The curious case of Werder Bremen
Photo by Pool via GettyImages

On the surface, it seems like Werder Bremen have had a completely normal start to their 2020/21 campaign. 

The Green-Whites picked up 11 points from their opening eight games and now sit comfortably in 9th place in the Bundesliga. Even their goal differential is at zero, with the team scoring 10 and conceding 10 as well. There have been highs, like the 3-1 win away to Schalke, and lows, like the 4-1 loss at home versus Hertha Berlin on opening day.

However, since then, things have gotten a bit weird. Bremen have tied their last five games, and they’ve tied all of those games 1-1.

That’s right. Five straight 1-1 draws. That means a five game unbeaten streak and also a five match winless run. The series of results obviously broke a Bundesliga record, and have led to plenty of memes and jokes on social media.

All the fun out the way, the Green-Whites are now trying to find out what this all means for the team and its future. 

The good

There are reasons to believe Bremen could sneak into a Europa League qualifying spot.

Most importantly, they’ve improved greatly at the back. The Green-Whites were an absolute disaster defensively last season, giving up goals for fun. Jiri Pavlenka, who is one of the best goalkeepers in the league, could not do anything except pick the ball out of his own net time and time again. The backline just kept making mistakes, and it almost cost the team their Bundesliga status.

They’re a lot more solid this year. Bremen are far from perfect, of course, but they’ve cut down on the amount of errors committed on a weekly basis. Opposing forwards are no longer being left wide open and given time to shoot. Since their chances have been tougher to convert, it’s given Pavlenka the opportunity to step up when need be. He’s shown just how good he can be, making several key saves at key times.

Plenty of credit goes to manager Florian Kohfeldt, who has made a few smart adjustments. He’s started utilizing a back three formation with wingbacks, which allows the team to better deal with crosses whipped into the area. He’s also putting the right players in the right positions, and they are repaying his faith. 

Marco Friedl has been a star since being converted to centerback, while veteran Omer Toprak has been immense following his return from injury. They’ve been helped out by Maximilian Eggestein in front of them, as the midfielder uses his endless energy to track back whenever need be.

His box-to-box abilities have helped out the Green-Whites going forward as well. Eggestein has two goals this season, and they came in very similar fashion. He makes a late run into the area that isn’t picked up before slotting home a shot with composure.

He has stood out, but most of Bremen’s goalscoring has been done by committee. Niclas Fullkrug leads the team with four goals, but three of those came in one game against Schalke. Leonardo Bittencourt has scored two of his own, while strikers Josh Sargent and Davie Selke each have one as well. Star man Milot Rashica has only recently recovered from injury as well, so expect him to grab some goals before the season is done.

The most recent draw on the road against Bayern Munich shows that the Green-Whites can compete with any team in the league. If they can finally start putting some wins together, then they might just make a push for a European spot by the end of the campaign.

The bad

However, there are also reasons to believe Bremen could fall back into a relegation fight.

The defense is better, but they still seem to make at least one mistake per game. They would’ve beaten Koln if centerback Niklas Moisander didn’t redirect the ball into the back of his own net, and a turnover from Jean-Manuel Mbom cost them versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The Green-Whites only have one clean sheet after eight games, which isn’t good enough.

Their main worry is going forward, though. They get a few goals, sure, but they’re never really threatening on the attack. In other terms, no backline is afraid when coming up against Bremen. When Rashica is out of form, no one on the team can really create chances for themselves. Davy Klaassen used to be key in this regard, but he left for Ajax in the summer, and wasn’t really replaced.

The Green-Whites have sacrificed attacking freedom for defensive stability, which has somewhat worked, but that won’t continue for long. Sometimes risks have to be taken, but Kohfeldt seems scared to let his team loose. It’s hard to blame him considering how that worked out at times last season, but these current tactics could be holding the side back. 

Certain players are also underperforming, to be fair. Bremen needs Rashica to be back to his best, and they need to get more out of Manchester United loanee Tahith Chong if they want to start putting pressure on the opposition.

Seven points separates Bremen from the relegation zone, which seems like a lot, but the season is still young. Those at the bottom of the table will eventually improve, and they could pass the Green-Whites by if they are not careful.

And the unpredictable

All things considered, it’s impossible to tell what the future has in store for Bremen and their supporters.

They could go on an extended winning streak and shoot up the league standings, or they can start to fall apart and slip back down into a fight for survival. Maybe they’ll just continue to tie games 1-1, settling for midtable mediocrity as a result.

There are plenty of reasons to worry and have hope for the Green-Whites at the same time. An unremarkable start to the season on the surface is actually one of the most interesting narratives in European football.

At the very least, Bremen is set for a very unpredictable season ahead.