Borussia Mönchengladbach broke Bremen hearts with a surprise late equalizer after the home side failed to put the game to bed.
Both sides came into this game locked in a relegation battle. Werder, sat in 15th because Kaiserslautern had scored a 92nd minute earlier in the afternoon, were just two points above the drop zone, and six points ahead of bottom side Gladbach. There was a degree of confidence in both camps pre-match, with Gladbach on a high after last weekend’s triumph against Hoffenheim, and Bremen likewise following their 3-1 success at Freiburg. The visitors arrived at the Weserstadion without Igor de Camargo, but were at near enough full-strength. Werder, meanwhile, had to make do without Aaron Hunt and Naldo – Marko Marin and Wesley were on the bench, as Florian Trinks, who turned 19 the day before this game, was handed a rare start.
With Gladbach happy to sit deep from the off, the home side’s players were able to float about with a great deal of fluidity, and they monopolised possession and oozed confidence. The visitors were nearly made to pay for their hesitancy when Mikaël Silvestre ran unchallenged on the overlap, and curled in a great cross. Thanks to Dante’s inattentiveness, Sandro Wagner strolled onto it freely – yet how Logan Bailly managed to push the ball onto the post at point blank range was nothing short of a miracle. However, for as long as Lucien Favre has the luxury of playing Marco Reus, his side will always pose a threat. The youngster burst towards the D in the fifth minute, but was impeded by Torsten Frings. Unfortunately for Reus and Favre, the free-kick was squandered.
Reus’s penetration was the catalyst for a decent two-minute spell for the visitors, who looked to hold onto the ball, knock it about, and push their defence higher. When the hosts eventually won a goal-kick, they took control of possession again. Sideways passing just ahead of the halfway line, thereby drawing a high ‘4-1’ onto the passing defenders, Thomas Schaaf attempted to lure more Gladbach players up the pitch by getting Trinks to linger closest to the ball-holding defenders. With both teams maintaining their defensive discipline off-ball, possession was generally being shared in the first quarter-hour, and although both teams displayed their slickness and sharpness on the ball, neither was able to do much in the final-third.
Just as Gladbach looked like they were beginning to edge it, aided by having an extra man in midfield who therefore rendered Trinks redundant, Bremen carved together a fine, fluid move. With Claudio Pizarro lurking and moving deep to link play, and Torsten Frings making a shape-altering dart towards the right wing’s corner flag, the bearded midfielder was fed in space on the chalk. The gap had already been forged to feed Pizarro in the box, back to goal with Dante on top of him. The Peruvian showed fantastic strength to hold the Brazilian off, and laid on Tim Borowski. The right-footed first-time attempt was wayward, to say the least.
As Gladbach became more cautious, totally eradicating the corridor between defence and midfield, Bremen got cleverer, utilising the wider corridor between two pressing Gladbach attackers and their midfield colleagues to great effect. Further up the pitch, the off-ball runs were varied, made by a number of different players, and timed to perfection – the best chance one created coming in the 18th minute when Bailly again had to make a fine save after a Wagner through-ball found Phillipp Bargfrede charging between the high Gladbach right-back and Martin Stranzl. With such movement causing trouble in the Gladbach rearguard, Michael Fink was getting increasingly narrower, allowing Silvestre to keep bombing forward at will (Reus pressing alongside Mo Idrissou wasn’t helping matters either).
Goal-kicks were fast becoming the away side’s best means of attack, and they put a lot of effort into making them work by commiting a number of midfielders behind the backwards-facing Idrissou, who won a large majority of his headers. But it was still only Werder threatening near the goal, and in the 25th minute, Pizarro’s strength again proved deadly in the box when the Peruvian managed to turn, spin, and hold off Stranzl, drawing a corner from his squared pass on the byline. His side were now in control of the ball and dictating the tempo, and it made Gladbach camp in their own half even when they didn’t necessarily want to by ‘aimlessly’ passing the ball side to side along halfway, forcing the visitors to plug all the gaps on either flank just in case.
But much like Gladbach’s direct punts upfield in the vain hope of instigating a counter attack weren’t working, neither were Werder’s attempt at finding a more aesthetically pleasing pass in the final-third. But they were still creating chances thanks to the persistence and presence of Pizarro – the former Chelsea striker again reaching the left-sided byline in the 33rd minute, making another question-asking pull-back, this time to the D, where Bargfrede could only bounce a volley at Bailly.
