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No room for error: fallen giants Werder Bremen battle to stay up

AFP , Friday 29 May 2020
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They have spent more seasons in the Bundesliga than any other club but now Werder Bremen have just seven games left to avoid a humiliating relegation that would see them follow the same path to the second division taken by fallen German giants Hamburg and Stuttgart in recent years.

Florian Kohfeldt's embattled side are second from bottom of the Bundesliga before Saturday's trip to Schalke, five points adrift of the relegation play-off position and six points from outright safety, albeit with a game in hand on their rivals.

"We don't have time for the slightest carelessness now," admitted Kohfeldt, whose team have been given hope by their last two results, with a win at Freiburg being followed by a goalless midweek draw with Borussia Moenchengladbach.

"We still have seven 'finals' left, and we have to stay focused."

One of those will be against Bayern Munich, against whom they lost 6-1 away in December.

It is a while now since Bremen were able to compete with the very best sides in Germany, but the club from the Hanseatic city in the north of the country have a proud past.

Four-time champions, they have been in the Bundesliga for every season bar one since the league's introduction in 1963. They were relegated in 1980, but came straight back up.

Werder have not appeared in Europe since the 2010-11 Champions League and it is 11 years since they lifted silverware, when Mesut Ozil scored the winner in the 2009 German Cup final against Bayer Leverkusen.

That came days after Bremen reached the last-ever UEFA Cup final, which they lost to Shakhtar Donetsk.

The last of their four Bundesliga titles was in 2004, a year in which they won the domestic double.

- Hard times -

But after a couple of close brushes with relegation in recent seasons, Bremen could now be set for the same fate as their near neighbours and arch rivals Hamburg, the former European Cup winners who dropped into the second division in 2018, in their case for the very first time.

Stuttgart went the same way a year ago, another giant to have fallen on hard times while younger clubs like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig have shaken up the established order in German football.

Relegation would be an unthinkable blow for Werder, a proud club where Germany greats like Rudi Voeller and Karl-Heinz Riedle starred in the famous green shirt in the past.

Since club legend Thomas Schaaf quit in May 2013 after 35 years with Bremen -- the last 14 as head coach -- there has been a revolving door of trainers unable to halt the fall from grace.

"Werder are in a never-ending downward spiral. The apathy which has taken hold all over the club is amazing," commented revered magazine Kicker recently.

Present incumbent Kohfeldt is the longest-serving head coach since Schaaf left. He was appointed in late 2017.

It was a big statement of trust when Kohfeldt, a former goalkeeper who previously coached the reserves, was promoted to the job and handed a six-year contract a month after his 35th birthday.

One of his predecessors, Viktor Skrypnyk, was in charge four years ago when Bremen avoided the relegation play-offs only by beating Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 on the last day of the season.

Kohfeldt's side have scored a league-low of 29 goals and have not won at their home Weserstadion since early September, but he retains the backing of the club's hierarchy.

"Florian is our best chance of beating the drop," said sporting director Frank Baumann, and the last two results offer cause for optimism.

- Klaassen convinced -

"If we go into the last seven games with this attitude, I'm sure we'll be able to stay up," said Davy Klaassen, the former Everton midfielder who has managed four goals this season.

Only Kosovo international Milot Rashica, with seven, has scored more.

Having to play without their supporters since the coronavirus shutdown would appear to be less of a problem for Werder, with Tuesday's goalless draw against Gladbach ending a run of seven straight home defeats.

That thereby avoided matching the league record of eight, held jointly by Tasmania Berlin (1965/66) and Hansa Rostock (2004/05).

"We may not have much time left, but we're ready for the fight," insisted captain Niklas Moisander.

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