Werder Bremen-Bayer Leverkusen preview

Two of Germany’s most successful sides in the 21st Century face one another tomorrow afternoon in the Bundesliga. Between them, Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen have notched up 12 top-four finishes this millennium, although as it stands, neither side looks good enough to take that total up to 13 or 14 come May. Winning here, however, is probably the only way to change that.

Some of the main narratives from both sides’ season to date have involved former Chelsea players. While Claudio Pizarro can’t stop scoring for Bremen, Michael Ballack has been one of the more disappointing of a plethora of disappointing performers for beleaguered coach Robin Dutt at Bayer Leverkusen. However, the club’s fans – eagerly awaiting the upcoming Champions League tie against Barcelona – seemingly sided with the 35-year-old midfielder as he was taken off during last weekend’s 3-2 victory over Mainz. Boos reverberated around the BayArena, and such noises were not entirely unexpected – since joining from Freiburg in the summer, Dutt is yet to convince both fans of the club and the players in his squad that he is the right man for the job. Continue reading

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Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Werder Bremen

The general first half formations.

Robin Dutt finally won his first game as Bayer Leverkusen manager as the home side scored a late winner in what had been an even and entertaining game. These two attack-minded sides dominated one another in separate spells throughout the 90 minutes, with both goalkeepers on top form to keep the game scoreless. But a moment of brilliant athleticism by Simon Rolfes in the 86th minute saw the Bremen defence caught off-guard and a deserved point cruelly snatched from their grasp.

Match preview here.

Bremen, lining up with near enough the same 4-4-2 midfield diamond and players that contested the victory over Kaiserslautern last week, got us under way at the BayArena, where the hosts had made changes in goal, defence, midfield and up front. The opening stages were keenly and evenly contested, Stefan Kießling in particular embodying the home side’s fight; a quality lacking in recent weeks.

Chances at both ends were dictated by Bremen’s tactics in the opening ten minutes, as two examples from the eighth and ninth minutes respectively illustrated. During the former, Bremen started short, and Sebastian Prödl looked about as he brought the ball forward, eyeing up the six or so Bremen attackers bobbing centrally. Continue reading

Werder Bremen 1-1 Schalke

The first half formations.

The sides who finished third and second respectively in last season’s Bundesliga played out a carefree and thrilling 1-1 draw on Saturday evening – a result that nigh-on confirms both sides’ places in the top division next season.

Life for Schalke fans is pretty sweet right now. They might have come into this game in tenth place – nine points from a Europa League qualification spot – having had to endure the season-long celebrations of nailed-on title winners and arch rivals Dortmund, but with Felix Magath gone, Ralf Rangnick stepping up to the managerial plate with ease, and their side in the last four of the Champions League, this league tie had something of a ‘who cares?’ about it for the Gelsenkirchen outfit’s fans. And this was reflected in their side’s starting line-up, with five changes made to the side which overcame Inter. Nevertheless, Schalke had won all four games which had been played under Rangnick to date  (including those two heroic quarter-final games against Inter), so there was no need to let that good form go to waste now. The hosts, sitting five points above the drop zone coming into this game, knew that another three or four points would be enough to secure their safety, and after two successive draws, a game against a side presumable exhausted after overcoming the reigning European champions was a better time than any to stop the rot. Schaaf stuck with the side that contested the game against Frankfurt last week (save for replacing Denni Avdić), but he had to make do without Sebastian Prödl, Avdić, Philipp Bargfrede and Naldo. Bremen’s guests, meanwhile, were without Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Tim Hoogland, Peer Kluge, Christoph Moritz, Christian Pander, Vasileios Pliatsikas and Mario Gavranović. Continue reading