Ole Werner – Werder Bremen – Tactical Analysis

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2022-23 has witnessed an increasingly promising start to the Bundesliga season for Werder Bremen, whose coach (Ole Werner) currently holds the pedestal for youngest manager in the division. 21 points after 15 games is certainly a good turnaround for any newly promoted side, especially one tipped for relegation by many pre-season.

After some astute business in the transfer window to secure seven new signings for a combined fee of less than £5million, Die Werderaner are currently on track for a top-half finish this season. Their direct attacking style has helped them keep pace with Dortmund and Monchengladbach, whilst Niclas Füllkrug’s starlit beginning to the season has him joint-second in the scoring ranks. For Ole Werner, it will remain a season to build foundations in Germany’s top tier, and anything above relegation is a bonus. Here is our analysis of Ole Werner’s side in 2022-23, and Werder Bremen’s potential for greatness this season.

System of Play: 3-1-4-2

Ole Werner has firmly settled on a 3-1-4-2 formation this season with Die Grün-Weißen, carrying on from the team’s brief stint in the 2. Bundesliga. Within the shape, five of Bremen’s new signings have made at least 10 appearances in the league. Scottish forward Oliver Burke will remain a fringe player for now, but the other four have clearly made a home for themselves within Werner’s ranks. On the high-end of the spectrum, former Bayern man Mitchell Weiser has impressed as the right-wing-back in the side, with six assists in fifteen appearances. Anthony Jung has been one of the standout stars on the other wing, already matching his four-goal contribution from last season in the 2. Bundesliga.

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In behind their pair of adventurous wing-backs, Werner’s designed a back-three of no-nonsense, rock-solid defenders. This includes Miloš Veljković, a fan-favourite from the days of Florian Kohfeldt, who featured prominently as a full-back in the team’s last spell in the league. Niklas Stark, Marco Friedl and Amos Pieper have battled for a place alongside him, as Werner continues to repurpose versatile players into new positions. They’re supported by Jiří Pavlenka, Bremen’s goalkeeper of five years. This season he’s kept his save percentage at 68%, and the defense remains a work in progress for Bremen, having conceded more goals (27) than any other team in the top half of the season.

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In midfield, Werder have enjoyed a decent time keeping the ball (50.5%), with the likes of Romano Schmid, Ilia Gruev and Christian Groß helping to keep the team ticking along. Groß is another one of those repurposed into a new role under Werner, having featured prominently as a sweeper inside Kohfeldt’s defensive line.

Captain Leonardo Bittencourt has also appeared frequently when not injured, usually in more of an advanced role to support the centre-forwards. It’s those two centre-forwards that have been the standout stars for Werner’s team – Marvin Ducksch and Niclas Füllkrug. They’ve accumulated 13 goals and 5 assists this season between the pair of them, with Füllkrug playing a more impactful role linking the rest of the team to the forward line, as his partner becomes a nuisance in and around the opposition’s defense and drifts wide to deliver crosses. Both will be imperative to any success Werner’s side achieve this year, and Füllkrug’s even on track to compete for the Golden Boot.

Build up

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Die Werderaner start their in-possession play with a rather unique shape, 3-3-2-2. This allows for their three centre-backs to stay close and begin building their stints of possession, whilst the wing-backs move further forward. Anthony Jung will typically hang lower than Mitchell Weiser on the other side, with that initial 3+1 build-up shape taking form whenever Die Werderaner want to play out from the back with patience and composure.

Either Gruev or Gross play as the central pivot, with fluidity often achieved in a staggered shape between the triad. Typically, the most creative midfielder in the team (either Romano Schmid or Leonardo Bittencourt) will operate close to the strikers, allowing for close proximity of combinations if the ball advances into central channels. This can then allow for greater flexibility between the other two as they dismark themselves from the opposition by varying their runs toward the ball.

