The European dream is still on for Union Berlin as Die Eisernen defeated Werder Bremen 3-1 at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei on Saturday.
Berlin burst into life after the half-time break, as three goals from Joel Pohjanpalo in the span of 18 minutes all but sealed the win for his side. Bremen did pull one back through Theodor Gebre Selassie, and even though they had a few chances to score a second late on, their efforts were for naught as the hosts held on to clinch all three points.
The result keeps Berlin in the hunt for European qualification, while sending Bremen even deeper into the relegation battle.
Story of the match
The first half was an uneventful one to say the very least. Berlin had most of the ball, but they couldn’t do much with it. Bremen, meanwhile, tried to hit on the counter, but they couldn’t find any real space in behind.
The fact that a tame, deflected shot from Milot Rashica that went right to the goalkeeper was the biggest chance of the opening 45 minutes just goes to show how things went for both sides.
That would not be the case in the second half, though, as Berlin took the lead five minutes after the break. A corner bounced off of a few bodies before the ball went right to Joel Pohjanpalo, who was wide open at the back post. He made the most of the opportunity, slotting home from close range to open the scoring.
It would be 2-0 just moments later. A flick-on header from substitute Petar Musa played Pohjanpalo into space in the area, and his finish was a quality one, as he hit a low shot past Jiří Pavlenka and into the back of the net.
The hosts nearly made it three before the hour mark, as Pavlenka was forced into a decent save by Musa before Pohjanpalo failed to cleanly connect on a volley at the back post.
Berlin did grab a third goal, and just like the other two, it came courtesy of Pohjanpalo. A turnover from Bremen in the midfield allowed the hosts to counter easily, and a simple through ball from Musa put Pohjanpalo through on goal. At that point it was clear what was coming, and the Finnish international sealed his hat-trick with another clinical finish.
Bremen were able to score a consolation goal with about 10 minutes to go, as Theodor Gebre Selassie headed home following a failed clearance from goalkeeper Andreas Luthe.
The away side did create a few more chances late on, but they couldn’t convert as Berlin ultimately held on to secure the win.
Kohfeldt gets it wrong - again
It’s tough to blame Bremen’s issues at the back on anyone since they were without two starting centre-backs, but the rest of the team’s problems can be put on the shoulders of manager Florian Kohfeldt.
For most of the season, Die Grün-Weißen played three central midfielders and two forwards in a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation. That worked relatively well, as it allowed the side to keep the ball, get numbers wide, and create chances in the final third. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was enough to get a result on some days.
However, in last week's crucial relegation six-pointer against Mainz, Kohfeldt decided to opt for two central midfielders and three forwards. It was a call made following Bremen’s recent losses in an attempt to fix things, but it just made a bad situation worse.
The forwards all played too close to one another up top, limiting the amount of space the team had on the attack. There was almost no link-up play between them, and they didn’t get others involved either. The midfield also suffered since there was one less body in there, which led to the defense getting overrun on occasion.
Instead of learning from his mistake and reverting to the old system, Kohfeldt chose to play three forwards once again versus Union Berlin. It didn’t work this time, either, as Die Grün-Weißen were somehow even worse. They failed to create a genuine chance until the game was effectively over, with the backline falling apart in the meantime.
Kohfeldt simply needs to go back to what worked in the past if Bremen are to have any chance of staying up this season. If he doesn’t, and the team continues to lose, it might just cost him his job and the club its place in the Bundesliga.
Man of the match - Joel Pohjanpalo
The match-winner on the day, Joel Pohjanpalo’s hat-trick was what led Berlin to victory over Bremen.
It was a performance that few would have seen coming, to be fair. Mainly in the starting lineup due to the club’s injury issues up top, the Finnish international had only scored twice so far this campaign. An ankle problem did rule him out for about two months, but he hadn’t really done much in the games he did play.
That all changed in this contest, though. Putting on a masterclass in finishing, Pohjanpalo just couldn’t miss. He didn’t do much to create the chances, as the opportunities mostly came from smart running and positioning. However, he certainly did what was needed to convert, scoring three goals against a quality goalkeeper in Jiří Pavlenka. To be fair, it may not have mattered who was in net, as every strike was a clinical one.
It was a huge performance from Pohjanpalo, who stepped up when his team really needed him. Berlin have a tough run of fixtures to end the campaign, but if the forward can keep playing like this, then they’ll fancy their chances of qualifying for some sort of European competition.