Not for the first time, Thomas Schaaf's tactical tinkering bombed as Werder suffered their heaviest home defeat in 25 years
"I'm in an awful mood today," said Thomas Schaaf, which made for an interesting change from the other 364 days when the famously good-natured Werder Bremen manager is German joie de vivre personified, forever bouncing up and down with unbridled happiness and overflowing with cracking jokes. But the 51-year-old, in fairness, had a good reason to feel a little down on Saturday night. His team could be grateful for not having their Bundesliga licence withdrawn on count of being unfit for purpose after a 5-0 hiding at home to the champions, Borussia Dortmund.
It was their biggest defeat in the Weserstadion since a 7-1 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1987. Schaaf had played in that match as a defender, next to luminaries such as Rudi Völler, Rune Bratseth and Norbert Meier. "I'm angry," he said in the wake of the drubbing by the champions, with a face like an arctic mountain range. "The team is angry. Angry about the situation, about the game, about the performance."
Schaaf must have been a tiny bit angry with himself, too, but then you don't last 13 years in the job by admitting your own ineptitude. After conceding 28 goals and losing seven games before the winter break, the Bundesliga's most attack-minded (read: defensively shambolic) coach had been out to prove a point to the doubters and Guardiola-groupies: he switched his gung-ho 4-1-4-1 system to a 4-2-4 with Clemens Fritz as a second holding midfielder and no real No9 up front. It worked out a treat – for less than 10 minutes, until Marco Reus laser-guided a free-kick into the net. Nine minutes later, Mario Götze's deflected shot ended the match as a contest. Three more goals in the second half from Felipe Santana, Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski were scant reward for the Black and Yellows' utter superiority. Their transition game, in particular, reached the perfectionist levels of their Champions League showings, perhaps for the first time in the league this year. "It was a fantastic evening for us, we want to continue in that fashion," said Jürgen Klopp, who'd spent most of the winter training camp in Spain focussing on direct, vertical combinations in midfield.
By contrast, Werder had plenty of possession (54%) but nowhere to pass it in the final third. "We only got to 25, 20 metres in front of their goal," said the midfielder, Zlatko Junuzovic. "It felt like there was no one in the box for us." There wasn't. Nils Petersen, the supposed Messi in Schaaf's masterplan (or was Kevin De Bruyne the false striker? Who can possibly tell?), had no idea where and how exactly he was supposed to operate. By the time Schaaf switched back to his regular and by no means better 4-1-4-1 on 57 minutes, Dortmund were merely toying with the hosts. "We should have scored more goals," said Ilkay Gündogan.
"This wasn't about tactics, it was about getting the basics wrong," insisted Schaaf later. "And it's wrong to blame the defence. If we had been better up front, the defenders wouldn't have been under pressure so much." That's undoubtedly true. But the days when his side regularly outscored the opposition and threatened to establish themselves as the second force in German football behind Bayern feel like a bygone era. Little by little, Werder have slipped down the pecking order, to the point that Kicker sees them "transforming into a grey mouse" (also-rans) in the Bundesliga.
The defeat has left them 12th in the table and low on confidence. "Everything went down the toilet today," said the out-of-form, out-of-position and presumably soon-out-of-the-team-again captain, Fritz. Werder's poor finances will prevent Schaaf looking for solutions in the transfer market, so improvement has come from within. Their considerable talent up front should see them edge back into contention for a Europa League place but another defeat in the derby against Hamburg next weekend, coupled with Schaaf pointing the finger at the players again could well darken the mood further. The Bundesliga's longest-serving manager still has the backing of the cub. "We find him great, there's no discussion," said the advisory board member Willi Lemke. He emphasised that the club were in "total transition" and that "100% of the supporters" were behind the coach, too. One can't be so sure about the squad though. "Tactics? The manager's responsible for that," the goalkeeper Sebastian Mielitz said with an air of desperation. "We have to come together as a team and put into place what he's prescribing." And that, in a nutshell, is Werder's problem at the moment.
• The man from Sky 'interviewed' a cardboard cut-out of Pep Guardiola before kick-off on the touchline, the players (including clearly nonplussed members of Greuther Fürth) were bombarded with Pep questions and Jupp Heynckes got so annoyed with all the Pep hype that he felt moved to declare "I am the boss here". Unfortunately, the media had little else to sink their teeth into after a regulation 2-0 win over the new boys in the Allianz Arena thanks to goals from Marko Mandzukic. Heynckes did his best to control the situation by insisting that he had decided not to renew his contract but Uli Hoeness was nearer the mark when he revealed that the 67-year-old would "probably have been persuaded to continue" if Bayern had really tried. Instead, they will have to chase the treble with Guardiola watching on over breakfast bagels from New York. "Everyone's going mad here," admitted Hoeness. The Bayern players seemed relatively unperturbed, however. "The name Pep Guardiola has no business here until 31 June, at one minute past midnight," said Thomas Müller, inventing his own personal calendar in the process. Well they do say that the clocks run differently in Bavaria.
• The league leaders obviously didn't exhaust themselves enough on the pitch, so they were in action again on Sunday. A nearly full-strength squad took on Alemannia Aachen in a charity match at the Tivoli stadium. 31,600 supporters turned up, and €500,000 was raised for the third division club. Alemannia have fallen on hard times and need another €1m to stay afloat until the end of the season. "We don't have enough hats to doff them all to them," said the thankful Aachen boss, Uwe Scherr.
• The Bay-Arena provided less harmonious scenes, however. Bayer Leverkusen's emphatic 3-1 win over Frankfurt saw away supporters burning plenty of flares and setting off fire-crackers; referee Wolfgang Stark stopped play after 15 minutes. Armin Veh's side had been the better team until then but Leverkusen adjusted their tactics and ran out deserved winners to stay second in the table. Another side is set to benefit from the Frankfurt fans' misdemeanours, too: the German FA are reportedly planning to impose a "Geisterspiel" (ghost game) behind closed doors on the Eagles.
• Now that the increasingly modest Bundesliga will soon have the best manager in world, to go with the best stadiums, the best ticket prices and the best terrace sausages, it is only right that they should challenge the other self-professed "official bestest league in the world" in terms of end-to-end histrionics and comedy defending. Yes, Schalke's 5-4 win over Hannover almost had Premier League quality. All that was missing was one manager admonishing the fourth official for a disrespectful, biased sideways glance at an earlier encounter in 1994 and a stimulating debate about the ins and outs of diving.
• The good news for Spurs-bound Lewis Holtby is that he soon be able to experience the real thing. Schalke's sporting director, Horst Heldt, has turned down a first "unacceptable offer" from Tottenham for a winter transfer but all the indications are that an agreement will be reached – one minute before transfer-deadline on 31 January in classic Daniel-Levy-style presumably.
Results: Schalke 5-4 Hannover, Bayern 2-0 Fürth, Bremen 0-5 Dortmund, Leverkusen 3-1 Frankfurt, Wolfsburg 2-0 Stuttgart, Hoffenheim 0-0 Mönchengladbach, Mainz 0-0 Freiburg, Nürnberg 1-1 Hamburg, Düsseldorf 2-3 Augsburg.