Despite the potential for variety and meticulous passing through the thirds, Bremen’s defenders tend to bypass the midfield line altogether, instead opting for long passes into their pair of ‘Target Men’ up front. Only Bochum (81) have attempted more long passes per game this season than Werner’s men (74). Encouragingly for Die Werderaner, each of Niklas Stark, Miloš Veljković and Marco Friedl have completed over 60% of their long passing attempts so far this season. Combine that passing threat with the aerial prowess of Niclas Füllkrug and receiving ability of Marvin Ducksch, and you have a relatively efficient method for quickly breaking an opposition’s press on the drop of a dime.

Mitchell Weiser is quick to gallop forward in these attacking moves, always maintaining enough width to stretch the opposition defense. But if the wing-back wants to drift inside and combine with the front two, Romano Schmid can also drift wide to rotate and pull opposition players apart. This is where the ability of players like Bittencourt/Schmid and Weiser to drift toward the strikers again becomes key. With more numbers around the ball, Werder become far more likely to win those second balls, and maintain possession.

Attacking Principles

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In attack, Werder Bremen would best be described as a ‘direct’ team through the thirds. With such a top-heavy front-line, it’s no mystery why they endeavour to enact their firepower up front right away. Both players are magnificent with their back-to-goal, and frequently link up in close combinations with the advancing runners sprinting toward them. They will often operate in close proximity themselves to ease the knock-downs, but both also frequently drift wide to combine with the wing-backs and allow others to run into positions through the middle. Even despite all the creativity and crossing power of Mitchell Weiser and Anthony Jung, Marvin Ducksch is actually the man to attempt the most crosses this season – 4.9 per 90, to Weiser’s 2.1.

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The fact that they lack a playmaking ’10’ is then hardly missed, with the wing-backs getting up the field to create overloads and chances for the centre-forwards inside the penalty area. This can be particularly effective on the break, with the wing-backs injecting pace and power to quickly join the strikers on the hunt for a goal. According to Wyscout, nearly 57% of their counter-attacks have ended with shots this season, as opposed to the league average of 49%.

They also rank far above average on crossing success and the ability to avoid the offside trap, both of which are also features of the way their strikers play in front of the defense, and give themselves space to receive the ball away from unwanted attention.

Defensive Principles

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Although Werder Bremen have conceded more goals than any other side in the top half, they also wouldn’t be in the top ten had it not been for the relative solidity and organization of Werner’s team. They remain disciplined and controlled in their approach within a 5-2-1-2 to 5-2-3 defense, as the ’10’ pushes up to join the striker in the first line of defense. Against certain opposition teams who leave fewer numbers at the back and more in midfield, Bremen will adjust to a more natural 5-3-2 shape within Werner’s scheme.

Incredibly organized and resolute across the pitch, the front three have led the way in helping Bremen to frequently win back possession in the middle third, with only Dortmund winning more tackles in the centre of the park than Die Werderaner. In other moments, they can be incredibly man-to-man in their approach, and easily pulled apart by quick attacking rotations in the final third. They were hit for six at the Allianz Arena, and couldn’t cope with the likes of Leipzig and Freiburg, who excellently rotate their numbers in the attack.

Nevertheless, Bremen tend to force the opposition into unideal shooting opportunities. Strong in the air and composed at the back, only 37% of the shots against Bremen have landed on target, as opposed to the league average of 44%. They’ve allowed fewer than 10 passes per defensive action this season (6th in the league), and impose one of the most intense counter-presses in the division. This is aided by the close combinations of the attacking players, making for a more natural way out of getting instant numbers around the ball

But if the initial counter-press becomes broken, the high and advanced positions of the wing-backs can become an issue. None of the back-three nor Christian Groß are particularly quick, and the centre-backs are frequently called into action to defend the wide areas, thus vacating their own position.

Ole Werner still has kinks to work out in the system, but in all phases of the game, he’s proving that his success at Holstein Kiel was certainly not just a one off.

So there it is! A tactical analysis of Ole Werner’s Werder Bremen in 2022-23. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!


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