Arguably the most important fixture of the German football season takes place on Thursday afternoon, as Werder Bremen host FC Heidenheim in the first leg of the Bundesliga relegation playoff at the Wohninvest Weserstadion.
The Green-Whites clinched their place in the playoff against all the odds on the final day of the Bundesliga season. It all began when they demolished FC Koln 6-1, which was a truly remarkable result considering how poor they had been going forward all season. They still needed help, though, and that came when Union Berlin beat Fortuna Dusseldorf 3-0. Those results meant Bremen jumped up to 16th place at the eleventh hour, relegating Dusseldorf in the process.
Meanwhile, Heidenheim backed into the playoffs. Going into the last matchday of the 2. Bundesliga campaign, they sat in 3rd place, only one point ahead of Hamburger SV. It seemed Heidenheim had blown their chance of making the playoffs when they lost 3-0 to league champions Arminia Bielefeld. However, they were bailed out by midtable side Sandhausen, who beat Hamburger 5-1 to keep Heidenheim in the playoff spot.
Bremen will be without defender Kevin Vogt, who’s suspended for the first leg due to yellow card accumulation. The midfield pair of Kevin Mohwald and Nuri Sahin are also unavailable for selection, as neither has recovered from the injuries that have ruled them out since the restart.
There is some good news for the Green-Whites, as Sebastian Langkamp has recently returned to training, and could feature if needed be. The player is still listed as doubtful at the moment, though.
Heidenheim only have a few injury concerns of their own to deal with. Maximilian Thiel is out with a knee issue, while Oliver Husing hasn’t recovered from his ankle problem. There is a chance Arne Feick could make his return to the team, however, as he’s now fit after picking up a knock recently.
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Selassie, Veljkovic, Moisander, Friedl, Eggestein, Bargfrede, Klaassen, Osako, Fullkrug, Rashica
FC Heidenheim: Muller, Busch, Mainka, Beermann, Fohrenbach, Griesbeck, Dorsch, Leipertz, Schnatterer, Mohr, Kleindienst
Ones to watch
Milot Rashica is, for lack of a better term, too good to be playing in a game like this.
The uber talented winger should be playing for teams in European competitions like the Champions League or the Europa League. Instead, he’s in the relegation playoff with Bremen.
Now, the pressure is on Rashica to prove he’s too good for the second division. Everyone knows how talented the Kosovo international is, as a number of Europe’s elite sides are interested in the player, and he’s destined to make a move elsewhere in the summer regardless of the result of the playoff.
However, he’s not shown his ability as much as fans would have wanted. Rashica did end the campaign with 11 goals and 8 assists in all competitions, but he’s still been too inconsistent at times. Before the game against Koln, the winger only had one assist in the eight games Bremen had played since the restart.
He got himself back on the scoresheet versus Koln, and the Green-Whites will hope Rashica can rise to the occasion and carry them to a playoff victory.
If Heidenheim want any chance of winning promotion to the Bundesliga, they’ll need to score some goals over the course of the two legs. They only scored 45 goals during the 2. Bundesliga season, which was the same amount as Wehen Wiesbaden, who were relegated.
Out of those 45 goals, 14 were scored by Tim Kleindienst, who will need to carry the goalscoring load once again versus Bremen.
Standing at 6’4”, the forward is a towering presence in the air. He can either win duels in the midfield to keep possession or head home from close range to find the back of the net. Kleindienst also knows where to be in the penalty area, getting himself open for easy finishes from close range.
Against a relatively poor Bremen defense, there’s a chance the German could feast over the course of the two legs. Heidenheim will hope he can do just that, as Kleindienst’s goals have gotten them to this stage, and they might just be what finally gets them into the Bundesliga.
Remarkably enough, these two sides have already faced off this season, going up against each other in the 2nd round of the DFB Pokal.
It was an easy day at the office for Bremen, who went 4-0 up before the end of the first half.
Rashica opened the scoring in style after six minutes, picking out the bottom corner with a curling shot from the edge of the area. Leonardo Bittencourt then made it two on the counter attack before Davy Klaassen saw his shot deflect past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Even defender Marco Friedl got in on the scoring, getting in behind the opposing backline before coolly slotting home from close range.
Heidenheim would grab a consolation goal right before the halftime break, as Marc Schnatterer slammed a penalty past Jiri Pavlenka to get one back for the away side.
That goal would not faze the Green-Whites, who held on to secure the dominant victory and book their spot in the next round of the German cup.
Where to watch
Fans in the UK can watch the first leg on BT Sport 1, while those in the United States can see the game on Fox Sports 2.