Werder Bremen picked up three massive points in their fight for Bundesliga survival, as they beat Schalke 04 1-0 at the Veltins-Arena on Saturday afternoon.
A wonderful goal from Leonardo Bittencourt was the difference between the two sides, as he picked out the far corner from the edge of the area in the first half to score what was ultimately the winning goal.
It was a third straight game with a clean sheet for the Green-Whites as well, who now only sit two points off of the relegation playoff spot.
For the Royal Blues, yet another loss has sunk them down to 10th place in the league standings, with European qualification now seemingly out of the picture.
Story of the match
Things got interesting before the contest even kicked off, as Schalke made a notable change to their starting lineup. Goalkeeper Markus Schubert was dropped to the bench after making yet another mistake in their last game, with former number one Alexander Nubel taking his place in goal.
Bremen controlled the opening 15 minutes, keeping the ball high up the field and forcing Schalke to sit back defensively. They carved out a few half decent opportunities, but couldn’t come close to scoring.
The Green-Whites would finally make the most of their advantage at the half hour mark, as they took the lead after a superb strike from Leonardo Bittencourt. Davy Klaassen won the ball in the midfield, getting it to Milot Rashica who quickly gave it to Bittencourt out wide. He took a touch inside before looking up and curling a shot with his weaker left foot into the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper helpless.
Schalke almost equalized immediately soon after, as Weston McKennie got on the end of a free kick whipped in from the wing. Unlike last game, however, the American could not get his effort on target, heading wide instead.
It was a relatively tame first half all things considered, as most of it consisted of Bremen passing the ball around the midfield.
The Royal Blues were much improved after the halftime break, as they finally started to put some pressure on the opposing backline. They began to create some chances of their own, forcing Jiri Pavlenka into making some decent saves.
Things had completely flipped, as Schalke were now the ones running all over the field, forcing Bremen to drop deep and absorb pressure. However, they couldn’t carve out any golden opportunities.
The Green-Whites looked to hit on the counter, and really should have put the game to bed with a few minutes to go. Yuya Osako was played through on goal, and tried to cut the ball back to Klaassen. However, he was not as open as Osako thought he was, and a nearby defender was able to clear the ball away.
Ultimately, Bremen were able to hold on, securing three crucial points in the process. As a result, they now only sit two points behind Fortuna Dusseldorf in the race for the relegation playoff spot.
Schalke, on the other hand, have slipped all the way down to 10th place, miles off the Europa League qualifying spot they were initially aiming for.
Injury concerns for Bremen
The bad news for Bremen is that they had two of their main attacking threats come off hurt during the contest.
In the final moments of the first half, Bittencourt was hit hard by a sliding challenge, and was clearly shaken up by it. He was able to stay in the game until halftime, but he could only hobble around, and was taken off during the break.
Later on, Rashica was substituted. He seemed fine, but as soon as he got to the bench, part of his leg was wrapped up by the training staff. Less of a knock and likely more due to fatigue, it’s still unclear how injured he could be.
Hopefully neither of them will be forced to miss any games. If they are, however, that’s going to be very concerning for the Green-Whites.
They’ve already struggled going forward this season, and losing their two best players in the attack could be disastrous. The next few days will be crucial, as Bremen take the field again on Wednesday, facing off against Eintracht Frankfurt. Without them, winning will be a much tougher task.
The duality of man
Schalke fans will be especially disappointed with the result considering how well they played to end the contest. However, it was their dreadful start that cost them, showcasing their duality perfectly.
When the Royal Blues are trying, and seem to care, they’re a truly dangerous side. They keep the ball very well, and get it wide quickly to open up space in the middle. Industrious in the midfield as well, they put pressure on opposing backlines until they crack.
However, Schalke no longer seem motivated, which leads to them dropping disasterclasses on the field. Parking the bus and sitting too deep in their own penalty area, they never win any loose balls, and look completely toothless going forward.
Today’s loss was their fourth straight, which means they haven’t picked up a single point since the Bundesliga restarted. Schalke are in a crisis, and they’ll have to be more consistent if they want to change things anytime soon.
Man of the match: Leonardo Bittencourt
The man who made the difference on the afternoon, Bittencourt’s moment of magic was all Bremen needed to pick up the win.
Receiving the ball out wide, the German quickly took a touch before opening up his hips and curling a shot into the far corner. Nubel could only watch and make a courtesy dive, as there was no way he’d get to the ball no matter what he did.
Bittencourt has been the Green-Whites best player since the league has resumed, and the team will be desperate for his injury to only be a minor one. He was forced off, but the hope is he’ll only need a day or two to shake the knock off.
On loan from Hoffenheim, if Bittencourt manages to be the player who saves Bremen from relegation, then the club will have no choice than to buy him back in the offseason.