15:30 (CEST), Saturday 19th August, Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena (Sinsheim, Germany)
With a new season on the horizon, there are many questions to be asked of both sides entering the upcoming campaign. For Hoffenheim, can Julian Nagelsmann’s side perform without Sebastian Rudy and Niklas Süle who left for Bayern Munich and whether they can repeat last season stellar campaign?
Werder Bremen had a disastrous start to the 2016/17 campaign but finished strongly to finish in a very respectable 8th place. A question lingers for both fans and myself is whether manager Alexander Nouri’s brand of football will be sustainable for an entire season. Bremen have made some encouraging signings with Ludwig Augustinsson as well Jerome Gondorf from Darmstadt. Optimism is high for both clubs as they enter the season opener in Sinsheim.
Last Time Out
Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool (Champions League Play-off)
In Hoffenheim’s first contest in European completion, the club from Sinsheim put in an impressive display besides the result. Liverpool would score first thanks to a wonderful free-kick by Trent Alexander-Arnold. The visitors would then double their advantage when James Milner’s cross was deflected by Håvard Nordtveit and past the unfortunate Oliver Baumann.
Hoffenheim began to panic and seemed to lose their shape all together, but with 10 minutes before the 90 the hosts would bring a goal back. Great technique by Mark Uth to control the cross before volleying the ball past Simon Mignolet. There are plenty of positives for Julian Nagelsmann who’s side was able to play out from the back and looked the better of the two sides.
Würzburger Kickers 0-3 Werder Bremen (DFB Pokal)
Werder Bremen made the journey to Erfurt looking to avoid a catastrophic result against 3.Liga side Würzburger Kickers. After a so-so first half Bremen turned the screws and put the Kickers to the sword with three second half goals to see them progress to the second round. The first goal came in fortuitous circumstances as Miloš Veljković’s cross came shot caught keeper Wolfgang Hesl off his line and completely by surprise.
Max Kruse doubled Bremen’s advantage and Maximilian Eggestein finished the scoring by rounding the keeper to secure Bremen’s progression. Werder were a class above their third division and will be hoping to build on a solid ending to their previous campaign.
Competitive is the best way to describe the way Hoffenheim performed against Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League play-offs. Nagelsmann played mind games by suggesting a 3-5-2 formation but Hoffenheim formed in a 3-4-2-1 with Serge Gnabry leading the line. We expect Hoffenheim to play the 3-5-2 with changes expected. Steven Zuber picked up a knock and will likely be rested, Jeremy Toljan will come in at left wing back whilst Lukas Rupp makes way for Nadiem Amiri.
Werder Bremen Lineup
Alexander Nouri will welcome the return of Fin Bartels who missed the cup match up with Würzburger Kickers due to a DFB Pokal specific suspension. Bartels will be alongside Max Kruse up top with Florian Kainz making way. Bremen are still without Niklas Moisander and Zlatko Junuzović due to injury. One change expected for Bremen’s clash on Saturday.
Key Battle: Kevin Vogt vs Max Kruse
A key match-up in this contest will be between Kevin Vogt of Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen’s Max Kruse. Last season was Vogt’s first campaign in Hoffenheim and it was a great success turning the defensive midfielder into a centre back in Nagelsmann’s 3-5-2 system.
General build-up play started with Vogt and his ability to find teammates is a major reason why he was successful last season. 92% passing accuracy which was best from players making more than 25 Bundesliga appearances whilst on the defensive end, Vogt won 58% of duels.
Max Kruse will have a tough time defeating Kevin Vogt but Kruse is a wizard going forward for Bremen. 15 goals and 7 assists last term which was extremely helpful during Werder’s 11-game unbeaten run in which they won 9 of those contests. The key will be for Kruse to stop the production line of Vogt and not allowing Hoffenheim to build from the back. If Kruse can do so then Bremen will be in pole position for 3 points, if unable then Hoffenheim will have plenty of possession and most likely an opening day win.
An early test of depth
With Hoffenheim making their escapade into Europe this season, the clubs depth will very much be tested as they will be playing 4 games in the space of two weeks with the following two fixtures being played at Anfield and then away at Leverkusen. Bremen are a tricky opponent at the best of times and one expects them to replicate what Liverpool did on Tuesday night, playing on the counter and creating as many chances from those breaks. Can Hoffenheim’s depth cope with playing both domestic and European competitions?
In the heart of midfield, Thomas Delaney and Jerome Gondorf will operate for Werder Bremen this season. With the injury to Zlatko Junuzović who will be out for some time, Delaney and Gondorf will need to build a strong chemistry in midfield if Bremen are to thrive.
Against a strong midfield, which possesses Kerem Demirbay who is an outstanding player and is arguably one of the most underrated players in the Bundesliga, it provides a stern test for the new central pairing. Can the two co-exist as a midfield duo or will the pair perish as it becomes too hot in the kitchen?
Prediction: Hoffenheim 3-1 Werder Bremen
This isn’t the first time the two teams have met on opening day, at the beginning of the 2010/11 season Hoffenheim belted Werder Bremen to the tune of 4-1. I don’t expect Bremen to concede 4, but I do believe that Hoffenheim will be looking to send a message to the Bundesliga that this club is for real this season. Bremen will be competitive and will test Oliver Baumann but it won’t be enough as Hoffenheim secure the three points on the opening matchday.
Will it be Hoffenheim or Werder Bremen who take the points in week 1? Let us know in the comments section below.
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