Werder Bremen -Where Defending Has Become Optional

Posted on November 30, 2010


Under Thomas Schaaf, Werder Bremen have been known as an all out attacking team, with defense being a “secondary concern”. This strategy has been relatively successful, with the team consistently finishing in the top 3 and playing in the Champion’s League. Schaaf sacrifices defensive solidity for offensive efficiency and it usually leads to his team scoring a lot of goals. The Bundesliga season is never complete without Werder Bremen being involved in a seven goal thriller or two. This season they have only been involved in five games where LESS THAN FOUR GOALS were scored. For any other team this would be an amazing statistic but for Bremen its par for the course.

All Or Nothing

This season has seen the team lose its offensive efficiency which has brought attention back to the fact that their defense isn’t very good. Schaaf likes his team to line up either in a diamond shape or 4-2-3-1. Both systems are very attacking and focus on creating chances rather than neutralizing the opposition, usually showcasing three or four purely attacking players. Unfortunately, when their attack isn’t clicking, they tend to get hammered because the team does not have a defensive mode. They have already conceded 31 goals in the league alone this season, a terrible record for a team that was supposed to challenge for the title. Even when they keep a clean sheet they always look like conceding. Only MSK Zilina and Bursaspor have worse defensive records in the Champion’s League than them, where they have become the whipping boys of their group. If it was not for the heroics of Tim Weise, their record would be even worse.

Tactical Issues

Regardless of the formation, Schaaf likes the team to play a high defensive line and attempt to shorten the pitch. For this stratgey to work, the midfield and attack must press the opposition and not allow them time to pick out throughballs exploiting the space behind the defense. With Werder Bremen this rarely happens, with the attacking players often just waiting for someone else to win the ball so they can launch another attack. Torsten Frings gets through an amazing amount of work as the only real ball winner in midfield. His one-man press is often very easy for teams to pass around leading to Bremen giving up easy chances. This is the classic “broken team” where some players do not see it as their duty to help in the defending. To make things worse, Bremen’s centerbacks are not the quickest so if they get the offside trap wrong they have no chance of recovering.


The midfield isn't pressing the ball carrier(red) but the centerbacks are playing a high line. Eto(yellow) runs onto a simple throughball and scores. This is the worst of both worlds, giving up space in midfield and behind your defense.

The broken nature of the team can also be seen in how they defend the flanks.Bremen play very attacking midifielders such as Marin and Hunt on the flanks or they don’t use wingers at all. Often the fullback is left to deal with the opposing winger and fullback, a recipe for disaster as seen already this season when Silvestre was turned inside out on several occassions. As a result the team allows way too may crosses to come in, often gambling on winning the headers in the box.

The opposition fullback(red) has overlaped but is not being tracked. He crosses the ball into the box unoposed.

Poor Defending of Set Pieces

A good indicator of a team’s defensive commitment is how well they defend set pieces. Bremen have a lot of height and physicality in their team but have still managed to concede 7 goals from set plays in the league. If we include Champion’s League then the number grows even larger. In 3 of their last 4 games they have conceded from corners, indicating poor positioning and some players failing in their marking assignments. They are missing the aerial prowess of Naldo but they should still be handling themselves better.Against Schalke they let Mertzercker have a free header in the six yard box from a corner, which is unforgivable. I actually worry that they are getting worse in this area as they lose their confidence in other areas.


If you want to see goals then watch Werder Bremen’s games. They will either get hammered or score tons of goals. If they want to be a consistent title challenger or get beyond the Champion’s League group stage then they need to improve their defense. This may require Thomas Schaaf to change his philosophy, something that is unlikely to happen.

Posted in: Tactics