Werder Bremen picked up their first win of the Bundesliga season on Saturday night, as the Green-Whites beat Schalke 3-1 at the Veltins-Arena.
Niclas Fullkrug was the hero for the away side, as his hat-trick proved to be the difference between the two teams. The Royal Blues did grab a late consolation goal from Mark Uth, but it doesn’t seem like that will be enough to save manager David Wagner’s job following yet another loss.
Story of the match
The away side should have opened the scoring after 10 minutes, as Leonardo Bittencourt won the ball high up the pitch before picking out Josh Sargent in the area. However, the forward made a mess of the finish, fluffing a shot that went nowhere.
They wouldn’t make the same mistake midway through the first half, though. A corner flew right to an unmarked Sargent, who headed towards goal. Niclas Fullkrug was at the right place at the right time, and pulled off a slick flick-on finish from a few yards out to break the deadlock on the night.
At this point, Bremen took full control of the contest and would double their advantage before the break. A free-kick from Ludwig Augustinsson was whipped in perfectly, and all Fullkrug had to do was redirect his header into the back of the net.
Schalke did respond well, and had a few half chances in the final minutes of the first half, but they could not convert any of them.
The Royal Blues came out hot to start the second half, and should have pulled one back. Substitute Vedad Ibisevic was left wide open in the area, but his header bounced just wide of the target. Then, only moments later, Nassim Boujellab had a huge opportunity of his own, but had his effort saved by Jiri Pavlenka.
However, it would be Bremen who grabbed the next goal against the run of play. Fullkrug was involved once again, winning a penalty after being taken down in the area by highly rated centerback Ozan Kabak. The German stepped up to take the resulting spot kick and coolly converted it, sealing his hat-trick while putting the game to bed in the process.
The Green-Whites could have had a fourth with 15 minutes to go, as a loose ball in the box bounced towards Sargent only inches away from goal. However, his header attempt was aimed right at Ralf Fahrmann, who managed to make the save.
Things got even worse for Schalke as they then found themselves down a man after Kabak was sent off. It was the right decision, as he made a stupid challenge while already on a yellow card, so the referee had no other choice than to show him a second.
They did pull one back in stoppage time, as Mark Uth rifled home from the edge of the area, but Bremen would still win with relative ease, picking up three crucial points in their fight to avoid relegation.
It has only been two weeks since the season kicked off, but it seems the Bundesliga is merely days away from having it’s first firing of the campaign.
David Wagner came into this contest under immense pressure, as his Schalke side had been dreadful ever since the league returned following the coronavirus-caused hiatus earlier this year. They were smashed by Bayern Munich 8-0 in their previous match, and never really looked like a team that knew what they were doing.
That’s why many saw this game as Wagner’s last chance. Up against fellow relegation candidates in Bremen, the Royal Blues knew they needed to win if they wanted to calm down their supporters' worst fears.
Instead, they came out flat, and despite a strong showing in the opening moments of the second half, were deserved losers on the night. As a result, Schalke sit dead last in the Bundesliga standings with a goal differential of -11.
Things need to change at the Veltins-Arena, and the process should start with the sacking of Wagner.
Kohfeldt gets it right
Florian Kohfeldt was also on the hot seat going into this contest, but unlike Wagner, he was able to coach his team to victory.
He named a seemingly questionable starting lineup, as Tahith Chong was benched after impressing last week while goalscorer Davie Selke was dropped in favor of Niclas Fullkrug. Jean-Manuel Mbom also made his debut, but it wasn’t clear where he was even playing.
However, Kohfeldt’s decisions paid off. After a rough start, Bremen dominated for a majority of the game, and made the most of their chances. Unbelievably dangerous on the counter attack and on set-pieces, they looked like a team with a plan.
That’s because Kohdeldt got his tactics spot on. He’s received a lot of criticism as of late, and most of it was deserved, but he should be applauded for the way the Green-Whites performed on the night.
Now, the pressure is on for him and Bremen to build upon this.
Man of the match - Niclas Fullkrug
The man who ended the night with the match ball, a hat-trick from Fullkrug was what made the difference for Bremen.
It was an old-school showing from the striker, who simply knew where to be at all times. His finishes were instinctive and clinical, showcasing his experience and goalscoring ability in the final third.
The Green-Whites know they’ll need goals if they want to stay up this season, but if Fullkrug can keep playing like this, then they won’t have to worry about where goals will come from.