Werder Bremen 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Qualifying for next season’s Champions League remains a tall order for both Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen after they shared the spoils this afternoon following an evenly-contested match. Claudio Pizarro’s goal midway through the first-half didn’t quite come against the run of play, but Robin Dutt’s Leverkusen had been by far the better side in the game’s opening quarter. A half-time substitution and formational change revitalized Leverkusen, putting them back in the driving seat, and the visitors deservedly grabbed an early equalizer from a corner after a Tim Wiese mistake. Erin Derdiyok and Lars Bender looked particularly dangerous for the visitors thereafter, but neither side could grab a winner, despite having a plethora of chances in the closing stages. The result keeps the sides in fifth and sixth places respectively, and five points behind the side currently sitting ‘last’ in the top-four, Borussia Mönchengladbach (who are yet to play this weekend).

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Werder Bremen (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): Wiese; Clemens Fritz, François Affolter, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Florian Hartherz; Phillipp Bargfrede; Aleksandr Ignjovski, Tom Trybull; Mehmet Ekici; Markus Rosenborg, Pizarro

Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): Bernd Leno; Danny da Costa, Daniel Schwaab, Manuel Friedrich, Michal Kadlec; Stefan Reinartz; Gonzalo Castro, Simon Rolfes; Bender; Stefan Kießling, André Schürrle

With both coaches setting out their sides in identical formations, the opening 15 minutes were intriguing, albeit free of goalmouth action. Out of possession, both sides pressed well, keeping the ball mainly in and around the centre-circle area, and ensuring that Leno and Wiese had little to do during the first quarter. The visitors’ play looked the more promising of either side, though, with their one-time passing moves occasionally neat and effective, and their passing accuracy far higher than that of Bremen’s, who looked stodgy and shorn of ideas and belief.

Leverkusen were also the only side looking to take advantage of the space available down the flanks, although they didn’t do this with  enough regularity in the opening 20 minutes or so (or the whole of the first half, for that matter). Not only that, when either da Costa or Kadlec did launch a surprise dart down the channel, widening the occasionally blob-like Bremen defence, players such as Rolfes and Bender wasted the unfolding space with the ball at their feet in the final-third by either looking to shoot or blazing it over respectively.

Assured and slick Leverkusen continued to do most of the attacking as we neared the 25-minute mark, and Bender twice drew good saves from Wiese in the space of a minute. From the latter, which came via a short corner-kick and a paucity of concentration from Bremen, the home side knocked the ball up to Ekici to surge forward on the break. He immediately found himself halted and being steered back towards his own goal, but showed good strength and awareness to knock a cross-field through-ball to Pizarro. The Peruvian danced in from the chalk, before shaving Leno’s left-hand post with a left-footed drive. Bremen, all of a sudden, were alive, and Ekici had a particularly effective five minutes: reaching the box with a driving and jinxing run on one occasion, and then winning a free-kick – which he took, right-footed, and blazed over – on the edge of the box after another confident and hard-to-defend dribble.

So, it was no surprise to see the former Bayern Munich man help Bremen take a 27th minute lead. After an attempt to push on, da Costa – who had looked positionally uncertain from the off – was caught out, but managed to get a crunching tackle in on an attempted through-pass into the space he had vacated. However, the ball went straight back to the hosts, and was fed to Ekici. He shimmied infield, drawing men across, before slipping the ball out to Trybull. At this point, Pizarro began a run; exploiting the fact that the too-deep da Costa was playing him onside to head over to the other side of the box. Trybull, who had acres of room and plenty of time, hit a slow dinked cross into the box first-time, allowing Pizarro time to trap before burying the ball home past a static Leno for 1-0!

Leverkusen finally got back on the ball again after falling behind, and tried their best to get the marginalised Kießling and Schürrle back into the game. However, the visitors looked to have lost confidence and zip to their attacks, making it easy for the hard-pressing Bremen to mop up and compress the space. Although Kießling still made one or two good off-the-ball runs into probing pockets of space, the midfield and full-backs just couldn’t get the ball through to him. After falling behind, Dutt had made his midfield a little flatter, with Castro now playing at centre-midfield, with Bender on the right. But, his side didn’t threaten Wiese at all during the rest of the half.

They very nearly fell 2-0 behind in the 37th minute as well when Friedrich and Kadlec were too (a). slow, and (b). far apart in coming out after a cleared corner. Bargfrede scooped the second-ball back into the D first-time, allowing Rosenborg to run onto it between the aforementioned spread-out Leverkusen defenders. Kadlec just about managed to get a foot in before the Swede pulled the trigger, however. A few minutes later, the Czech Republic international wasted the chance to put a free-kick into the box by underhitting the set-piece, before earning himself a yellow card for attempting to stop the subsequent Bremen counter-attack.

Leverkusen’s defensive woes continued, with Rosenborg’s canny run being found with an inch perfect through-pass in the 45th minute. The striker rounded the sprinting Leno, before seeing his effort blocked just in front of goal by Schwaab. Hartherz’s subsequent left-footed corner-kick went out before coming back in, ruining Bremen’s hopes of sending their visitors in 2-0 down at the break.

