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REVIEW | Werder Bremen kick start great escape with huge victory at Freiburg, Berlin derby & more

After being thumped by Bayer Leverkusen on Monday night as the German Bundesliga resumed following the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Werder Bremen went into their clash against Freiburg this weekend knowing that they needed a result to turn around their recent woes. With Werder sitting nine points adrift of Mainz and guaranteed safety before kick-off, boss Florian Kohfeldt opted for a change of formation and personnel in an effort to rally his troops.

Setting up in a fluid 4-3-3 formation on Saturday after playing five at the back when they were routed earlier in the week 4-1 by Leverkusen, Bremen fared much better this time out at Freiburg grabbing all three points thanks to an accomplished first half strike from Leonardo Bittencourt. Granted, Werder’s luck did push them across the finish line this time around after Freiburg had an 89th minute goal disallowed by VAR but overall, the away side’s performance was much improved five days on from their last fixture and defeat.

The switch of formation by Kohfeldt was a pivotal reason as to why Werder went on to win this match. His decision to start in a 4-3-3 set up offered freedom to wingers Milot Rashica and Bittencourt which gave Werder a constant outlet when under pressure. The statistics regarding Werder’s formations this season are intriguing. During this campaign, Werder have gained 18 points in 14 matches whilst playing four at the back yet only have three points to their name in the 12 matches they’ve played using a 3/5 at the back formation. Surely after this win at Freiburg, Bremen won’t be changing formation again any time soon.

For this match, Werder welcomed back influential midfielder Davy Klaassen who was not part of their squad against Bayer on Monday night and started with young American striker Josh Sargant. Kohfeldt moved Kevin Vogt from playing the third centre-back role on Monday to anchoring the midfield against Freiburg whilst Bittencourt was placed out on the right flank instead of being deployed behind the strikers. Werder were also aided by Freiburg manager Christian Streich’s decision to drop Robin Koch into the back four despite impressing in midfield away at Leipzig the previous weekend.

It didn’t take long for Freiburg to test the visiting goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka, the Czech Republic international confidently palming away a fifth minute free kick from Vincenzo Grifo as the home side started on the front foot. Roland Sallai would have another big opportunity for the home side but his half-volley was dragged just wide with Bremen beginning to shake defensively. In truth, Bremen would spend most of the match under pressure at Schwarzwald-Stadion with Freiburg dominating possession and having more attempts at goal than their fragile opponents. The home side completing 510 passes to Bremen’s 268 and attempting 42 crosses to the away side’s 10.

In typical football fashion then it wouldn’t come as a surprise when Werder broke the deadlock and took an early lead despite being on the back foot through the first 15 minutes. The first-time finish from Bittencourt was well taken but this goal was made by Davy Klaassen. Bremen’s returning midfielder, the club’s leading assister this term with five, providing the quality as he played a first time 40 yard through-ball with his back to Freiburg’s goal. Klaassen could yet still prove to be a huge presence for Werder through their remaining seven Bundesliga fixtures in their fight for survival.

The rest of the first half and most of the second would go on to resemble an attack against defence training match as Werder repelled the advancing Freiburg over and over. There’d be a late scare though towards the end of the match when Werder defender Philipp Bargfrede received his matching orders following a second yellow card. From the resulting delivery, chaos unfolded. The ball first nodded back into the area before being flicked on, Freiburg forward Nils Petersen volleying against the woodwork before defender Manuel Gulde stuck in the rebound. VAR would once again thwart Freiburg who had a similar goal ruled out late on against Leipzig the week before. Werder had got lucky on this occasion and would just about see out the remaining six minutes to take a vital victory on the road.

There were some big performances for Bremen but two stuck out. Marco Friedl enjoyed a solid performance for Werder at left-back but Jiri Pavlenka took the plaudits after putting in a man-of-the-match display between the sticks for the visitors. Making seven saves in the process, the Czech international single-handedly kept the home side at bay throughout and deserved his clean sheet in the end.

Suffering 15 losses in 26 matches to date, it would have been hard to predict Werder’s demise before the Bundesliga began nine months ago. It’s important to remember here that last season Die Werderaner finished eighth, just one point behind Eintracht Frankfurt and Europa League action. In fact, the team from the Hanseatic city only lost nine Bundesliga matches all season last time out. It’s not hard to see what’s gone wrong this season, Werder have scored the second fewest goals and possess the worst defence in the Bundesliga at present. They’ll be hoping that this mammoth win away at Freiburg will spur them on to better things as they attempt to hold onto their 39 year-long Bundesliga status.

Despite the win, Werder remain second bottom of the Bundesliga but pull closer to those above them, especially fourth-bottom Mainz who were battered at home by a rampant RB Leipzig side on Sunday afternoon. Fortuna Dusseldorf also let a 2-0 lead slip away at local rivals FC Köln which will further offer Werder and their fans confidence going into their final seven matches. Boss Kohfeldt was extremely pleased with the win stating after the match to press: “we defended very deeply in the last 15 minutes, but our effort and performance today was worthy of the win.” Freiburg boss Christian Streich lamented his side’s woeful production in the final third but argued that his side’s lost wasn’t deserved: “we are not good enough in the final situations. Not to have scored a goal in this game – we have to consider that. In our view, an undeserved defeat.”

With another huge match on the horizon in mid-week against an in-form Borussia Mönchengladbach outfit, Werder Bremen will again have to be at their defensive best to get any kind of result against Alassane Pléa, Marcus Thuram and Co. This win in Freiburg will motivate them and with matches coming up against lowly Paderborn and Mainz before the end of the season, Die Werderaner will still fancy their chances with Bundesliga survival this season.

1 | Bayern Munich restored their four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga after Borussia Dortmund’s 2-0 win at Wolfsburg earlier in the day. Goals from Leon Goretzka, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski had Hansi Flick’s side 3-0 up after 46 minutes but with two goals in three minutes, Eintracht Frankfurt defender Martin Hinteregger showcased defensive weaknesses at Bayern. Bayern eventually won the game 5-2, but it gives Borussia Dortmund hope on Tuesday night when they welcome the Bundesliga leaders to the Signal Iduna Park in Der Klassiker – a fixture that will have a major say on where the Meisterschale will end up.

2 | A run of eight games without a goal, RB Leipzig attacker Timo Werner has his critics, despite the wonderful season the Germany international is having. His hat-trick – and his second against Mainz 05 – helped Julian Nagelsmann’s side mastermind their way to a 5-0 victory in the Rhineland-Palatinate. The 24-year-old has 24 Bundesliga goals for the season, his best to date and it’s clear to see why he’s constantly being linked with a move to the Premier League.

3 | Looking to avoid the drop, Fortuna Düsseldorf found themselves 2-0 up against local rivals FC Köln in the Rheinderby. Uwe Rösler has done an exceptional job since his appointment in January, replacing Friedhelm Funkel. However, the former Manchester City striker will be disappointed to concede to late goals to Köln, an 88th minute Anthony Modeste header before Jhon Córdoba in the 91st minute, the seventh time the Billy Goats have scored after 90 minutes.

4 | A remarkable performance from Hertha BSC striker Vedad Ibišević in the Berlin derby against FC Union on Friday night reminded us just as to how under appreciated the Bosnian is. His powerful header to give Bruno Labbadia’s side the lead was something we’ve seen plenty times but perhaps never appreciated his skill set. At 35, he’s a veteran of the league: 333 games, 125 goals, 52 assists.

N.E & D.P

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