whether these two can manage to go through the next season without injury, in addition to staying in form. The fact that Skripnik hasn’t found a way to make his side work out properly without these two veterans definitely speaks against him.
All things considered, there should be enough evidence to suggest that Skripnik can keep his job, but it seems unlikely that officials at the Weserstadion will be as patient with the coach going forward. Another Hinrunde with 15 points taken and a place in the relegation zone is probably not going to be forgiven next time around. The fact that both RB Leipzig and SC Freiburg have a good chance of staying up next season puts additional pressure on the coach, as well.
However, should Werder manage to get their act together and impress sufficiently in the Hinrunde, the club might even go as far as extending the coach’s expiring contract in the first half of next season.