Our next opponents: Bremen hoping for Füllkrug

The opening home game of 2021 is here. The first visitors to the BayArena are Werder Bremen on Saturday 9 January (kick-off: 15.30 CET). The team from Bremen have not been doing well recently – but a returnee gives cause for hope.


The start of the New Year did not go to plan for Werder Bremen. The side from north Germany were unable to carry over the euphoria of the wins just before Christmas in last Saturday's 2-0 home defeat against Union Berlin. In the final league encounter of last year, Werder put an end to a four-game run of defeats with a 1-0 victory in Mainz and then went on to secure a convincing 3-0 win against second division Hannover 96 in the DFB Cup on the day before Christmas Eve. "It was a really bad performance and we deserved to lose," said coach Florian Kohfeldt after the game against Union. "We didn't do anything we wanted to do." Bremen thereby missed the chance to move away from the relegation zone and remain four points adrift from the play-off spot.

Werder equalled a curious Bundesliga record earlier in the season that had previously only been held by Bayer 04 for nearly 40 years. Bremen picked up five 1-1 draws in succession between matchdays four and eight. The only other time a team in the Bundesliga secured the same result as often on the bounce was the Werkself in the 1980/81 league campaign – also with 1-1 draws.


The biggest source of hope for Bremen came onto the pitch against Union on 76 minutes wearing the number 11 shirt: Niclas Füllkrug returned after two months out injured. And even though he was unable to affect the result: The expectations are high for the prolific central striker over the coming weeks and months. The 27-year-old scored four goals in the first five matches – although he came on as a substitute once and had to be taken off early in another match. But he is still the top scorer for Werder Bremen this term. And hopes are high that his return will have a similar effect as last season when he was injured after an impressive start and then played a decisive role at the end of the campaign in securing top-flight status. The 40 minutes against Union was, according to coach Kohfeldt, "the maximum" after his long spell on the sidelines. There are slight hopes for a start for Füllkrug against the Werkself in the Green and White camp even though the full 90 minutes are probably not realistic.

The situation is somewhat better with his fellow striker Davie Selke who managed to play 45 minutes against Union Berlin and is now also a candidate for a start up front against the Werkself. "I'm happy that they're back because they give us another option," said Kohfeldt about the return of his two key strikers. That is also important as Bremen have recently scarcely had an alternative to the young American Josh Sargent up front. Milot Rashica will also miss the game against the Werkself due to a thigh injury and the talented youth player Nick Woltemade was recently sidelined by a viral infection.


This Saturday at the BayArena, the two teams with the best conversion rate of clear-cut chances in the Bundesliga meet each other. The Werkself lead this category with 63 per cent and Werder Bremen are second in the league wide ranking with 53 per cent. In spite of the big personnel issues in attack, Werder have managed to be effective – which is also due to the strength in depth up front. In addition to Füllkrug, Selke, Rashica and Sargent, winger Leonardo Bittencourt and midfielder Maximilian Eggestein have proved to be good at finishing. And when a lot of players are sidelined than an unknown quantity can step into the breach: The 19-year-old Eren Dinkci only needed five minutes after coming on in his first Bundesliga match at Mainz to score his first Bundesliga goal and that proved to be a late winner – a reflection of Bremen efficiency.


That strength also exposes a weakness at the same time. In spite of the good conversion rate, Werder have only scored 16 goals – too few given their strong attacking line-up. The reason: Werder Bremen get into dangerous positions far too infrequently to be able to make use of their strength in finishing. In the Bundesliga, only Schalke and Bielefeld have created few clear-cut chances and Bremen also had limited opportunities against Union Berlin. The departure of the creative midfielder Davy Klaassen to Ajax in the summer has left a large gap in the Bremen midfield.


Nobody can really deny that the team has enough quality to stay in the top flight. Werder Bremen did draw 1-1 away to FC Bayern a month and a half ago and had good chances to win the game. It is now all about avoiding the tension of last spring when they only survived via the play-offs. "The team proved they are up for it when it gets much tighter and more critical," sporting director Frank Baumann recently explained.

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