Matchday 2 of the Bundesliga campaign sees a battle at the bottom of the table, as 18th place Schalke 04 hosts 16th place Werder Bremen on Saturday afternoon at the Veltins-Arena.
As their league positions would suggest, both sides lost their opening games of the season, and they lost them badly.
Schalke featured on opening night against reigning champions Bayern Munich. After a decent start to proceedings, the Royal Blues would collapse, ultimately giving up eight goals in a massacre of a football match.
Bremen were not beaten as badly, but they conceded four goals of their own at home to Hertha Berlin while also looking lifeless going forward.
Both managers were already under enough pressure going into the campaign, and last week's results only raised the stakes. Now, each will be desperate to pick up all three points on Saturday, as the loser will likely be sacked before Matchday 3 even kicks off.
The season might only be a week old, but both sides are already dealing with a number of injuries.
Schalke will likely be without four first team players. Suat Serdar got hurt in the game against Munich and will miss Saturday’s contest as a result, while captain Omar Mascarell still isn’t match fit quite yet. Meanwhile, the defensive pairing of Salif Sane and Matija Nastasic are both unavailable for selection as well.
For Bremen, they’ll be without star man Milot Rashica, who is dealing with a knee injury that he picked up in preseason. Centerback Omer Toprak has recently returned to training, but the Schalke game comes a week too soon for him, and it’s a similar story for midfielder Kevin Mohwald.
Schalke: Fahrmann, Rudy, Kabak, Stambouli, Oczipka, Matondo, Schopf, Bentaleb, Harit, Raman, Paciencia
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Selassie, Moisander, Friedl, Augustinsson, Chong, Klaassen, Eggestein, Bittencourt, Sargent, Selke
Ones to watch
If Schalke want any chance of winning, they’ll need Amine Harit to be at his very best.
At times, he’s one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the Bundesliga. Harit uses his pace and dribbling ability to drive forward everytime he’s on the ball, forcing defenders to commit to challenges before dancing past them. The Moroccan can create in the final third as well, able to pick out open teammates or go for goal himself.
However, it’s been way too long since Harit has been in-form. He was very poor during the second half of last season, and an MCL injury ended up ruling him out for the last few weeks of the campaign. The Royal Blues suffered without him, and went from Europa League contenders to a club in crisis.
He did relatively well against Munich, but this Saturday will be a true test for the player. Can he step up and lead Schalke to victory, or will he disappear when needed most?
Where Josh Sargent plays in the starting lineup might indicate how the game will go for Bremen.
If he’s put on the left wing like last week, Bremen are in trouble. Being used out of position, Sargent really struggled. He was forced to track back constantly, and even though he tried, he’s not a great defender. That was clear on the first goal the Green-Whites conceded, as Sargent lost track of his man at the back post.
Since the American was so focused on helping the backline, he couldn’t do anything going forward. Sargent looked lost when he got the ball, not knowing when to cut inside or when to dribble towards the endline. None of it was his fault since he was being misused, but if Sargent is forced to play on the wing again, then he and the team will both suffer as a result.
If he’s put up top, then Bremen could be in business. Sargent was excellent when leading the line in preseason, and he even started to develop chemistry with strike partner Davie Selke. He scored three goals in that time, and even found the back of the net in their DFB Pokal first round match against Carl Zeiss Jena.
The Green-Whites are simply a better team when Sargent is playing at striker, and they’ll need him in his natural position if they want to pick up the win on the afternoon.
It’s been less than four months since these two sides last faced off, as Bremen won 1-0 at an empty Veltins-Arena at the end of May.
Far from the most exciting match, both sides came into the contest in poor form, and it showed early on.
The Green-Whites were the better side throughout, and went on to score the only goal of the game at the half hour mark. Davy Klaassen won the ball in midfield before poking it to Milot Rashica, who then picked out Leonardo Bittencourt on the counter. He would go on and do the rest, cutting inside before unleashing a shot that curled into the far corner on his weaker left foot.
Schalke had a few chances of their own, but their misfiring forwards just could not find the back of the net. The Royal Blues were already in free fall by the time this game kicked off, and their lack of confidence is what really cost them on the afternoon.
Bremen held on for the win, securing three crucial points that ultimately helped keep them in the Bundesliga.
Where to watch
Those in the UK can watch the contest on BT Sport 1, while fans in the United States can see the game on ESPN +.