MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) European NAP takes him to Ligue 1 on Sunday night as he chases an ninth winner in 11.
Werder Bremen v Hertha Berlin | Saturday 14:30
Werder Bremen were seconds away from relegation last season and the Green-and-Whites started 2016/17 in the worst possible fashion, suffering four straight defeats and eight losses across their opening 11 league outings.
During that rotten run Viktor Skripnik was fired with the club opting to promote from within, hiring 37-year-old German-Iranian Alexander Nouri as Skripnik’s successor. He was anything but an instant Weserstadion hit.
Bremen revived under Nouri
For several months Nouri was unable to ease the club’s relegation fears and on a few occasions he was rumoured to be one game away from the sack. Bremen slumped to four defeats on the spin after the winter break and new sporting director Frank Baumann’s patience was sure to be tested.
Baumann decided to trust his instincts and gave Nouri a final vote of confidence – the rest, as they say, is history. Werder are alive and kicking thanks to a fabulous upturn in form since mid-February and now in the running for Europa League qualification.
The Green-and-Whites have put together a 10-game unbeaten run (W8-D2-L0) to collect 26 points from a possible 30 – Werder have only managed more points in the Rückrunde once since the introduction of three points for a win – in 2003-04, when they last won the title.
Improvement at both ends
So how’s Nouri achieved his success? The River Islanders boss has built a wholehearted and unified band of brothers, a totally-committed fighting force. He’s developed a pacey, attacking outfit but most crucially he’s solved the age-old issue in defence.
Werder have shipped only 17 goals in 14 games this calendar year with impressive cat Felix Wiedwald, Finnish centre-back Niklas Moisander and bullish Danish ball-winner Thomas Delaney all earning rave reviews in Bremen’s newfound backline stability.
Going forward the side has scored at least twice in eight of their last 10 with Max Kruse finally realising his potential. The German international has scored nine goals in seven games, rattling in four last weekend at relegation strugglers Ingolstadt – the first Werder player to do so since the legendary Frank Neubarth in 1986.
The goals took Kruse’s goal tally to 13 in 19 starts this season, nine of which have been scored in the last seven games. If you tack on assists, he has been directly involved in 15 of Werder’s last 29 goals. Phenomenal figures.
Hertha Berlin have W0-D1-L7 in their last eight games in Bremen and although the club have been in amongst the top-six throughout the campaign, the visitors have built their success on form in the capital.
The Berlin boys have actually lost eight on the spin on their travels – failing to score on five occasions – and bagged just W2-D3-L10 on the road all season.
Pal Dardai’s charges overcame Wolfsburg last time out but their opponents spurned a catalogue of chances and Hertha arrive having been beaten in four of their past six fixtures whilst juggling a severe injury crisis.
Six first-teamers are out of action this weekend, including their entire first-choice back-four. Considering Bremen have bagged four successive victories at the Weserstadion, Hertha’s away day blues and key players missing, it’s hard not to get stuck into even-money (Paddy Power) quotes on a home success here.
Werder Bremen v Hertha Berlin – Werder Bremen to win (1/1 Paddy Power)