Two sides who have made polar opposite starts to the new Bundesliga campaign square up tomorrow teatime in Germany’s most-played top-flight derby game. Whereas Werder Bremen are keeping pace with league leaders Bayern Munich, Hamburg can’t buy a win right now (and boy, has sporting director Frank Arnesen tried). Although those associated with HSV will insist that the club is in a transitional period, performances in the four games so far in the 2011/12 league season have been nothing short of disastrous. Coach Michael Oenning has looked well out of his depth, and his inexperience has shown. Thomas Schaaf, on the other hand, has brought all his experience to the fore, with Bremen making last season’s blunder-filled campaign a distant memory.
Bremen struggled for both goals and inspiration last year, although Marko Marin looks to have put last season’s stop-start campaign behind him, and strikers Markus Rosenberg, Claudio Pizarro and Marko Arnautović are now all queuing up to lead the line and score the goals. Added to that, with youngsters like Florian Trinks and Lennart Thy coming through, perhaps there’s logic to the fact that the club didn’t really address either of the aforementioned issues in the transfer market.
One signing who has been helping with inspiration, though, is Mehmet Ekici; a positive attacking influence at Nuremberg last season, but now in north Germany after a €5million transfer from parent club Bayern Munich. The Bremen board have also set about tackling the leaky defence (which, admittedly, was shorn of the injured Naldo for the entire 2010/11 campaign). Resultantly, Lukas Schmitz has been brought in from Schalke (despite making the left-back slot his own, he’ll have to be replaced by the versatile Wesley for the derby due to injury), 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.
He, Pizarro, Ekici, Tim Wiese and Aleksandar Ignjovski have been on international duty during the last fortnight, so could show some signs of fatigue in this derby game. Those who stayed at the club, however, were given a run-out in the 2-2 friendly draw against Union Berlin last Saturday – including Naldo. The Brazilian defender will make his long-awaited return tomorrow evening, albeit on the bench, but Mikaël Silvestre, Sebastian Boesnich, Sandro Wagner, Tim Borowski and Denni Avdić are all definitely out.
During the summer, several squad players 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 two other players. The first, of course, is Torsten Frings; the hairy midfielder joining Toronto FC after two separate lengthy spells with Bremen 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.
Then, more recently, Per Mertesacker finally left for pastures new, his drawn-out transfer to Arsenal being completed on August 31. The German international played in every 2011/12 league game before making his exit (including the three wins over Freiburg, Kaiserslautern and Hoffenheim, and the 1-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen), and because Naldo has not played a league game for 15 months, Schaaf might just have a defensive headache when it comes to choosing a centre-back partnership tomorrow.
Yet, despite his side facing a HSV team who have been battered by both BVB and Bayern Munich recently, the 50-year-old has been keen not to talk up Bremen’s chances, stating: “I’m not interested in who the favourites are. First and foremost, it’s down to what we do ourselves and that means playing to our ability in every game.” Hamburg coach Oenning, on the other hand, has been a bit more bullish in the build-up: “The team has an obligation – we have to score points,” he said.
So far, however, his bottom-placed side have just a single point from four games, and a league-worst goal difference of -8. The squad has been changed significantly since last season, and players were still coming and going up until transfer deadline day on August 31. Only six players have competed in every league game to date (Jaroslav Drobný, Dennis Aogo, Dennis Diekmeier, Heiko Westermann, Marcel Jansen and Robert Tesche), so it’s likely that we’ll see several changes from the side which lost 4-3 at home to Cologne two weeks back.
One player who might be missing tomorrow is Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero; ruled out of a Hamburg friendly match organised in Switzerland last weekend after panicking during the team’s flight over the border. The 27-year-old, who has a well-documented fear of flying, became so tense that he suffered a thigh muscle injury, and was left out of the side for Saturday’s 2-2 draw against FC Lucerne.
With teenage prodigy Heung-Min Son definitely ruled out through injury for tomorrow’s game (a knock sustained during his heroic individual efforts against Cologne), and Eljero Elia and Änis Ben-Hatira having completed their moves to Juventus and Hertha BSC respectively, Oenning is likely to be down to bare bones when it comes to picking the attackers in his favoured 4-2-3-1. And, along with the injured right-back Diekmeier, new winger Ivo Iličević won’t be appearing for the club in their derby game either after picking up a red card during his final appearance for Kaiserslautern.
Several players who are likely to appear, but might be feeling the effects of having played for their national teams during the recent two-week club season break, are Drobný, Tomás Rincón, Gökhan Töre, Jeffrey Bruma and Slobodan Rajković. The latter three were just some of the players brought in from Chelsea by Arnesen (who used to work at Stamford Bridge). Another player to arrive in north Germany from the same west London club was Michael Mancienne, who has looked terribly out of his depth so far. Rajković, on the other hand, scored on his début (the 4-3 loss to Cologne), and along with Norwegian newbie Per Ciljan Skjelbred, has the makings of a fine long-term investment.
What Oenning and HSV need right now, though, are short-term gains. And, even though a draw at the Weserstadion would mean the club would likely remain bottom of the table without a win, it’d be a step in the right direction, and a decent result. But, in a derby game, will the under-pressure Oenning have what it takes to risk a defensive system, and ensure that his mentally brittle players can make it work? One thing’s for sure… another heavy defeat and there could be a new coach in the dugout for next week’s home tie against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Werder Bremen vs Hamburg kicks off at 5.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.