Werder Bremen vs VfL Wolfsburg Preview: Northern rivals in need of a boost

Both sides are looking to kick-start their seasons after poor starts, with this fixture producing several classics over the years.

Werder Bremen vs VfL Wolfsburg Preview: Northern rivals in need of a boost
Photo: Getty/Oliver Hardt

Two sides from the north of Germany in desperate need of a lift come face-to-face on Saturday evening.

Both Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg have had difficult starts to the season, although Bremen’s problems have been far more significant than Wolfsburg’s.

They have lost all of the games they have played in, and sacked Viktor Skripnik in the process, although Wolfsburg’s indifferent start was only put into sharper focus by the heavy defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night.

The odds will be in Wolfsburg's favour, but can a refreshed Bremen side do what they so nearly managed against 1. FSV Mainz 05 and pick up their first points of the season.

Disappointing starts for both

Bremen have lost every competitive match they’ve played this season. Skripnik was fired after last week’s 4-1 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach, having already lost to Sportfreunde Lotte in the DFB-Pokal, Bayern Munich and FC Augsburg.

Alexander Nouri has taken temporary charge of the side, with names as varied as Louis van Gaal and Markus Gisdol mentioned as permanent successors. However Nouri almost won his first match in charge, before Bremen threw away the lead Izet Hajrovic had given them as Mainz grabbed two late goals.

Wolfsburg started solidly if unspectacularly. Their opening day victory against Augsburg was by goalless draws with 1. FC Koln and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, with Koen Casteels keeping three consecutive clean sheets in the process.

However a rampant Dortmund side tore into them in midweek, thrashing Wolves lost 5-1. It means they have scored just one goal in the last three games, with Mario Gómez yet to find the net for his new side.

Recent history promises goals

Despite both sides struggling for goals this season, games between them historically bring plenty, with some famous encounters over the years, perhaps no more so than the 5-1 victory that sealed Wolfsburg’s only Bundesliga title to date in 2009.

The sides scored 11 goals between them last season, with the home side coming out on top on both occasions. Max Kruse, now of Bremen but currently injured, scored a double as Wolfsburg won the first game 6-0.

However Bremen secured an important three points in their battle against the drop at the Weserstadion in mid-April, with Claudio Pizarro (also injured at the moment) becoming Bremen’s record Bundesliga goal scorer in the 3-2 win.

The last five games in Bremen have averaged five goals each, and the previous season’s game was an absolute thriller. The hosts led three times, but three times a Wolfsburg side inspired by Kevin de Bruyne and Bas Dost fought back, and they went on to win 5-3.

Overall both sides have won nine of the 21 games between the two in Bremen, although Saturday’s hosts have the best overall record, courtesy of two extra wins in meetings at Volkswagen Arena.

Nouri optimistic about his side

Nouri said he was “absolutely optimistic” about the prospects for his team at his Friday press conference. “We have a top demeanour and attitude,” he said. “And we will again see a team that wants to win at all costs and where everyone unconditionally supports the others.”

He was also happy with how his side played on Wednesday. “We improved significantly against Mainz compared to the other matches beforehand,” he said. “If we can take the positives from that and play with the same morale and team spirit, then I am sure we will turn things around very soon.”

Three games in eight days is no easy task, but Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking is glad to quickly move after the Dortmund game. "Following the match on Tuesday, it’s good to have another game immediately, without having too long to dwell on the last one," he said at his own press conference on Thursday.

It might be seen as an easy chance to bounce back, but needless to say he talked up Saturday’s opposition. “The team play with a lot of passion and the fans are right behind them,” he said. “Bremen played very decently against Mainz and were the better team for 70 minutes, but just couldn’t hang on to get a result."

Many still missing for both clubs

Pizarro and Kruse are not the only players missing for Bremen, with five other players out injured. Left-back Santiago García is closing in on a return though after returning to training with the squad. Hajrovic and Sambou Yatabaré are available despite injury concerns in the last few days.

Nouri freshened up the side for his first game in charge, bringing in 19-year-old striker Ousman Manneh from his under-23 team, recalling Hajrovic and given a first Bundesliga start to Niklas Moisander, and Nouri suggested they were likely to remain in the line-up against Wolfsburg.

Wolfsburg have new injury concerns after Daniel Didavi, the goal scorer against Dortmund, was ruled out for several weeks following knee surgery on Friday, and 18-year-old winger Ismail Azzaoui, who was yet to play in this campaign, could miss the rest of the season following a cruciate ligament tear.

They join the likes of Luiz Gustavo, Joshua Guilavogui and Sebasitan Jung on the treatment table, although Gustavo could be back for the game against Mainz next weekend.

Hecking gave no indication about his selections for the game. Maximilian Arnold and Bruno Henrique may be vulnerable after being hauled off at half-time against Dortmund, with Daniel Caligiuri, Paul Seguin and Robin Knoche contenders to come in.

Predicted line-ups

Werder Bremen: (4-3-3) Drobny, Gebre Selassie, Sané, Moisander, Bauer; Fritz, Grillitsch, Junuzovic; Hajrovic, Gnabry, Manneh.

VfL Wolfsburg: (4-2-3-1) Casteels, Vieirinha, Wollscheid, Bruma, Rodríguez; Gerhardt, Arnold; Blaszczykowski, Draxler, Caligiuri; Gómez.

Quotes via Werder Bremen, Kicker and VfL Wolfsburg.