Second half starting formations

Werder Bremen (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): Wiese; Fritz, Affolter, Papastathopoulos, Hartherz; Bargfrede; Ignjovski, Trybull, Ekici; Rosenborg, Pizarro

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-1-2, from right to left): Leno; Castro, Schwaab, Friedrich, Kadlec; Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes; Schürrle; Kießling, Derdiyok

It was no surprise to see da Costa fail to return for the second half, with Derdiyok taking his place. This substitution saw Castro move to right-back, and Schürrle becoming a trequartista in a new 4-3-1-2 system. The visitors did the majority of the attacking in the opening ten minutes of the new half, although had little to show for it other than Rosenborg getting a yellow card for a rough tackle on the ever-busy Bender, and Kadlec stinging Wiese’s palms with a bullet-quick free-kick. The 4-3-1-2 was different to the 4-4-2 diamond which started the match, because Schürrle was playing and bobbing closer to the two strikers, and Rolfes and Bender were generally nearer the chalk than to Reinartz, who continued to sit in front of the defence. The move, although bold, did look risky, as Ekici, Rosenborg and Pizarro all stood poised ready to go forward on the counter-attack in a close-together triangle, looking to take advantage of the space left by the visitors in the centre.

Counter-attacks looked like the only form of attacking Bremen would do in the second half, as they sat back in their own half, content to let Leverkusen knock it around at the back without pressing. However, Dutt’s side were content to work off scraps, winning free-kicks and corners. And, they took advantage of winning one of the latter in the 58th minute to make it 1-1. Swung in left-footed from the right by Kadlec, Reinartz had a simple header into the goal from a centre-ish position off the edge of the six-yard box. His marker, Hartherz, seemingly failed to attack the ball because his ‘keeper had screamed that he was coming to collect it. But, Wiese was too slow in coming out, meeting Reinartz only after the sitting-midfielder had headed into an empty net for the equalizer!

Bremen looked a little shell-shocked after conceding, although four minutes after Reinartz’s goal, Wiese did come out and collect a corner, showing no lasting effects from his blunder. Despite a highly effective first 45 minutes, Ekici had barely touched the ball in 18 minutes of second half football, so was removed by Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf for Niclas Füllkrug. Intriguingly, the youngster went up front alongside Rosenborg, as Pizarro took up a similar role to the one being played by Schürrle. However, the system was still very much a 4-4-2 diamond, as Schaaf kept his players extremely closer together, even pushing Bargfrede – still at the base – further up the pitch. Nevertheless, it was all Leverkusen, and in the space of three minutes, Derdiyok – whose movement into the channels and centrally was proving hard to curtail – and Bender laid on fantastic chances for one another, both of which were squandered.

By contrast, the hosts’ strikers were forced into chasing scraps, as Bremen struggled to get their foot on the ball (and, even when they did, the green-shirted players had reverted back to being the sloppy bunch who started the match). Pizarro, meanwhile, despite playing deeper, spent a good twenty minutes following Reinartz’s goal watching the game pass him by.

As we entered the final quarter of an hour, both sides were starting to look tired. The pace of the game had slowed considerably, and the emphasis seemed to be on keeping things tight rather than wholeheartedly gambling on nabbing a goal. Looking to replacing two tired legs with a fresher set, Schaaf brought on Wesley for Trybull. But, after Fritz had tried to inject some of his own energy into the game by surging forward, Leverkusen very nearly grabbed a potential match-winner. Stopping the hosts’ right-back in his tracks, the visitors surged down the left. A diagonal ball was played towards the back-post, where the effervescent Derdiyok was sliding in. The Swiss striker just about couldn’t get anything on the pass, however, keeping the score at 1-1.

Against a struggling makeshift Bremen defence, Derdiyok’s movement was impeccable throughout the second half, and with nine minutes to play, his surprise sideways dart into the channel opened up the pitch for Schürrle to run at the defence. The former Mainz man slipped in Derdiyok’s run behind the defence, before getting the ball back, but neither could get a decent shot away at goal.

The atmosphere was white-hot in the final seven or eight minutes: caused by a combination of Bremen re-finding energy and belief, a number of fouls and offside decisions going the visitors’ way, and Hartherz very nearly scoring with a sumptuous volley. The several-minute spell of rest where both sides looked fatigued was well and truly over – all 20 outfield players were now presumably fully aware that only a couple of hundreds of seconds remained in the game, and that if they were to keep their faint Champions League hopes alive, a goal was needed. But, neither side could make the breakthrough, probably leaving both sets of fans and coaches disappointed. Bremen travel to Freiburg next weekend, while Leverkusen host Stuttgart.

The formations that finished the game

Werder Bremen (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): Wiese; Fritz, Affolter, Papastathopoulos, Hartherz; Bargfrede; Ignjovski, Wesley; Pizarro; Rosenborg, Füllkrug

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-1-2, from right to left): Leno; Castro, Schwaab, Friedrich, Kadlec; Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes; Schürrle; Kießling, Derdiyok

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