The second round of the new Bundesliga season concludes this afternoon with a game between two of Germany’s bigger clubs. Yet, whereas Bayer Leverkusen would seemingly be the one currently on the up, Champions League campaign and all to look forward to, they’ve made a poor start to the season: losing 2-0 to Mainz last weekend on the opening day, and 4-3 to Dynamo Dresden in the cup a fortnight ago. Werder Bremen, on the other hand, avenged their 3-2 loss to Kaiserslautern on the final day of a forgettable 2010/11 campaign by beating them 2-0 last weekend, although the Saturday before that, they too exited the cup to lower-league opponents, going down 2-1 to Heidenheimer.
Marko Marin, the top assist-maker at the club last season (nine) despite never really convincing or being certain of a starting berth, missed a penalty in that match, although a new hero is now ostensibly stepping up to the plate in the form of Markus Rosenberg. The 28-year-old Swedish striker, on loan with Racing Santander last season where he scored nine times, bagged a brace against Kaiserslautern, and eight more goals in the green of Bremen before May and he’ll surpass Claudio Pizarro’s 2010/11 club-best tally of nine goals.
As those stats depict, Bremen struggled for both goals and inspiration last year. With youngsters like Florian Trinks and Lennart Thy coming through, perhaps there’s logic to the fact that the club hasn’t really addressed both of those issues in the transfer market. One man who might offer more creativity, though, is Mehmet Ekici, a positive attacking influence at Nuremberg last season, but now in northern Germany after a €5million transfer from parent club Bayern Munich. The board have at least gone about tackling the club’s primary weakness, however – the leaky defence (which, admittedly, was shorn of the injured Naldo for most of the campaign). Resultantly, Lukas Schmitz has been brought in from Schalke, Andreas Wolf from Nuremberg, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos – the man who man-marked Lionel Messi in the 2010 World Cup game between Greece and Argentina – has moved to Bremen on loan from parent club Genoa.
Several squad players have departed to make way for the newbies, including Petri Pasanen (Red Bull Salzburg), Daniel Jensen (released), Dominik Schmidt (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Peter Niemeyer (Hertha BSC). But, of course, that group leaving pales into insignificance compared to the departure of Torsten Frings, who leaves – for Toronto FC – after two separate lengthy spells with the club which involved 326 games and 36 goals. The time was right for the veteran to move on, as he was increasingly becoming a passenger in the midfield and part of the problem rather than the solution.
Could new Serbian recruit, Aleksandar Ignjovski, be the man to replace him? Well, we won’t find out today, as due to work permit problems, the 20-year-old can’t yet make his début. Also missing out – through injury – are fellow midfielders Philipp Bargfrede and Tim Borowski, along with defensive quartet Wolf, Naldo, Sebastian Boesnich and Mikaël Silvestre, and striker Denni Avdić.
Rather than injuries, Bayer Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt’s biggest worry is in the goalkeeper position. With Germany international René Adler out of the reckoning for the next two months due to injury, his initial replacement, David Yelldell, was less than convincing in Dresden, and Fabian Giefer, who was given a start last weekend, made an error that allowed Mainz to score, before getting concussion that resulted in him losing all of his memories from the past month. So now, Dutt is hoping that it’s third time lucky, as the job between the posts is due to be passed on to Bernd Leno today, a young ‘keeper signed from Stuttgart earlier this week.
Despite this uncertainty in a key position, one which impacts on the rookie centre-backs currently being played by Leverkusen in front of the goal they’re defending, Werder Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf isn’t seeing it as an advantage for his side. He said: “Leno played in the youth national team, and he really came along well in the past year and was being watched carefully by many clubs. The Bundesliga is of course a different matter but he does have a very special quality.”
As for today’s opponents as a collective unit, one which as well as Adler, is shorn of midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta and defender Bastian Oczipka, and is clearly missing Arturo Vidal and Sami Hyypiä, who left for Juventus and retired respectively, Schaaf added: “Bayer are playing Champions League football and there are huge expectations from the team. There are a lot of disturbances though, and also topics being brought in from the outside. Just how much of an effect that is having on the team is something that I can’t say. Under those circumstances, they are not just going to lie down and take it, but rather take on the challenge and defend themselves.”
The sides shared two 2-2 draws in the league last season, although Leverkusen have only won one of their last 14 competitive matches against Bremen. Today’s hosts’ last victory versus Schaaf’s side came in October 2008 when they won 2-0 at the Weser Stadium. However, Leverkusen have not won at home against Bremen in six years, but Bremen’s last competitive victory over Leverkusen came two years ago, securing their last title in the process. That encounter saw Werder beat Leverkusen 1-0 in the German Cup final of 2009, the goal being scored by current Real Madrid player, Mesut Özil.
Bayer Leverkusen vs Werder Bremen kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.