We’ve previously spoken to Joey about Werder in August 2016, when they were managed by Viktor Skripnik. Since then a lot has happened. A managerial switch and a strong last season for Bremen. Time to ask Joey about their current situation.
Hello Joey, how satisfied are you with the pre-season of your club?
Overall I’m pleased. However, I’m not overly euphoric. It seems as if the defence has become more stable which is unexpected considering the injury of Moisander and Grillitsch’s departure. Moisander is our key player in defence and transition. His positional awareness, commanding of the backline, ball security and accurate build-up play under pressure are vital. We’re really missing that in all phases at the moment, that’s why the current stability is good and all but that fact also takes away any sort of euphory from pre-season.
In possession the team is on a similar level to the second half of last season, although it was supposed to be improved upon. That’s not a compliment. There are good passing sequences here and there and it’s definitely better than it was under Skripnik or Dutt but we don’t create enough pressure. There’s a lack of speed and verticality in our game and we’re unable to stretch the opponent’s formation with a sudden change of speed. One definitely notices, that we’ve not had a lot of practice in that in recent years and certain deficits in some of our players. In the backline only Veljkovic has shown glimpses of decent build-up play while Sané and Bauer are a wasteland in that area. In midfield, Eggestein and Delaney are well-developed in that aspect but there’s a lack of group dynamic to utilise it. That we’re missing a target man going forward is another weakness. Kruse is technically adept, works his socks off in midfield, though, this leads to him not being available for a pass in the final third. Bartels is dynamic and looks for goal, however, he’s not the type of player to calm things down and process balls with his back facing goal. Insofar, we might have stabilised the defence but haven’t significantly improved going forward. Probably even regressed due to the losses of Grillitsch and Moisander. I haven’t pointed out our attack as an issue on Twitter without reason.
In August 2016 you praised the attacking and aggressive approach of Skripnik, while criticising the missing coverage. The shifting was too ball-focused, the pressing too uncoordinated. How has that changed under Nouri?
Werder has improved tactically in all aspects since Nouri has taken over. This is down to improved individual quality (especially Kruse) but down to better coaching, too. The principles Nouri is repeatedly talking about are working. One pays more attention to cover space instead of players, has a feel for when to switch opposition players, better communication and has developed structured with or without the ball, that simply weren’t there under Skripnik. Overall the football has become more stable and more thoughtful and is currently building the foundation for further developments. The pressing is a good example: We’re not over-committing as we did under Skripnik. We’re switching our pressing lines, we’re keeping our formation and aren’t man-orientated but rather keep an eye on passing lanes as well. That is certainly a clear step forward compared to Skripnik.
In which areas can Werder still improve in terms of tactics or what is Nouri’s eleven prone to?
We can and have to continue to improve in all areas. Against the ball we’ve massively improved but are still susceptible to individual mistakes. This is a matter of quality (especially without Moisander) and practice as well. The more rehearsed the automatism are, the easier it is to stay focused even under pressure. In possession we still have the most room for improvement. We’re often too ponderous and aren’t able to get behind the defensive lines of the opponent with pressure and speed or pulling apart an established backline. A target man, who can retain and distribute the ball as well as being available for Augustinsson’s crosses would be really helpful. Apart from that Nouri should make the step from a 3-1-4-2 to a 3-4-2-1, in my opinion. Without Grillitsch we’re missing a key player of our midfield trident. A double pivot consisting of Delaney and Maxi Eggestein has a lot of potential and two wingers behind a target man would make it easier for us to gain control in possession. On one side Kruse would be integrated better without losing any presence going forward while creating a useful and well-suited role for Kainz.
As an intermediate-term goal you suggested getting back into the competition for an international spot. 8th place was reached quickly. Is Werder able to maintain this level?
As matters now stand, I’d be surprised. Our competition has gotten better, we lost some quality and teams like Schalke, Leverkusen or Wolfsburg will stabilise after we were able to take advantage of their poor seasons. It would be illusive to genuinely expect the team to compete for Europa League spots this year. A safe midfield spot is possible, if no other key player gets injured.
Leverkusen were successful with an aggressive 3-4-3 formation in the second half against Bayern. Is this a possibility for Bremen? What line-up do you expect?
Anything could work out, however, we don’t have the individual quality of Leverkusen’s attack. Brandt alone would lift us to another level as a team. Tactically it’s definitely possible that we’re going in a similar direction. I don’t think the usual formation will be changed much, so I’m expecting the usual 3-1-4-2/5-3-2. Considering Nouri’s more defensive approach recently, Gondorf could start ahead of Kainz in midfield.
Who are the key players in green and white this season?
Kruse is the most influential player going forward obviously. His game in tight spaces as well as his class on the ball are incredibly important for us. Moisander is our best player in defence by a mile and especially his build-up play makes him important. Maxi Eggestein has already developed into a defining role in Werder’s game. At central defensive midfield he’s more present than ever, has become better against the ball, is solid at heading and is reliable in the build-up play. If he can push on from there and deliver some more in attack, he’ll make headlines.
Furthermore, I think Augustinsson is capable of bringing his creativity to the Bundesliga. I’m a big fan of his clever overall game and his multi-variant passing, he’ll certainly get a decent amount of goal contributions.