Saturday afternoon sees yet another contest with relegation implications as Werder Bremen host Schalke 04 at the Wohninvest Weserstadion on Saturday afternoon.
Bremen put some space between themselves and the bottom three last weekend as they beat Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion. It was one of the team’s biggest results of the season, as their ruthlessness in front of goal helped them pick up all three points despite not playing well for chunks of the match.
Schalke, meanwhile, sank further into the relegation zone as they lost at home to Bayern Munich. That was always going to happen, to be fair, but the good news is that the Royal Blues only lost by four goals this time around, which is half the deficit of the reverse fixture on opening day.
Bremen had two of their goalscorers against Berlin come off injured during the game, so both Davie Selke and Omer Toprak are currently listed as doubtful.
No one else is ready to return to the team just yet, so the Green-Whites will once again be without Ludwig Augustinsson, Christian Groß, Patrick Erras, and Niclas Fullkrug.
Schalke, on the other hand, are still dealing with an injury crisis as they’ve got several players on the treatment table. Goncalo Paciencia, Steven Skrzybski, and Salif Sane are all dealing with knee problems, while Kilian Ludewig has yet to recover from an issue with his foot.
Neither Nabil Bentaleb nor Nassim Boujellab will feature either. There is some good news, at least, as Frederik Ronnow and winter signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are game time decisions, so both could be available for selection if all goes well.
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Veljkovic, Moisander, Friedl, Gebre Selassie, Bittencourt, Eggestein, Mohwald, Agu, Rashica, Sargent
Schalke: Fahrmann, Becker, Kabak, Nastasic, Kolasinac, Stambouli, Serdar, Raman, Uth, Harit, Hoppe
Ones to watch
It’s been a long road back from injury for Milot Rashica, but it seems like he’ll finally return to the starting lineup this weekend.
Out for more than a month due to a problem with his hamstring, Rashica had been forced to settle for cameos off the bench in recent games since he wasn’t fully fit. He showed glimpses of his ability during these appearances, with the highlight coming against Borussia Monchengladbach when his quick shot hit the post to deny Bremen a late equalizer.
It’s time for him to start once again, though. Rashica may not be back at his best just yet, but it’s clear that he’s got enough match fitness in him to go from the first whistle.
The Green-Whites could certainly use him up top. Far from the most attacking team on the planet, Bremen have gotten most of their goals from set pieces and crosses into the area. It’s been a scoring-by-committee approach that has gotten the job done so far, but the team needs someone who can be the focal point going forward.
That’s where Rashica steps in. Incredibly dynamic, the Kosovo international uses his pace and dribbling ability to blow past defenders at times. He can finish as well, and he’s already scored a number of screamers in his relatively brief career.
He’s a matchwinner, and the Green-Whites will hope he can pull off a moment of magic or two this weekend.
Many eyes were on United States international Josh Sargent going into this season, but another young American forward has snatched the spotlight from him.
Only called up to the Schalke first team from the academy in November, Matthew Hoppe has started his Bundesliga career on the right foot to say the very least. His hat-trick versus Hoffenheim led to the Royal Blues finally ending their lengthy winless streak, and he followed that performance up with goals in the next two games against Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Koln.
With recent signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar still not fully fit, Hoppe will have to shoulder the attacking responsibility for Schalke once again. An old school forward of sorts, the 19 year old makes intelligent runs that put him into space and into dangerous positions. He knows where the goal is as well, as he’s an incredibly composed finisher for someone of his age.
Hoppe has been a revelation for the Royal Blues, and the pressure is now on him to prove he’s not just a flash in the pan. Only time will tell what does happen, but another goal this weekend could cement himself as a true international phenom.
Last time out
These two sides faced off on Matchday 2 of this season at the Veltins-Arena, and even though the game came early in the campaign, there was still a lot riding on the result as both teams were seen as relegation candidates.
After a hot start to the contest, Bremen would take the lead in the 22nd minute. A corner from Ludwig Augustinsson picked out Josh Sargent who headed the ball towards goal. His attempt went right to Niclas Fullkrug, and the forward was able to redirect a first time finish past Ralf Fahrmann.
It would be 2-0 only 15 minutes later. Coming courtesy of another set piece, Fullkrug found space in the area before heading home a free kick that was whipped in by Augustinsson.
Schalke responded well and really should have pulled one back after the halftime break, but the away side ended up putting the game to bed at the hour mark. Fullkrug was taken down in the box by Ozan Kabak, and the German stepped up to slot home the resulting spot kick, completing his hat-trick in the process.
The nightmare only continued for the Royal Blues as Kabak was then sent off with five minutes to go after being shown a second yellow. However, they were able to get something from the match, as Mark Uth’s volley in stoppage time was a nice consolation goal.
All in all, it was a performance that showed fans of each side what they should expect in the year ahead.
How to watch
The match won’t be broadcasted in the UK, but fans in the United States will be able to see the game on ESPN+.