Hamburg stay rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table without a victory to their name despite an improved performance in the derby. Werder Bremen were good value for their 2-0 win, however, after creating more chances than their beleaguered north German rivals. The three points, courtesy of a Claudio Pizarro brace, takes Thomas Schaaf’s side back up to second place in the table, with winnable games against Nuremberg and Hertha BSC coming up next.
Looking at the line-ups, I was expecting to see a very narrow derby game being played out by two sides deploying 4-4-2 diamond systems. However, as Bremen calmly spread the ball about in their own half and around halfway once the game underway, it was apparent that the visitors, at least, were in a flat 4-4-2 (Per Ciljan Skjelbred starting on the right wing).
Their coach, Michael Oenning, had obviously told his players to start cautiously, sitting off and absorbing the early pressure from Schaaf’s side. And, the tactic so nearly worked to perfection in the fourth minute, when Paolo Guerrero was fed on the left, used the floating and interchanging Marcell Jansen and Mladen Petrić as decoys, before scooping a cross towards the ghosting Skjelbred, who missed the ball by mere inches.
The chance sparked Bremen into life, as they held possession in the final-third and produced a few crosses and a wayward Phillip Bargfrede shot in a two-minute spell. Nevertheless, in the sixth minute, Jansen called Tim Wiese into action after a positive Hamburg move. The piano-carrying David Jarolím switched play, allowing Michael Mancienne to come upfield, before dropping a shoulder and dribbling into and in the infield space. The full-back then exchanged passes with Petrić, before teeing up Jansen to strike tamely at the 29-year-old German international ‘keeper.
But, every time Bremen attacked, they were not finding it difficult to get a cross into the box. It was such an open game, and both sides had betrayed my pre-match expectations: there was plenty of width, especially from the full-backs (the two players in question on either side trying to expose the high lines both coaches were playing), but also, the likes of Aaron Hunt and Marko Marin were potent down the channels too. Nevertheless, it was the link-up play with their strikers which meant Hamburg were on top as we reached and passed the quarter-hour mark. Both Guerrero and Petrić were moving well and linking up with the midfield effectively (the playmaking Skjelbred in particular ensuring that this bridge was constantly maintained).
Yet, in the 16th minute, a moment of magic from Bremen and some relegation-esque defending from HSV so nearly saw them take an early lead – only the linesman’s flag stopping Marko Arnautović from applying the finish to a good move. It started when Pizarro got the ball just in front of the halfway line. Faced by a narrow but static ringed midfield bank of four, the Peruvian striker slipped a pass into the space behind that bank for Marin. The talismanic little magician then slipped a through-ball beyond the high and narrow Hamburg rearguard, but the Austrian striker had started his run half a second too early.
Another midfielder not involved in that move, Hunt, was also continuing to be a thorn in Hamburg’s side. The wideman was finding space well as his two striking colleagues and Marin found themselves tracked and pressed by a compact and high-tempo-pressing HSV side. Despite a few hairy moments as players on both sides began to lose their cool (in the space of two minutes, Slobodan Rajković, Guerrero and Pizarro went into the book for a hack, a rant and a dive respectively), both defences were doing enough to ensure their goalkeepers had a paucity of action.
Nevertheless, as we approached the half-hour mark, Jaroslav Drobný was beginning to have a few nervy moments as his defence struggled to cope with the increased Bremen pressure. Mancienne picked up a yellow card in the 27th minute for bringing down tricky debutant Aleksandr Ignjovski, and this gave Marin the opportunity to put another ball in the box (safety-first HSV had given away a number of corners in the opening half-hour too – something they had to do with the particularly dangerous-looking Arnautović lurking).
Marin and his colleagues soon began to float and build more towards Mancienne’s flank following that booking, as they dominated possession against their guests (who tried to stand high and flat in a 4-4-2). Hamburg were seeing far less of the ball than they had in the opening 15 minutes, but when they did get on it, mainly via the all-action Jarolím, there was the occasional bit of invention shown, even if the off-ball movement was getting worse rather than better. In the 33rd minute, the Czech Republic midfielder spliced the home side’s defence with a pass, feeding Croatian striker Petrić in the process. Alas, Petrić, who had been fading, didn’t have the legs to reach the ball in time, although the startingly quick Ignjovski was there to cover anyway.
