Two sides still too far away from mid-table security played out an entertaining, chance-heavy and yellow card-ridden 1-1 draw. Although Werder Bremen perhaps deserved the win on the balance of play, the fact they were held to a draw is unsurprising given that the last clean sheet they kept in the league was on December 4, 2010 against Wolfsburg.
This Friday night round 29 encounter pitted 13th against 12th – two sides four and five points above the relegation zone respectively. After a disastrous start to the season, Bremen had got back on track in recent rounds. Frankfurt, on the other hand, made a great start to the season, before flopping miserably after Christmas – prior to this game, they had scored only four goals and tallied no real number of points to speak of since Christmas, and thus last month, they fired coach Michael Skibbe. Their performance under new man Christoph Daum in last week’s 1-1 draw away to Wolfsburg still left s a lot to be desired, but scoring and holding onto the point perhaps indicated that a corner has been turned. As for this game, key absences included Patrick Ochs – 18-year-old Sonny Kittel took his suspended colleague’s place – and Chris for the hosts, and Sebastian Prödl, Naldo and Sebastian Boesnich for the visitors. Claudio Pizarro and Philipp Bargfrede were also excluded from the starting XI, but were included on the bench.
Applying early pressure on and off the ball, the hosts stood high when facing a restart to force their guests into long goal kicks. Their aim seemed to be keeping the action non-stop and physical, preventing Werder from getting the ball down and playing their passing game. Frankfurt’s game-plan nearly worked superbly after a Torsten Frings free-kick floated into the arms of Ralf Fährmann. The ‘keeper didn’t waste a second, kicking to Tim Wiese’s D, and Theofanis Gekas was narrowly denied by the Germany international from getting on the end of it. This fast nature led to a series of early fouls, yellow cards and free-kicks, all of which seemed to work in favour of Daum’s side, as a cautious Bremen stayed too flat in their defensive bank, therefore conceding a number of needless panic-hacks. Despite eventually keeping the midfield permanently back during a period of Frankfurt ball possession (thereby allowing the defence to become more positionally certain, while having a crop of players vigorously pressing the ball), the away side found it hard to get on the front foot. Even when a speculative ball over the top from Clemens Fritz allowed Denni Avdić to dummy a trap and thereby inadvertently release Sandro Wagner one-on-one (he hit the post), the brief period of pulling Frankfurt’s players back into their own half and getting a more expansive passing game going to generate space and find gaps was soon ruined when a couple of sharp and fast route one balls over the top of the Bremen defence nearly set Gekas free again. Players such as the former Portsmouth striker and Pippo Inzaghi are often dismissed for their minimal contribution to the team’s cause with the football itself. But their very presence can be so key in disturbing how the opposition wants to play or how they set themselves up, and in the early stages, Gekas was one of Frankfurt’s most important players, despite rarely touching the ball.
As the quarter-hour mark came and went, Thomas Schaaf got his players to place less emphasis on pressing the ball from the Frankfurt centre-backs. This forced the home side to involve their two deep-lying centre-midfielders more, and neither was/is able to pick out midfield-splicing passes. However, a couple of aimless sideways passes later, Frankfurt had a man-advantage on either flanks, and the ball at their feet – the malaise inherent in Bremen’s other-half paucity of pressing seemingly floating further back down the field. Thus, when a not overly hasty pass behind Petri Pasanen located Alexander Meier’s diagonal jog, Bremen’s centre-backs panicked, running out of position. Therefore, the square was simple to place, the big toe-curled floor-shot towards goal by Gekas confident and powerful enough, but the reflex save from Wiese in response to it was simply superb. Seconds later, Fährmann pulled off an even better stop at the other end – some good interchange play from the visitors baffled Frankfurt, released Wagner down the right into enough space to place a great cross (for three players in and around the six-yard-box), but Marko Marin’s header was tipped wide impeccably by the 22-year-old.
The chance injected a large quantity of urgency into the Bremen attackers, who now ran into space more readily and hurriedly, and passed with zip and penetration in mind. The game became more stretched, aided by Frankfurt’s increasing incompetence at starting counter-attacks. The hosts were now making one pass too many when winning the ball back in the first-third, thereafter being forced to play more long-diagonals, thus forcing their full-backs to come out in order to help put a cross into the box which the double-marked Gekas could get nowhere near. Paradoxically, it was now Bremen playing the more effective route one, early-pass counter-attacking football, helped by the growing presences of Tim Borowski and Wesley – far more box-to-box as the half entered its final quarter-hour; highly effective servants to their side’s cause on and off the ball. The most credit must go to Wagner, however – the striker had a very effective first-half, constantly on the end of or making passes all over the final-third, and the perfect bridge between the back and front. He was helped by the Frankfurt centre-midfielders looking to offer a passing option to the more attacking Frankfurt wide-midfielders when they had the ball, therefore making the home side’s defence increasingly more isolated (caution over the dangerous counter-attacks creeping into their general mentality), thus presenting Wagner with the space in which to wreak havoc.
