Bundesliga MD 08 Preview: Bayern vs. Bremen
In the last 13 away games at FC Bayern, Werder Bremen has not managed a single victory. Two draws in 2009 and 2010 are the best they have achieved during this period. As bad as this may sound, it pales in comparison to their overall record against Bayern since 2009. Bremen has been unable to win any of the last 27 competitive matches against the record champions.
It is rather unlikely that this series will break this weekend. However, Bremen may draw hope from their encouraging start to the season: Two victories, four draws and only one defeat (in the opening match against Hertha) currently mean 9th place with a seven-point cushion to the relegation zone.
So everything seems to be on target – and Bayern are only one game, and a bonus game at that which can be left out of the reckoning? Perhaps. One could also argue, however, that so far all of Bremen’s opponents came from the lower half of the table and none of them is currently ahead of them.
For a relegation candidate it is definitely important to win as many points as possible from the games against their direct competitors. On the other hand, the prospect of winning only two points from the upcoming games against Bayern, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Dortmund – not the most unlikely of outcomes – is a daunting one. Especially the games against VfL Wolfsburg and VfB Stuttgart will show the way, because if things go badly, Werder could well find themselves propping up the table after this run.
Considering their recent record against Bayern, the coming decisive weeks for Bremen will most likely begin with a defeat. But this is not yet set in stone. To rehash an old footballing phrase: Bremen may not have a chance, but they have to use it.
The international break granted Bayern no real recovery. Pacemaker Joshua Kimmich is out for a long time, as is Alphonso Davies. In addition, the media rumor mill reported muscular problems for a variety of players, such as Robert Lewandowski, Niklas Süle, and almost all the French internationals in the team. In the end, only Corentin Tolisso will probably be truly unavailable, but the first signs of muscular wear suggest that the coming weeks until the short Christmas break will be exhausting.
Bremen, on the other hand, was able to prevent some of their internationals from traveling with their national teams. The reason for this is that a club can use a veto if the players would be sent to high risk COVID-19 areas.
Due to their smaller contingent of international players and the wear of traveling saved by some of them, Bremen should in principle be the more rested team. In view of Bayern’s enormously deep squad and because key actors like Thomas Müller or Jérôme Boateng were also able to rest, the big question is how much of a difference this will really make.
Bayern will be keen to decide the game as early as possible. They will try to come out of the gate flying, immediately exert a lot of pressure high up the field, look for quick finishes, and perhaps even hit frequent long balls to keep Werder penned in at the back going for the second balls in gegenpressing.
For Bremen, much will depend on how well they will survive the first 30 minutes. Florian Kohfeldt, as he so often does this season, will probably resort to a very defensive approach, perhaps based on a back five behind a compact midfield in a cautious mid block or even low block setup, rarely pushing forward into higher areas of the pitch.
It is doubtful whether this approach will reap great rewards against Bayern at the weekend. In the last contests with Bayern, Bremen was always good when they had nothing to lose and moved forward courageously – usually in cup games. But in the league their defensive approach often felt as if they were just waiting to concede the first goal before falling apart. Too wait-and-see, too passive – a compact defensive shape is important against FC Bayern, but if the opponent goes up through a stroke of individuall brilliance after a cross instead of a skillfully executed combination through the centre, it ultimately does not really make a difference.
Kohfeldt should therefore encourage his team to not just withdraw and huddle around their own penalty box and hope for the best. Without Kimmich and Tolisso, Bayern’s midfield will probably consist of Müller, Goretzka and either Marc Roca or Javi Martínez. Technically this is not the sharpest of all blades, especially considering that Roca has not yet been able to find into a rhythm for lack of playing time.
Since a high aggressive press would also be a road best not taken, why not try to disrupt a probably unrhythmic Bayern midfield more aggressively? It would not only provide the arguably best blend of courage and caution, but also present the likeliest route to gaining a point.
Werder’s problems are certainly complex. In the tactical area they can be attributed to the fact that, firstly, they have problems providing their game with a consistent structure, and, secondly, they often sit so deep that the distance they have to cover going forward in transition outstrips their ability to do so without conceding the ball early.
This makes it difficult for them to get in behind even such a high back line as Bayern’s. Kohfeldt lacks a player in defensive midfield who can beat the press and is capable of playing defense splitting passes in behind. Further ahead, Bremen’s game would benefit from someone like Max Kruse, who not only radiates a constant goal threat himself, but also opens up spaces for his teammates with his sly and evasive movements.
Bremen’s transfer policy in recent years (consider for example Davie Selke) has to be scrutinized. It is certainly also due to the composition of the squad that the team under Kohfeldt does not manage to perform well consistently. Against Köln, Bremen came up with almost nothing against a lower-level team. However, even accounting for these problems the development of the team is stagnating and short term progress seems rather coincidental. It makes it far more difficult to protect Kohfeldt for the last season if many of the weaknesses are now reappearing.
Bremen need a mixture of luck, courage and efficiency at the weekend if they are to prevail against Bayern. The last two points are self-explanatory, luck is mainly about surviving the first phase of the game. If Bremen should go into the break level or even with a surprising lead, they will at least have fighting chance to take Bayern to the limit.
Even then, winning points may still be improbable. But Kohfeldt and his team have a minute chance to cap off their good start of the season with a decent game against Bayern. It’s not as if Bayern were an impregnable fortress. The games against Hoffenheim and Hertha show that it is not impossible to take points away from them.
If all the stars align, if Bremen brings a disciplined defensive performance to the pitch and is not just determined to limit the damage, there may be something in it for them. Werder should feel under no pressure. A halfway decent start to the season and the clear underdog position should give them the confidence to do more than business as usual against Bayern. The question is with what attitude they will go into the game. Would they rather concede as few goals as possible and acquiesce in the inexorable fate of defeat? Then the game is already lost.
For FC Bayern this game is without doubt a must win. Hansi Flick will have in mind that Salzburg could be the tougher opponent next week. At the same time, he knows that the group victory in the Champions League is already not much more than a mere formality.
It will therefore be exciting to see how the Bayern coach rotates and who gets a break against Bremen. A heavy rotation could further increase the chances of the visitors, considering the weak performance of the team away at Köln.
Werder should take courage from this despite all the odds – and travel to Munich with the conviction that they have a chance. Only then can the match on Saturday afternoon can become an interesting and exciting one.