In spite of this opening, given the amount of corners that Bremen were winning, it was only a matter of time before the hosts either scored or went extremely close. And, in the 38th minute, it was the latter. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, whose pacy run drew a good track and slide tackle by Jansen, won a corner on the right. Marin curled it into the box as an outswinger, and it was the Greek defender himself who rose highest to crash a header off the bar.
That was the last chance of note as a hard-working, foul-ridden and physical half finished scoreless. Bremen ended the opening 45 minutes as the stronger side, primarily because their forwards had grown into the game, and also because Marin was having one of his too-hot-to-handle performances.
Three minutes into the second half, Pizarro thought that he’d handed his side a lead (from, unsurprisingly, a Marin corner). However, the linesman ruled the goal out after judging that the Peruvian had used too much force in his quest to beat Heiko Westermann to the ball (the former Schalke man went down far too easily, but got away with it). Ruled out or not, the ‘goal’ was an illustration of just how much control Bremen had at the start of the final 45 minutes, as they won set-piece after set-piece.
And, it was Pizarro who finally won and scored from the free-kick which handed Bremen the lead six minutes into the second half, as Robert Tesche fouled the former Chelsea man just outside the area. The free-kick was curled off the inside of Drobný’s right-hand post by Marin, and as it bounced across goal, Pizarro was there before anyone else to steer it in. 1-0 to the hosts!
Hamburg immediately made an effort to get back on the ball and into the game. They went via Jarolím, where possible, and it was the clever sideways passing of the veteran in the 55th minute which lured Bremen into a false sense of central security. With the home side as narrow as could be, Jarolím dinked over to the standing-in-acres Aogo who was on his way to the final-third. However, the Juventus-targeted left-back’s cross was too high for the attackers to make contact with.
Despite the visitors having a foothold in the game (Jarolím was going from strength-to-strength; so adept at luring green-shirted players onto himself before feeding others in the subsequently materialising space), Bremen still looked the more dangerous side, mainly via Marin on the break – the former Gladbach man continuing to target Mancienne. At the back, they were defending doggedly, although the HSV movement in the box and the crosses that landed in there weren’t great.
Both teams were still in their high line-driven, compact and unchanged personnel-wise 4-4-2 systems as we approached the 70-minute mark. Bremen were becoming marginalised as an attacking force, as their breaks now involved holding the ball up and waiting for HSV to flood back into their own half. Although the tempo and intensity of the game had died a bit, there were eight players in the referee’s book at this stage, and a hectic two-minute spell as we entered the last twenty minutes saw Arnautović blaze a right-footed free-kick over, and Petrić – who set himself up so coolly in the box under pressure – denied twice at the other end of the pitch by some athletic Wiese brilliance.
Whereas the likes of Hunt were still hungry and offering something all over the pitch for Bremen, Skjelbred had become attack-hinderingly anonymous for Oenning’s side, and was replaced by Gökhan Töre in the 75th minute. But, two minutes later, any hopes Oenning had of taking something, anything from this game were ruined when Pizarro made it 2-0. Hunt crossed the ball into the box from the right-hand side following a corner, and Pizarro, six or so yards in front of the back post, chested the ball down, spun round to set himself up for a volley before his marker, Aogo, realised what was going on, and then blasted in to ensure that Bremen were going back towards the top of the table (albeit behind Bayern on goal difference)!
Schaaf took the opportunity to make some changes with the game all but won, bringing on Mehmet Ekici and Markus Rosenberg for Marin and Arnautović (the latter of whom looked thrilled at receiving a rapturous reception from the home fans). With five minutes remaining, Schaaf lifted the spirits of the Bremen fans even further by bringing on Naldo for his first appearance in 15 months (for Pizarro). But, the most important thing was that the points were kept in the bag (and they were – made certain when Wiese brilliantly denied national team colleague Jansen), and Bremen’s phenomenal start to the new season rolls on.