Two Bundesliga teams with sights set on very different targets face off on Saturday as Werder Bremen hosts Bayer Leverkusen at the Wohninvest Weserstadion.
Bremen are in the absolute thick of the relegation battle. They’re only one point ahead of 17th place Köln, and they are only ahead of Arminia Bielefeld, who currently occupy the relegation play-off spot, on goal differential. Times have been tough for Die Grün-Weißen as of late, and a heartbreaking DFB-Pokal semi-final loss to RB Leipzig hasn’t helped things either. Bremen know that they’ll likely have to pick up some points in their final three games in order to avoid the drop, which is why they’ll have plenty of motivation to secure a result on this occasion.
Leverkusen have plenty to play for themselves, though. They’re somehow back in the fight for the top four, as they are just six points behind a struggling Eintracht Frankfurt. Even if Die Werkself don’t qualify for the Champions League, they’ll likely still feature in the Europa League, at least, since they are in 6th place right now, four points in front of both Borussia Mönchengladbach and Union Berlin.
Both teams have been bit pretty badly by the injury bug as of late.
Ömer Toprak will miss out once again for Bremen, while Nick Woltemade and Luca Plogmann are also unavailable for selection. Things might end up being a lot worse for Die Grün-Weißen, though, as the likes of Milot Rashica, Marco Friedl, and Jean-Manuel Mbom are all doubts for the contest at the moment.
It’s a similar story for Leverkusen. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Lars Bender, and Julian Baumgartlinger have all been sidelined due to knee injuries, while Lucas Alario and Charles Aránguiz are out because of tendon issues. Lastly, Santiago Arias has yet to fully recover from an ankle problem, so he won’t feature either.
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Veljković, Groß, Moisander, Gebre Selassie, Eggestein, Möhwald, Schmid, Augustinsson, Sargent, Selke
Bayer Leverkusen: Hrádecký, Tah, Dragović, Tapsoba, Sinkgraven, Palacios, Demirbay, Bellarabi, Wirtz, Bailey, Schick
Ones to watch
It’s been a rough season for Davie Selke.
He’s only scored three goals, with one coming from the penalty spot, and the other two being late consolation goals that had no impact on the final result of those games. The forward doesn’t have any assists to his name, and he’s spent most of the campaign on the bench.
However, it still seems like manager Florian Kohfeldt has faith in the player. Selke started in the aforementioned DFB-Pokal semi-final, and he had a good showing. Energetic throughout, he constantly put pressure on the opposition, and he was quite the menace in the air. Following that performance, Kohfeldt said something in a recent press conference that indicates that Selke might start again this weekend.
“He played very well against Leipzig which will give him a lot of confidence. Once the self-belief is there and he gets into the rhythm, he will score goals,” said Kohfeldt. “He brings a lot of energy onto the pitch. He's a key player.”
If he does get the nod, it’ll certainly be a big decision. Die Grün-Weißen are under immense pressure to pick up points, and to do that, they’ll need to score some goals. They’ve not gotten much from any of their attackers, but a reason for that has been a lack of support from the rest of the team. Kohfeldt needs to start the right players in the right positions, and it’s unclear if Selke is the best man for the job.
It would be especially interesting if he was the one who kept Bremen up, though. Due to the conditions of Selke’s loan deal, Die Grün-Weißen are going to have to pay Hertha Berlin over £10 million to acquire the player permanently in the summer, no matter what league the team are in. That’s a big fee for a club like Bremen, especially after they lost out on a lot of money due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If they have to spend those sort of funds on an underperforming player after getting relegated, it could hamper the side for years.
All that considered, Bremen likely won’t mind paying any fee at all if Selke’s goals are what keeps them in the Bundesliga for another season.
Leverkusen were recently able to secure the future of wonderkid Florian Wirtz, as he signed a contract extension that runs until 2026.
It was big news for the club, as it meant that the attacker could be at the BayArena for years, and even if he’s sold, then Die Werkself will be able to get plenty of money for him. They aren’t the only ones who might benefit from the deal, though, as it should also serve as a confidence boost for the player.
Wirtz made a dream start to the campaign, capitalizing of the chances given to him following the departure of Kai Havertz to Chelsea. However, the youngster cooled off a few months ago, and he’s not been as impactful as before, with zero goals and only one assist in his last nine appearances.
That is understandable, to be fair. It’s impossible to expect players of his age to stay incredibly inconsistent at the beginning of their careers. However, if Leverkusen want to somehow sneak into the top four, then they might need Wirtz to rediscover his earlier magic.
Incredibly effective in the final third, Wirtz can do a bit of everything. He can pass, shoot, and dribble, and he can do it with both feet, too. The German has even scored a header despite being only 5’9”, which goes to show how dynamic of a threat he really is.
It’s clear Wirtz has a very bright future ahead of him, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t have a bright present as well.
Last time out
It wasn’t pretty the last time these two sides faced off, as that contest at the BayArena ended 1-1.
Even though Leverkusen started on the front foot, it would be Bremen who took the lead soon after the half-time break. A free-kick was whipped into the area superbly by Ludwig Augustinsson, which meant that all Ömer Toprak had to do was redirect the ball past the goalkeeper from close range, scoring a rare goal against his former club.
The hosts would eventually grab an equalizer, though, with it coming in bizarre circumstances. The move started when Lucas Alario was picked out by Leon Bailey on the counter. He wasn’t able to properly settle the ball, but it ended up falling to Patrik Schick anyway, who turned and fired a quick shot off towards goal that deflected off of two defenders before bouncing into the back of the net.
In the end, neither side were able to find a winning goal, which led to them sharing the points.
How to watch
The contest will be aired live on BT Sport ESPN at 2:30 p.m. BST in the UK, while those in the United States will be able to watch the game on ESPN+ at 9:30 a.m. EST.