It’s difficult to envisage Werder Bremen turning in a performance as bad as this one throughout the rest of season. From back to front, they were absolutely shambolic from first minute to last, and it’s not going overboard to suggest that the squad forks out to refund those loyal fans who made the journey.
Although this was Bremen’s third game in as many days, and their back four was the definition of makeshift, neither excuse adequately justifies the sheer array of defensive and midfield lapses, not to mention the paucity of anything of substance from the attackers.
Bremen only managed to get on the scoreboard because of a silly foul during an innocuous floated free-kick. Unsurprisingly, Torsten Frings coolly dispatched the set-piece from the spot, briefly levelling the ‘contest’.
Proceedings began with possession shared, but patterns conspicuous by their absence. Hunger, on and off the ball, was immediately more forthcoming from the home side, but Bremen looked marginally more inventive.
However, after several one-two moves saw the return pass overhit, Hannover grew into the game and took control. The width they maintained was fantastic, and neither Mikaël Silvestre or Clemenz Fritz could halt Moritz Stoppelkamp and Konstantin Rausch respectively.
Hannover’s strikers did a great job throughout too, keeping the pressure on Bremen’s melina-trying defence and forcing mistakes, and staying close enough to the midfield to give counter-attacks cohesion.
But Bremen made it so so easy for the home side. Pressure on the ball-holder was non-existent, permitting Mirko Slomka’s side to get away with pre-pass delays and slightly skew-whiff passes.
After yet another stodgy attempt from the visitors to bridge a move involving the midfield and attack, the home side broke the wave, and fed the halfway-hovering Didier Ya Konan.
As expected, Bremen sought to keep their defensive line high (a tactic quasi-replicated by Slomka, who kept his defence deeper, but looking to sprint out simultaneously, playing a risky offside trap in the process), so the Ivorian tried dragging them out further.
But when the midfield were caught temporarily high during one attack, the centre-backs found themselves perplexed as to which action to embark upon. Ya Konan, therefore, was able to release Stoppelkamp, and Frings was forced into committing the tactical foul.
Rausch floated in the resultant free-kick on that sweet left foot of his, and Emmanuel Pogatetz headed it on from inside the D. Sebastian Prödl, who endured perhaps the biggest nightmare performance of any Bremen player, had dropped bewilderingly deep, and therefore played everyone onside during this assist.
Fritz was taken aback by Ya Konan’s new-found eagerness to peel nearer the right-hand post, and when the lively attacker made a connection with the ball, it bobbled in off the right-back for 1-0.
It was the least Hannover deserved, and they continued to make life unbearable for the Bremen backline – Bargfrede and Silvestre never got to grips with Stoppelkamp, ably supported by Manuel Schmiedebach and Steve Cherundolo.
Although Thomas Schaaf’s side had a brief spell in which they pressed higher and launched a few attacks down the left, the subsequent ball in was always poor, and Hannover’s safety first policy worked well.
Bremen spread their defence and got the likes of Wesley tracking back in a bid to cork the wide-players – Christian Schulz was always there to double-up on Fritz, and Schaaf had obviously noted that this needed to be stopped.
The Hannover left-back showed class on the ball in this game, but also did a crucial job nullifying Wesley – biting into him all over the pitch, and scaring him into an inescapable shell.
Individual errors were never stamped out of Bremen’s game, and balls of a decent standard still came in to the box. They continued with their melina mission, but were too unimaginative to do anything having drawn Slomka’s side onto them (who were in their faces in a high ‘4-2’).
However, on the one occasion Bargfrede showed some energy in carrying the ball from back to front, the high Hannover defence was forced into a no-nonsense hack. The free-kick led to the aforementioned equalizer.
Hannover quietened down for a brief spell, but still attacked. Balls in were of a less superior quality, but even those that found a target were wasted.
The stupendously awful Prödl was again found snuggled too near his goalkeeper, and inside the box, Ya Konan trapped with enough time to set his body before shooting (over).
Moments later, the Bremen melina was cut out easily for the umpteenth time, their centre-backs were practically on-top of one another, and the back-to-goal Ya Konan nonchalantly swung his foot in a cat-flap motion to release Stoppelkamp. But the midfielder, on his weaker left foot, emulated the Ivorian by blazing over.
The second half began like the first – bitty, slow-ish and scruffy. Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise when Bargfrede was robbed in his own half, the centre-backs were again out of position, and Abdellaoue’s classy first-time reverse-flick fed Ya Konan to score.
The Ivorian showed fantastic composure in front of goal, but Prödl was nowhere to be seen and Tim Wiese went down far too early – 2-1 to the hosts, recovering after Bremen equalized out of the blue.
With the lead regained, Slomka positioned his defence much deeper. Sandro Wagner, previously looking to be fed over the top, now had to run at the Hannover rearguard. Alas, the lethargy was entrenched, and Schaaf’s side were unable to get the rhythm and movement needed to make passing moves function.
Marko Marin showed greater urgency, but some decent crosses were met by a bewildering lack of movement, and a pair of centre-backs prepared for trench warfare.
This exaggerated military-style approach to defence was used further up the field too – Karim Haggui leaping into Wiese as the Bremen keeper prepared to launch a quick counter-attack.
But Hannover were still always in control of the game, and Bremen grew even less comfortable in defence. The melina was half-hearted, robotic, and lacking energy; meanwhile, runners were lazily hacked down, and the centre-backs couldn’t even do the basics like shielding the ball.
It was time for Schaaf to freshen things up. Off went Wesley, and on came Hugo Almeida. His first action was to stand over a free-kick alongside three of his colleagues. Yes, three. Wagner sent it into the stands, but I’m sure the other numpties standing next to him would have done the same.
Intelligently or disgracefully, depending on your point of view, Cherundolo, Schulz, Sérgio Pinto and Schmiedebach were always getting their tactical fouls in around the halfway mark, stopping Bremen’s entry into the game. Yet the visitors admittedly should have had a penalty when, under no pressure, Stoppelkamp handled in his own box.
Alas, the referee – somehow – missed it, and Bremen’s Route One style of play continued with an air of weary resignation. As this tactic didn’t require a midfield (one swamped all game whenever it got on the ball anyway), Marko Arnautović replaced Bargfrede, going up top.
With two forwards to shackle, the Hannover defence narrowed appropriately, and did so in the knowledge that Bremen were never going to get behind them at the byline and put in truly testing crosses.
To counter Bremen’s deep midfield trio, who were there to knock the balls upfield, Slomka took off the left-footed Rausch, and put the right-footed Lars Stindl on the left – meaning Bremen’s central players had something to think about when vacating that region. The home side’s coach also added counter-attacking energy down the wings by introducing Sofian Chahed on the right.
Despite Schaaf supposedly introducing energy into his side, pressure on the ball-holder was still non-existent. Arnautović stood and watched as someone was fed down the left, a poor square was trumped by Prödl’s supposed clearance, and the ball was duly fired home by Schulz.
There was time for one more too: Bremen’s defence was again all at sea, and Abdellaoue almost apologetically added a fourth.