Eight days, three matches, three wins, nine points, and one very happy set of fans. The ‘Englische Woche’ at the start of the Bundesliga Rückrunde has been a very satisfactory one for all those of a Grün-Weiß persuasion.
A walk along the banks of the Weser will be greeted with the first signs that winter is on its way out and spring is on the way as bulbs start to poke through and flowers start to bloom.
Inside the Weser Stadion on the banks of the river for which it was named, there are more than a few signs of the shoots of recovery that will replace the gloom of the Hinrunde with optimism.
Today’s 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen keeps Viktor Skripnik unbeaten at home since taking over from Robin Dutt. More importantly, he has overseen four successive league wins pushing Werder into the top half of the table.
At times during the latest win, it was difficult to identify the Champions League knock-out stage candidate from the one being talked about as potential relegation fodder a few weeks ago.
Entering the match without key goalscorer Franco di Santo, Davie Selke and makeshift replacement Fin Bartels united as the front two for the hosts. The importance of di Santo to Werder shouldn’t be underestimated, but in the opening thirty minutes, the north Germans hardly seemed to miss their talisman.
It took just seventeen minutes for the home side to open the scoring, with Selke putting the finishing touch on a fine passing move involving Clemens Fritz and Bartels.
With their tails up, Werder pushed on and could well have added a second when fullback Theodor Gebre Selassie’s header forced Bernd Leno into a fine save.
Not to be denied, Bremen eventually did double their advantage through a trademark Zlatko Junuzovic free kick at the half-hour mark. Just returned from suspension, the Austrian dispatched the dead ball with pinpoint accuracy into the top corner. Being awarded a free kick from certain positions and distance with Junuzovic in the side has virtually akin to most other sides being awarded a penalty, such is the deadly accuracy he possesses.
The post-goal refrain of the Proclaimers singing “I would walk 500 miles” booming from the PA system had the stadium jumping. My living room, too, was turned briefly into a corner of the Weser Stadion.
“Da lat da (Da lat da), da lat da (Da lat da), Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle uh da-da”
Party-poopers Bayer Leverkusen had to go and rain on the Werder parade two minutes before half-time as they pulled a goal back on a Hakan Canhaloglu goal after a series of action which was more than the scrambling Raphael Wolff was able to deter.
The goal handed the initiative to Leverkusen as the second half got underway. An injury to Alejandro Galvez didn’t help matters, but replacement Assani Lukimya filled in with aplomb.
While it was backs-against-the-wall at times, as the visitors pushed for the equalizer. Werder continually frustrated Leverkusen and their trainer Roger Schmidt, who was sent to the stands for over-zealous complaining to the fourth official (always a sign the game is going in your favour).
Werder held out for the win and now find themselves positioned so that Europa League placing currently looks more likely than a relegation dogfight.
What a difference a week makes.
Without disrespecting Hertha Berlin or Hoffenheim, this was the first real test of Werder’s 2015 resolve; if there were reasons to be cheerful following the first two Rückrunde wins, then this goes one step beyond that.
Special mentions must go to Jannik Vestergaard, who once again showed that he can be the man to shore up what was the league’s worst defence. Zlatko Junuzovic showed he is the go-to guy with his free kick ability, while Fin Bartels showed that he has the intelligence to play the Di Santo role if called upon. Philipp Bargfrede was always putting his foot in where it counted.
But if pushed, my man-of-the-match would go to Junuzovic. Though, every time he steps up to curl home one of his exquisite free kicks, his reputation grows and Werder’s ability to hold on to him beyond this season (sadly) decreases.
But let that be a worry for the summer.
Today, it is all about the win . . . and nine points from nine.