Wolfsburg and Bremen played out an entertaining scoreless draw, albeit one that will only truly live on in the memory for Edin Džeko’s petulant reaction to being substituted.
Bremen came into this game with a number of absentees, including Claudio Pizarro, Wesley, Naldo and Tim Borowski. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, made do without just two first-choice players – Arne Friedrich, and Grafite.
For two teams struggling in the lower-reaches of the division, this was a refreshingly open and attack-minded encounter from the word ‘go’.
However, one team always has to take the initiative, and that responsibility belonged to the hosts. With the visitors content to let Wolfsburg bring the ball out, they sat back in a 4-4-2, and only applied pressure when the ball approached the halfway line.
Thomas Schaaf kept the home side’s attacking options man-marked whenever this pattern of play occurred. Diego, stationed on the left whenever his colleagues brought the ball out, was picked up by Dominik Schmidt, Mario Mandžukić by Petri Pasanen, Josué by the two foremost attackers, and Džeko by the equally tall Per Mertesacker.
Therefore, Wolfsburg were reliant on the width provided by their full-backs for attacking incision. One of 18-year-old Tolga Ciğerci, hard-working Sascha Riether, or Mandžukić held the ball on the edge of the box, and waited until a speedy colleague whizzed past them.
However, the subsequent ball into the overlapping full-back was often poor, and even when the home side got numerous players in the box in the event of a cross, Bremen comfortably dealt with the delivery.
The Bremen defence, at fault on so many occasions this season, actually had a very solid first half. Faced against their former talisman, Diego, Mertesacker & co. did well to ensure none of the Brazilian’s sumptuous through-balls found another player in white. They achieved this in two ways – on one occasion playing a very risky high and narrow offside trap to superb effect, and on others dropping as a disciplined unit, lulling Diego into a false sense of time and security, and rendering the resultant defence-splicer cannon-fodder for Tim Wiese.
When they lost the ball, Wolfsburg sought to keep Bremen pressed high, early and forcibly. The away side invited this pressure on their restarts by making short goal-kicks, and looking to first-time pass their way out of trouble (usually instigated by Torsten Frings sprinting back and spreading to Clemenz Fritz on the right).
However, Schaaf’s side seemed content to gift possession to Steve McClaren’s in these situations. By playing on the break (with Wolfsburg higher, and their full-backs exposed), Bremen posed more of a threat. Marko Arnautović showed a great deal of industry, skill, and effort to drag a centre-back out of position and onto the channel on one of Bremen’s many slick breaks, and this allowed Marko Marin to weave his magic, or Philipp Bargfrede to forcefully carry Werder forward. Although this only resulted in several half-chances (not that Die Wölfe fared any better in front of goal), Schaaf will have been pleased with how his patchwork XI linked up.
Wolfsburg came out in the second half set out in a 4-4-2. In response, Bremen kept their two centre-midfielders as deep as possible, forming a box on the ‘hole’ which prevented Diego from invading or working in it/one of the two forwards peeling in to it. This stifled the home side’s momentum, and caused McClaren to make another tactical reshuffle by putting Džeko high out on the left, dropping Diego in front of a narrow midfield three, and using Mandžukić as the lone forward-cum-right-sided attacker.
With Džeko’s wing duties not requiring him to track back, Marko Marin began exploiting the space available down the right . The lively Germany U21 international caused a series of problems for the home side’s defence, and his dribbles were aided by some clever off-the-ball runs by Aaron Hunt and Arnautović.
There was a great pace to the game throughout the second half, and it looked certain that someone was going to make the breakthrough. But in a mad three-minute spell, Džeko and Torsten Frings both missed great opportunities to win the game for their respective sides by spurning penalty kicks. And with the penultimate touch of the game, Hunt should have made his the last touch rather than Benaglio’s foot-save.
The result leaves Bremen in tenth place and Wolfsburg in thirteenth with just two games of the winter season left to play. Neither side are likely to begin the season after the winter break in either the top five or top half of the table respectively, and will have to buck up their ideas in 2011.