By 16:30 CET on Saturday one team will be on their knees contemplating relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, while the other will be celebrating winning the reprieve of reaching the play-off. Werder Bremen and Fortuna Düsseldorf fans are going to be put through the emotional wringer this weekend as the Bundesliga season reaches its climax.
Werder face Köln at the Weser Stadion, while Fortuna travel to Berlin to face Union, who themselves experienced the joy of the play-off last season.
As it stands Fortuna have the advantage of being two-points ahead of Werder in the table going into the final match. If they win against Union, they secure 16th place. A draw might be enough provided the Grün-Weißen don’t beat Köln. Were that to happen, Werder would leapfrog them into the play-off berth providing they could claw back the four-goal difference they currently trail by.
A Düsseldorf defeat would open the door for Bremen to claim 16th with any kind of win over the Geißböcke. Both Union and Köln have nothing concrete to play for.
Where’s your head at?
Werder’s 5-1 win over Paderborn followed by ‘only’ losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich looked to have given them a real chance of escaping from the bottom two, but then the day after their impressive performance against the champions, Mainz went and beat Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park and Düsseldorf fought back to claim a injury-time equaliser away at Leipzig.
From a psychological point, it is ‘advantage Düsseldorf’ as they are the team picking up the vital points right now with the situation getting more perilous by the week for the Hanseaten.
Last weekend saw Bremen crumble to a 3-1 loss at Mainz, while Fortuna picked up what could prove to be a vital point at home to Augsburg. Werder must believe that escape is possible, but the reality is that it’s out of their hands. They can only beat Köln and hope for a massive favour from Union Berlin.
There are many examples in sport of teams ‘bottling it’ at the last-minute and choking. Uwe Rösler must ensure his team are mentally strong enough to see the job out and give them a chance of survival in the play-off.
The men that matter
Someone is going to be a hero this weekend. The obvious man to make a difference for Werder is Milot Rashica, but it remains unclear whether he will even be in the starting XI. He has had a poor Rückrunde in general and remained on the bench for the entire 90 minutes against Mainz, while lasting only an hour against both Paderborn and Bayern.
He was forced to cut training short on Wednesday after suffering an ankle injury putting his availability for the weekend in real doubt.
Keeper Jiri Pavlenka has been impressive this season behind a leaky defence and a clean sheet from him would go a long way to helping Bremen’s cause. With a four-goal difference to make up on Fortuna, the front men are going to have to fire. Leo Bittencourt has been amongst the goals since the restart, while Josh Sargent could make a real name for himself with some heroics on Saturday.
Fortuna essentially have three key men they need to perform in Berlin. Leading scorer Rouwen Hennings has 15 goals this season with teammates Kenan Karaman and Erik Thommy chipping in with another six apiece. This trio’s goals could prove the decisive factor at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei.
What they’re saying
Florian Kohfeldt: “We all needed a day after Mainz. Everyone has a big emotional connection to the club and was therefore really upset. But we still have a chance. Tomorrow we have to bite the bullet and go for it.
“Kevin Vogt is back in training since midweek and will definitely be in the squad. Claudio Pizarro will also definitely be in the squad and will be an important option, especially in the final minutes if we need a goal. He will play his part as he always does.
“I will fight and believe in our chances until the absolute last second and I am convinced that the team shares this attitude and character. If something happens in Berlin, we will find out on the bench. We have established measures on how and when we will communicate certain scenarios to the team on the pitch.
“We have to approach the game with balance. Köln won’t just roll over. We’ll obviously aim to attack more, that’s a given.”
Uwe Rösler: “It’s the last day of the regular season and of course it’s endgame for us. There is a lot at stake, and you have to feel that on the pitch! I am an optimist. The glass is half-full. We have also had a focused and positive training week so far.
“We moved the training forward from 11:00 to 10:00 this morning to avoid the midday sun. It is all the more important to be mentally and physically fresh. High temperatures could also play a crucial role.
“They [Union] are very strong at set-pieces, are very robust and very strong. The Berliners are brave, especially in home games, so it will be vitally important for us to stand up to the challenges.
“Especially in the second half, we will keep an eye on the Werder game, but of course we have to focus primarily on what is happening in the stadium at the Alte Försterei. All our players have to do is keep an eye on our game.”
Relegation would come at a price for both sides but would hit Werder in the pocket harder. In terms of budget, their their share of TV money alone from the DFL would drop from €60 million down to €30 million. Factor in reduced income from sponsors, lower ticket money and there is a big financial blow as well as a sporting one.
Düsseldorf would see their TV money share drop from €38 million to €21 million. The impact on the respective squads would probably be more of a blow to Fortuna with the potential loss of Kevin Stöger, Kaan Ayhan, Erik Thommy and Kenan Karaman amongst others.
The list of suitors lining up to sign Werder’s relegated players would be a smaller one. It is taken as given that Milot Rashica is off, and with the exceptions of Davy Klaasen and possibly Maxi Eggestein, the exodus of players would be less of an issue for Werder.