Out of possession, Bremen saw the half out doing what they had gradually been doing best – letting the Frankfurt centre-backs aimlessly exchange passes, positioning a wall of five attackers (3-2) in and just over the halfway line, therefore compressing the space the collecting centre-midfielders had, and ensuring that the full-backs could be pressed quickly as soon as they were given the ball to carry upfield. This pulled Frankfurt’s attackers back, allowed Bremen’s defenders to stand higher (thus closing off the corridors), and not only took the sting and surprise element out of any balls over the top to Gekas, but also eliminated the influence the Frankfurt attacking-midfielders had on the game. Bremen’s continual improvement was nearly crowned by a goal in first half injury-time too – Claudio Pizarro (on for the injured Avdić) and Wagner both drawing saves after a bit of post-free kick penalty box pinball.
The second half started in exactly the same fashion as the first had finished – any Frankfurt counter-attack slow and ineffectual, and any Werder Bremen mop-up followed by a swift break, helped greatly by the gap between Frankfurt’s defence and attack (Fritz and Marin both utilising this to good effect early on, putting in an inviting cross and sliced shot respectively). Wagner continued to be his usual tricky self, but when this forced Marco Russ into conceding a free-kick in a decent central position, Pasanen blazed it wide. But the Finnish left-sided centre-back’s side continued to boss the ball thanks to their greater energy levels – they were first to opposition goal-kicks and second balls, and able to pass to any one of their outfield players bar the centre-backs in the Frankfurt half in a circle of space despite being pressed.
But a 52nd minute attack showed that Frankfurt still had a foot in the game. Sebastian Rode, Frankfurt’s more advanced centre-midfielder, carried the ball forward, laid on Georgios Tzavelas, and the Greek’s sharp and quick long-diagonal found Sonny Kittel. The 18-year-old laid on the oncoming, ghosting Pirmin Schwegler, who drew a corner. Despite playing several neat passes on occasion around the halfway line, this was the first time that a Frankfurt passing game had worked effectively in the opposition’s box. Yet as Werder showed just two minutes later, sometimes you don’t need to string passes together, so long as you possess a genius in your side. Marin ran, Marin span, Marin teased; before finally laying on his Peruvian colleague, Pizarro, who scuffed a shot wide. From the resultant corner, Per Mertesacker drew a save from Fährmann, as Frankfurt cowered under the kosh. In the 59th minute, the pressure became too much to handle – Mikaël Silvestre floated in a free kick, and under pressure from Wagner, Halil Altıntop steered a header into his own net.
Nevertheless, football fans from Mongolia to Mönchengladbach know how vulnerable Bremen can be at the back, and three minutes after taking the lead, Tim Wiese’s Superman impression ensured that they didn’t get pegged back. A scooped ball had released Gekas through the centre-backs, and the 30-year-old had the goal at his mercy. Alas, the majority of fans at the Commerzbank-Arena were left stunned as Wiese pulled off two phenomenal point-blank saves. Then, despite injuring himself in the process and receiving treatment, he pulled off a third world class point-blank stop from the resultant corner – Gekas exploited Bremen’s poorly executed offside trap post-clearance, but the Greek international may as well have not even bothered shooting, such was Wiese’s determination to keep a clean sheet.
Knowing his side simply had to take at least a point from this game, Daum changed his formation with 20 minutes to go. Benjamin Köhler replaced Tzavelas at left-back (the 30-year-old Frankfurt stalwart is often used as a left-winger, and presumably the idea was for him to pin Wesley and Fritz back), and Martin Fenin replaced Alexander Meier – a striker for an attacking midfielder. Four minutes later, the increasingly agitated Rode was replaced by Caio in a like-for-like switch. The changes instantly looked to have an effect – Caio adding urgency and dynamism, feeding full-backs and wingers with far more targets to aim at in the box. If it wasn’t for such a dearth of decent balls into the box, the home side could have levelled before the clock reached the 80-minute mark.
Thankfully for Daum and the Eintracht fans, they instead pulled level with eight minutes left to play. The increased number of bodies in the Bremen box kept the away side pinned back, and made it easier for the hosts to win the loose balls – as was epitomised by Russ in the seconds preceding the goal. He laid on Sebastian Jung, who had helped overload the right-wing, and at last, an inch-perfect cross was played into the box. It found Fenin’s forehead, the Czech striker standing freely in between the Bremen centre-backs – a narrow defence somehow contriving to leave a gap in the most crucial part of the box. Gekas and Marin were lively until the very end, but as a point favours both sides, it was unsurprising to see the game finish all-square.