Werder Bremen – A Ship Going Astray

BremenThe last summer proved to be quite an active one for Klaus Allofs and Werder Bremen as they saw a host of big names leave the club. The losses of Claudio Pizarro, Marko Marin and Naldo were paving the way for a tough season ahead but Allofs’ brilliance also saw the squad strengthened with some highly promising players. Tough times lay ahead of Die Werderaner but a solid foundation for a bright decade was being set.

Starting the season against defending champions Borussia Dortmund was always going to be an uphill task of Thomas Schaaf’s Bremen. To the surprise of fans all over, Bremen pushed Dortmund to the wire, losing by a narrow one goal margin. Impressive showings from new signings, Kevin de Bruyne and Theodor Gebre Selassie, were more than just a glimmer of hope for all who had predicted a difficult twelve months.

For most of the Rückrunde Bremen rode a fairly calm sea. A couple of shoddy performances against then relegation sureties FC Augsburg and Greuther Fürth saw Schaaf’s sit just outside the European qualification zone. Thumping results against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hoffenheim were huge positives for Schaaf and what many were calling an uninspiring attack force.

The departures of Pizarro and Marin helped rejuvenate one of Germany’s lost talents, Aaron Hunt. At 26, Hunt couldn’t keep hoping to improve with time. All the hype that surrounded Bremen’s youngest ever scorer was being ridiculed. But with Marin leaving in the summer, a huge onus was placed on the shoulders of Hunt. With over 150 games to his name, it made most sense to see Hunt as the pivotal figure in an incredibly young attacking unit.

And Hunt hasn’t failed at all. First and foremost, Hunt has been moved into a central role where he has thrived. Often playing from a deeper position, Hunt has a lot more freedom and is by no means restricted to one wing like in earlier seasons. With the lack of an out and out striker, Hunt has taken it upon himself to hit the back of the net as often as possible. Hunt is just inches away from going past his season best of 9 goals and 6 assist with ten more games to go.

Another revelation for Bremen has been loan signing Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian attacker has grown by leaps and bounds under Schaaf’s tutelage. In fact some people see de Bruyne as the missing piece in Chelsea’s development for the future. Used both as a false 9 and as a supporting striker, de Bruyne has been the inspiration Bremen have looked for throughout this season. Possessing phenomenal skill and great vision, de Bruyne has made the entire Bremen faithful forget about the departures of Pizarro and Marin.

Other than these two, Bremen’s roster hasn’t impressed greatly. Eljero Elia, acquired from Juventus in the summer, has been a bit of a disaster down the left flank. Unable to put his Juventus days behind him, Elia is yet to score in the Bundesliga and has just 3 assists to his name. A lack of options at Schaaf’s disposal has seen Elia receive ample playing time but the Dutchman has failed to capitalize on this.

Unlike Elia, the Czech revelation Theodor Gebre Selassie started his career at the Weserstadion on a high. Scoring on debut against Dortmund and building on his mind boggling Euro 2012, Gebre Selassie looked set to light the league on fire. But things haven’t gone the way he would have wanted them to. Ever since Bremen hosted Bayern Munich in late September and Gebre Selassie was trounced by Ribery, the defender has struggled to find his feet on the right side of defense.

An average Rückrunde saw Bremen finish in 12th place but just 4 points adrift of 5th. But things have gone to the dregs from there on as Bremen currently sit in 13th, 8 points off 5th and just 7 away from safety. In the seven games played after the winter break, Bremen have conceded an embarrassing 19 goals and currently have the second worst defensive record in the league.

Their most recent defeat to Augsburg, a fourth consecutive one against the Bavarians, has given rise to talk of Schaaf’s sacking. Former Bremen favorite Uli Borowka recently criticized Schaaf by saying that “he does not reach out to the team”. Although this might seem a bit too harsh on the legendary coach, it does seem like change is the best way forward for Bremen.

The ship seems most unsteady at the moment and Bremen’s already shaky defense is reeling after continual suspensions and injuries. Schaaf seems far too reliant on Sokratis but can one blame him given the form of Assani Lukimya and Sebastian Prödl? His wing backs don’t seem to be helping too much either with Gebre Selassie struggling in a new league and Lukas Schmitz never being able to step up to the big stage.

Another problem that needs to be addressed next season, if not this time, is that of their captain. Current skipper Clemens Fritz has been unable to maintain a place in the starting lineup because a lack of form and fitness. Also, Zlatko Junuzovic has made the central midfield position his own. Changing their captain during the middle of the season might not seem the smartest option but it might just be the catalyst needed to spark a revolution. Aaron Hunt seems their most likely candidate for this position and this could well help the former gem live up to all the hype from a few years ago.

With games against Hoffenheim, Greuther Fürth, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Nuremberg and Wolfsburg to go, Bremen should feel the most confident among all the relegation battlers. Safety shouldn’t be too far for Bremen but the biggest problem is the path that they should follow going into the future. With a squad averaging at an age of 23.5, Bremen should have a very positive outlook for the future. Do they move away from their beloved Schaaf and bring in a new coach to instill new ideas into this young side? It seems the best way forward but one that will end a beautiful and seemingly everlasting relationship between Werder Bremen and Thomas Schaaf.