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11.03.2023Bundesliga

Our next opponents: A strike duo bringing joy to Werder

Werder Bremen and Bayer 04, who meet in the Hanseatic city on Sunday 12 March (kick-off: 17.30 CET), started the season with very different targets. However, the two clubs are just one point apart after 23 matchdays. That does not just demonstrate the quality of the promoted team from North Germany. In addition to the top goalscorer in the league, the Green and Whites squad has several other interesting players as the lowdown on our next opponents shows.
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Position

There was great frustration in the Werder camp last weekend after the 2-1 defeat away to FC Augsburg. The defeat being completely avoidable was the prevailing view for the Green and Whites. "We clearly beat ourselves," said captain Marco Friedl. Coach Ole Werner raised statistics as proof of this statement and they all favoured Werder Bremen: 22 to 9 shots on goal, 81% pass completion, 62% possession – but what use is that if the result is not right in the end. Two things particularly stand out in the error analysis: "Too many chances were squandered" (Mitchell Weiser) and "we weren’t alert enough in crucial situations" (Niklas Schmidt). In reference to the latter: Werder were not on their toes in the first minutes in both halves. They were first caught out by a long ball that Augsburg player Beljo converted to make it 1-0 (5') and Maier caught Bremen cold just after the restart with FCA’s second goal at 2-1 (46'). Jens Stage did pull a goal back on 16 minutes. In spite of all their domination, Werder Bremen were unable to find the back of the net again.

Everybody admitted it was an annoying defeat, "but not one that will put as off course," as Ole Werner declared. Why should it? Werder Bremen are enjoying a very respectable season as a newly promoted club. They beat VfL Bochum 3-0 at home a week before the Augsburg game. Werder have again and again been on the verge of a European spot. But most importantly: The Green and Whites have a comfortable eleven-point lead over the drop zone. They are just one point behind Bayer 04 with the two side sharing the points in a 1-1 draw in the Hinrunde.

Personnel

Somebody has been missing from the defence in every game over the past five weeks. As the two regular central defenders Niklas Stark and Milos Veljkovic missed the Augsburg game through illness, Christian Groß moved into the back three from a holding midfield position. It appears likely that Ole Werner will have all his central defenders available again for the match against the Werkself. However, Groß and captain Marco Friedl plus midfielder Romano Schmidt have missed training this week due to illness. So it is possible that the coach may have to reorganise his defence again on Sunday. "It's clear that this is not particularly helpful in terms of organisation and build-up play," said Werner. But Niklas Stark has again taken part in training.

The former Werkself player Mitchell Weiser may return to the starting line-up on Sunday. The 28-year-old, who wore the Werkself shirt from 2018 to 2021 (75 appearances), was sidelined for two weeks due to an ankle injury but he came on as a sub against Augsburg after an hour. Weiser is having an impressive season (see performers) and he recently sprung a surprise with his statement that he can imagine playing for Algeria in future if he is invited. The connection to Algeria comes through his mother's side of the family. But now the Germany youth player is looking forward to the reunion with his former Werkself teammates on Sunday. "Beyond that, we want to win the game and I'm confident that will happen," said Weiser.

His Bremen teammate on the left flank is Anthony Jung who stood out in the 3-0 win against Bochum with two assists. Leonardo Bittencourt, who recently stood in for Weiser on the right, may return to central midfield against Bayer 04. Regular starters also includes the Dane Jens Stage who was the Bremen marquee transfer in the summer. In holding midfield, the Bremen-born Christian Groß – if he is fit for Sunday – as well as the Bulgarian Ilia Gruev are options with both being amongst the most accurate passing midfielders in the league.

The front duo of Niclas Füllkrug/Marvin Ducksch has been set from the start of the season. Werder Bremen will have to manage without defender Felix Agu (knee) and midfielder Jean-Manuel Mbom (calf problem) on Sunday.

Performers

Werder Bremen currently have the top goalscorer in their ranks in Niclas Füllkrug. The Germany international has scored 14 goals so far this term. Together with his teammate Marvin Ducksch (five goals), Füllkrug forms one of the most successful strike duos in the Bundesliga. More than half of Werder's goals (35) have been scored by the pair. Werder untypically missed a lot of good chances in the 2-1 defeat at Augsburg. They are one of the most effective teams in the league with good returns in terms of shooting accuracy and converting chances. "We are a team that creates a lot of situations in the penalty area and attempts less often from situations where there is little prospect of success," explained coach Ole Werner, "when we get into the danger areas we have players who have quality there."

Bremen are particularly good in the air – Werder have the second most headed goals in the league with nine so far. A lot goes down the right for the North German team with Mitchell Weiser working the flank. The 28-year-old is one of the best providers in the league with eight assists so far. And another stat tops that: No team has scored more goals than Werder Bremen in the final 15 minutes.

Problems

Looking at the number of goals conceded reveals the main issue: The Werder Bremen keeper Jiri Pavlenka has had to pick the ball out of his net 43 times. Only VfL Bochum (56) and Hertha Berlin (44) have let in more goals. Bremen are particularly susceptible to counter-attacks and have already conceded seven goals in this way – the second worst return in the league. The fact that everything is not well in the defence is also due to the personal situation (see above).

It has recently also been problematic that the team is perhaps relying a little too much on the Füllkrug/Ducksch duo. Füllkrug not only highlighted the lack of "courage and willingness to take risks by the team" but also "that other people have to accept more responsibility when space opens up in front of them."

Prediction

The newcomers are on course to achieve their season target of staying up in good time with 30 points from 23 games so far. Understandably, there is a good mood at the Green and Whites given the success of the season to date. That has also not been spoiled by the theft of the Werder team funds from the dressing room. It is understandable that many a Werder fan was dreaming of European competition given the gap to sixth place being just four points before the winter break. That has now extended to nine points. So they may well have to forget that wish for the moment.

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