MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) European NAP takes him to the Bundesliga on Easter Sunday for a derby encounter between Werder Bremen and Hamburg.
Werder Bremen v Hamburg | Easter Sunday 14:30 | BT Sport
We’ve an Easter Sunday treat to look forward to in the Bundesliga this weekend as German football’s two northern giants lock horns in the highly-anticipated 106th Nordderby from the Weserstadion.
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 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 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.
The Green-and-Whites have put together an eight-game unbeaten run (W6-D2-L0) to collect 20 points from a possible 24 – and it could have been more had they held onto a 2-0 lead at Frankfurt last Friday night.
In their last Weserstadion outing, Bremen saw off Schalke 3-0 and the home fans starting singing about European qualification but Nouri is still focussed on avoiding the drop. With five games to play, a Nordderby triumph should certainly seal Werder’s place in the top-flight for 2017/18.
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 a dozen goals in 11 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 seven of their last eight with skipper Zlatko Junuzovic finding his best form, Max Kruse fit and fresh once more and despite missing recent matches through injury, Serge Gnabry remains a major threat for the Green-and-Whites.
Asian Handicap angle
Gnabry, Lamine Sane, and Philipp Bargfrede all took part in full training this week and are expected to be in contention for starting berths on Sunday and I’m very keen to dive in on the 4/6 (188BET) available on Werder Bremen off a scratch 0 Asian Handicap start here.
Working in the exact same format as the Draw No Bet market – but at a bigger price – we’ll see our stake returned should the game end all-square with profit made should Bremen triumph. The only way in which we’ll lose our cash is if Hamburg pocket maximum points.
Bremen have bagged wins in 10 of their last 14 when welcoming bottom-six sides and their last three outings here have resulted in three victories by an aggregate 8-0 against Schalke, RB Leipzig and Darmstadt.
Hamburg's own remarkable transformation
Visitors Hamburg have also undergone a remarkable transformation this term. After 10 games of the season HSV had just two points. The Redshorts didn’t win until the 13th round of the season, since when they’ve W9-D2-L5, lifting themselves to 13th in the table, four points clear of relegation.
In two of the past three campaigns the Dinosaur have been involved in the relegation play-off but Markus Gisdol’s revival work should ensure Hamburg avoid such a scenario this spring.
However, the guests have built the bulk of their recent run on their return at their Volksparkstadion home, picking seven victories in eight there, including a morale-boosting 2-1 triumph against Hoffenheim last time out.
Why HSV can be opposed
On the road, HSV have claimed just two wins (W2-D3-L9), fired blanks in four of their past six and in failed to score in eight of 11 visits to sides outside the bottom-four. Considering only the top-four have scored more goals than Bremen, the Redshorts are up against it here.
To make matters worse, Hamburg arrive with a number of major injury concerns. Gideon Jung’s timely return allows the centre-half to replace Kyriakos Papadopoulos at centre-half but the on-loan defender has been a pivotal addition to Gisdol’s group.
Papadopoulos only arrived in the winter transfer window but in Hamburg’s last 10 matches they’ve won six of the seven the Greek has played, conceding just three goals. In the three he’s missed, HSV have leaked 13 goals and W0-D1-L2.
Elsewhere, goalkeeper Rene Adler is out, as is centre-back Johan Djourou, central midfielder Albin Ekdal and leading assister Nicolai Muller leaving the spine of side weak. Without Muller, Hamburg have scored just twice in seven games since the start of last season.
Werder Bremen v Hamburg – Werder Bremen 0 Asian Handicap (4/6 188BET)