The battle at the bottom half of the Bundesliga standings continue on Sunday afternoon as Werder Bremen hosts Arminia Bielefeld at the SchücoArena.
With Mainz and Schalke buried deep in the two automatic relegation spots, the race to avoid the relegation playoff is where all the drama lies at the moment.
Bielefeld are currently in that dreaded 16th position, but a result this weekend could put them ahead of Hertha Berlin who lost to Bayern Munich this past Friday night.
Bremen knows all about the playoff, as winning that was what kept them in the Bundesliga last season. They narrowly defeated FC Heidenheim on away goals over the course of two legs, so they’ll surely look to avoid the anxiety of that series this time around. The good news is that they are already five points clear of that spot, and a win on Sunday will only increase that gap even further.
It’s remarkable news on the injury front for Bielefeld as they’ll have everyone available for selection.
Things aren’t too bad for Bremen either. Patrick Erras will miss out due to a muscle injury, while striker Niclas Fullkrug is a doubt for the contest.
Arminia Bielefeld: Ortega, Brunner, Pieper, Nilsson, Laursen, Doan, Kunze, Hartel, Soukou, Klos, Cordova
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Veljkovic, Toprak, Friedl, Gebre Selassie, Bittencourt, Eggestein, Mohwald, Augustinsson, Sargent, Rashica
Ones to watch
Bielefeld are a solid defensive outfit, but they really struggle going forward. They’ve only scored 15 goals on the year, tied for the least in the league. They need their creative outlets to step up, which is why there will be pressure on Ritsu Doan on Sunday.
Coming to the club on loan from PSV Eindhoven, there was a fair bit of hype surrounding his signing. It was only a loan deal, but Bielefeld were hoping that Doan could be the man who kept them up this season.
That’s not exactly what has happened, though. Doan hasn’t been too bad, with three goals and three assists in all competitions this year, but it’s not quite been enough. The Japanese winger has shown moments of promise over the course of the campaign, but his lack of effectiveness in the final third has hurt him and his side.
There is hope on the horizon, as Doan has seemingly improved as the season has gone on. However, he’s still inconsistent, so no one’s quite sure which version of the player will show up this weekend. If Bielefeld are to have any chance of winning, they’ll need the Japanese international to step up and show why there was excitement surrounding his arrival.
Is this finally the game where Milot Rashica breaks out?
It’s been a tough season for Bremen’s star man. It seemed like he was set to leave the club in the summer, but a move never came to be. He then got injured before the start of the campaign, and just as it seemed like he was back to full fitness, he got hurt again.
Rashica finally returned to the starting lineup during the week in the DFB-Pokal, but he looked a little off the pace. That is to be expected, of course, as the Kosovo international does need to shake off some rust, but the Green-Whites need him back at his best soon.
Bremen often struggle when going forward as they don’t create too many chances. The team relies on scoring from set-pieces and taking the few opportunities they get, which does get the job done more often than not, but it’s far from pretty. They just lack a certain edge at the moment, which is something that Rashica can bring to the table when he’s in form.
He’s simply a threat that can hit in the blink of an eye. Rashica is incredibly rapid both on and off the ball, making him a nightmare for opposing defenders to deal with. He also knows how to shoot, and he can score from almost any distance due to his elite striking ability.
We’ve just not seen any of that this season, so Bremen will be hoping Sunday is the start of Rashica’s return to his peak.
Last time out
These two sides met early on this season in a battle between relegation candidates.
Bremen thought they had opened the scoring after just 20 minutes when Leonardo Bittencourt drilled home a loose ball that fell to him in the area. However, the sideline official’s flag went up, and a VAR decision confirmed that he was offside, so the goal was called off.
Bittencourt would not be denied for much longer, though, as he gave his side the lead seven minutes later. A long diagonal pass from Marco Friedl picked out Jean Manuel-Mbom on the wing, and he then hit a first time pass into the area. It found Bittencourt, who took a touch to settle himself before volleying a shot into the back of the net.
Bielefeld kept the contest tight throughout, and they came close with two separate headers. The first from Fabian Klos was saved by Jiri Pavelnka, while the second attempt from Mike van der Hoorn went just over the bar.
It seemed like their pressure had finally paid off as Van der Hoorn pounced on a rebound in the 94th minute to poke home from close range. However, the equalizer would be called back by the referee who blew for a foul on the player since he clipped Bremen defender Milos Veljkovic with his exposed studs. It may have technically been the right decision, but some will certainly see it as a harsh one.
Nonetheless, the call meant Bremen held on for the clean sheet and the victory.
How to watch
Fans in the UK will be able to watch the contest on BT Sport 1, while those in the United States can see the action unfold on ESPN+.