As the half progressed, Gladbach gradually morphed into something resembling a 4-2-3-1, with Roman Neustädter tucking in behind Idrissou, and Fink attempting to help Thorben Marx pick up the dropping forwards. However, this reduction in width deep in the midfield proved costly in the 39th minute when left back Filip Daems was caught high up the pitch in possession, and then lay on the ground looking for a foul which was never given. Bremen sent runners into the space, pulled the visiting defence and midfield out of position, and before they could regroup, Pizarro sent over an early cross to the left side of the box where Wagner placed a clever header beyond the well-poised Bailly for 1-0. Tim Borowski so nearly doubled the lead four minutes later, when nervy Gladbach dropped back and played him onside for a scooped-over second ball, allowing the midfield to fire a first-time half-volley off the underside of the bar.
It was little surprise to see Marx hauled off at the interval, as the Dutchman had looked out of his depth: former Arsenal youngster Håvard Nordtveit took his place. Pizarro nearly made even more of impact early on in the second half by beating Stranzl for pace on a back-pass, only for the centre-back to just about poke it Bailly’s way. The visitors were now making a concentrated effort to bring their full-backs into the game offensively, and did this by creating a square in which the defensive-midfielders were fed in the centre circle by the centre-backs, drawing pressers, before releasing the disguised burst forward by either Daems or Tony Jantschke.
However, Gladbach’s quality in the final-third was still absent, and although they were damaging the bridge between the home side’s midfield and attackers, Bremen’s forwards were able to counter attack to great effect, holding the ball up superbly, drawing bodies across, and making canny through-balls into the resulting space. It would be wrong to suggest that the hosts were willing to sit back, absorb pressure, and hold onto their lead despite Gladbach’s increasing command of possession, because when the away side’s defence had the ball about five metres in front of the halfway line, six green-shirted players jogged and bobbed, threatening to sprint-press, and hurrying the pass. When they had the ball in the opposition’s half, Bremen’s urgency was lessened, yet nevertheless, they did a clever tactical job in winding down the clock and pulling every white-shirted player back into their own half.
Schaaf made a double change in the 57th minute, the Marko’s Marin and Arnautović replacing Trinks and Wagner. With Pizarro continuing to do his good work deep, the Peruvian now had two fresh pairs of legs running ahead of him. Gladbach, meanwhile, were in more of a 4-1-3-2 – Nordtveit holding, Fink covering the right, Reus alongside Mike Hanke, and Neustädter not far behind the latter pair. When Wesley replaced Borowski, Schaaf adopted a 4-3-2-1, matching up in the midfield. Daems was still influential and well fed down the left, but when tackled, it allowed Marin to come into his own, making diagonal runs, and drawing frantic sprints after him and fouls.
Sensing that his side’s attacking was becoming too one-dimensional, and hindered by Wesley’s counter-attacking threat catching Daems out, Favre hauled Fink off in the 76th minute, replacing him with a more natural right-sided wideman, Patrick Herrmann. The beleaguered former Hertha BSC coach was crying out for something in the centre of his midfield, however. Neustädter had offered little in the way of creativity or penetrating runs, and there were no quarterbacks at the base of the midfield either. The importance of having someone pulling the strings in the centre was epitomised when Neustädter’s defence-splitting through-ball released Reus through the left-back and left-sided centre-back, only for Wiese to save his shot well. The chance sparked the visitors into life, and Stranzl missed two great chances in the space of two minutes – one a half-volley, the other a header.
They briefly had the home side on the ropes, and the home crowd silenced, but Marin’s clever poked through-ball to Arnautović in the 88th minute took some of the pressure off despite the Austrian hitting the post. Pizarro was given the chance to do the same in the 90th minute thanks to Wesley’s well weighted pass, but Dante pulled off one of his customary leggy sliding tackles. The Brazilian went one better a minute later, easily peeling off the man-marking of Sebastian Prödl to glance in an equalizer from Juan Arango’s free-kick! A fair result? Probably not, but an illustration as to why a one-goal lead is never enough.