Venerable Werder Bremen facing fight to avoid rare relegation

A season which began with hopes high has turned into a battle to avoid relegation for Werder Bremen, the club that has played more games in Germany's Bundesliga than any other.


By Barry Whelan, d Werder Bremen are facing an uphill fight if they want to avoid relegation for only the second time in the club's Bundesliga history after a point at Hertha Berlin was but meagre consolation following five straight league defeats.
Beleaguered coach Florian Kohfeldt said the 2-2 draw "feels like a loss" after Werder led with two early goals in Berlin's Olympic stadium.
And the 37-year-old coach now admits that the best hope has got to be getting out of the direct drop zone and into the relegation/promotion play-off place.
Bremen have just 18 points from 24 matches, and with 10 to go find themselves three off the play-off spot currently occupied by Fortuna Dusseldorf, who play at Mainz later Sunday.
"We definitely dropped two points today," Kohfeldt said after the match. "For 20 minutes we probably played as well as we have all season. We completely shut them out and could have extended our lead even further.
"Then some of our players were perhaps trying too hard, with good intentions; either making a run too early or taking too long to get back into shape. Then suddenly we fell apart again."
Bremen next greet high-flying Bayer Leverkusen, and looking at the league position, Kohfeldt said: "If it comes to it we’ll have to save ourselves through the play off."
Whether Kohfeldt remains in his job until that possible scenario remains to be seen as pressure mounts at a club used to being at the other end of the table.
Bremen, a founding Bundesliga member, have only been relegated once, in 1979-80, and came straight back up to the top flight and under Otto Rehhagel, who took over just before promotion, began an era when they were a major force in German football and fierce rivals to Bayern Munich.
The four-time Bundesliga champions won among other trophies the league titles in 1988 and 1993 under Rehhagel, and the league and cup double under Thomas Schaaf in 2004.
Both Rehhagel and Schaaf were long-term coaches - the former more than 14 years in charge and the latter just over 14 - but the club in recent years has not been immune to dismissing coaches quickly for lack of success.
Kohfeldt, a former assistant appointed initially as an interim coach in October 2017, has succeeded Robin Dutt, Viktor Skripnik and Alexander Nouri in coaching changes since June 2013.
He led Bremen to 11th in 2017-18 after the side were second last when he took over, and last season the club finished eighth to just miss out on European competition.
It has been difficult to pin down a reason for what Bremen sports chief and former player Frank Baumann describes as "the worst season in the club's history."
Bremen did lose a key player in captain Max Kruse, who opted not to extend his contract and moved to Turkish side Fenerbahce, and have been dogged throughout the campaign by injury problems.
Baumann has been consistent in backing Kohfeldt and seeks the blame elsewhere, telling German broadcaster ZDF Saturday there were "mistakes" pre-season.
"Many factors have come together, there is no one reason for the (poor) season" he said, indicating the club possibly set their sights too high after the promising last campaign.
"From my point of view we were too ambitious and therefore made some mistakes and had too many injuries. The aim was to get better, but then we had to take a step back."
Bremen will have a game in hand, at home to Eintracht Frankfurt - the team that knocked them out of the German Cup in midweek - but seven of their other remaining nine opponents are currently all in the top half of the table.
For the club that has played more top-flight games than any other in the Bundesliga, reaching even the play-off place will be a real challenge.

Sunday, March 8th 2020
By Barry Whelan,

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