Werder fans all over the world will be hoping for a Happy New Year with the return of the Bundesliga this Saturday when the Green-Whites will host TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at 15:30 CET. Julian Nagelsmann’s squad is riddled with individual quality, that’s no secret, but on the back of seven points from the last three league games and a short yet productive winter break training camp in sunny Spain, Werder will look to thwart any New Year celebrations in Hoffenheim.
Recent encounters: The season opener back in August was an unfortunate story for Werder: An evenly-fought battle in Sinnsheim was set to end in a deserved 0-0 draw, but to the dismay of Green-Whites everywhere, Andrej Kramaric tried his luck from distance and saw his shot deflect off Robert Bauer’s back and into Pavlenka’s goal to win the game for TSG. The sides were to meet again, however, before the end of the calendar year: Hoffenheim travelled to Bremen in the DFB Pokal and once again, a single goal determined the result, this time, in Werder’s favour. The visitors attempted time and time again to break down the Green-White wall of defence, but were ultimately beaten by a combination of fighting spirit, passion and an outstanding man between the sticks; Jiri Pavlenka. He and his defenders ensured the clean sheet, while Ishak Belfodil fulfilled his attacking duties half an hour into the game, standing in the right place at the right time to poke the ball over the line, sending Werder into the last 16 of the competition.
Florian Kohfeldt on the upcoming match: "I’m expecting a very good game for the spectators. TSG are, like us, an attacking team, so there will be plenty goalmouth action," predicts the boss. Kohfeldt has made clear that Werder’s defensive orientation in the cup victory will by no means act as a tactical blue-print for Saturday’s encounter, but "the fact that Hoffenheim struggled to cope with this tight formation has been taken into consideration and will undoubtedly play a role in our preparation for the game. That said, TSG have also shown in many other games that they can play much better against these set-ups," he added. All things considered, the 35-year-old head coach is putting the main focus ahead of the 2018 opener on his own team’s approach: "Hoffenheim possess such tactical flexibility, that I couldn’t predict how they will approach the game. The important thing for us is to give ourselves plenty of options both on and off the ball," explains Kohfeldt, before adding: "Defensively, we want to keep things compact on the one hand, but on the other, we want to keep our distance from their goal as short as possible. Going forward we want long spells of possession, force the vertical route to goal and of course convert our chances when they fall."
And who’s playing at right back? "I’ve not made a final decision on that yet," Kohfeldt responds with an expert poker face. The two candidates for this place in the starting XI are Theodor Gebre Selassie and Robert Bauer. "Both gave a great account of themselves at the training camp, worked hard and put in some strong performances: It’s a close call," analysed Kohfeldt. So to find out which player will take to the field, we will have to wait until the starting XI on matchday.
Hi Serge: A young talent with a dream to finally play regular football at a club rich in history and tradition: a year and a half ago, Serge Gnabry moved from Arsenal to the Weser, and what a season he had; the youngster could hardly have made a better name for himself. In 27 games at Werder, Gnabry netted eleven times; the Stuttgart born forward was the discovery of the season, the rising star of the season, he even made it into Germany manager Joachim Löw’s books, scoring three times in his debut – an 8-0 win over San Marino. At the beginning of the current season, Gnabry transferred to record champions Bayern München, who loaned the 22-year-old out to Hoffenheim, with whom he will now return to the Weser-Stadion for the first time since his departure.
A belated Happy Birthday could await Ishak Belfodil on Saturday; the forward is celebrating his 26th birthday today (Friday). His birthday wishes, however, and his celebrations, can surely be put on hold for one more day...