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Bremen's Diego To Miss Four Games for Strangle Attack

A momentary loss of muscular control means Werder will be without their playmaker until late February. With striker Claudio Pizarro also banned, Bremen's title hopes may be dead and buried.

Diego heading the ball against Karlsruhe

Diego later used his hands, and not his head, against Karlsruhe

Games don't get much costlier than Bremen's 1-0 defeat at Karlsruhe last weekend.

Not only did last year's runners-up drop three points to what was then the worst team in the league but the team's cool appeared to blow along with its title chances. The German football federation, the DFB, has now also suspended playmaker Diego, the motor of Bremen's offense, for four games after video footage showed him trying to strangle Karlsruhe defender Christian Eichner.

One day before, on December 8, the DFB banned striker Claudio Pizarro for three games for slapping Karlruhe's Martin Stoll in the dying minutes of the match.

Bremen and the two players affected say they accept the suspensions -- a wise decision considering that the prospects for a successful appeal would be next to none.

Still two questions remain. How did a perennial league powerhouse, which is currently tenth in the league, go so far off the rails? And what if anything can Bremen do to get back on track?

Rogue electrons

Bremen's coach Thomas Schaaf vents some frustration

This has been the most irate season of Schaaf's tenure


Werder have astonished fans in recent years by consistently finishing in the top three despite losing key players to wealthier clubs almost every season.

Much of the credit has to go to coach Thomas Schaaf's finely honed team system. But this season, key players have lost their heads instead of concentrating on their appointed roles.

In the 6th round, star defender Per Mertesacker earned a red card and a three-game ban for pulling down an opponent with a clear line to goal in Bremen's match against Hoffenheim.

In Round 12, up-and-coming midfielder Mesut Oezil kicked out at a Bochum player, for which he was also sent off and given an involuntarily three-round holiday.

With Diego and Pizarro now also relegated to the sidelines, much is being written about Bremen's implosion. But that's the wrong metaphor. Instead, Bremen are suffering from a void at the heart of the team.

Veteran midfielder Torsten Frings has been more concerned about feuding with Germany coach Joachim Loew over his standing in the national squad than about leading Bremen. And Daniel Jensen, another player who has provided stability, has been out for most of the season with injury.

Thus, Bremen are more like an unstable atom then a dying star. The nucleus has lost the pull to make the whole cohere, and the electrons are beginning to spin out of control.

Tricky off-season

Real Madrid's Fabio Cannavaro,, left, duels for the ball against Werder Bremen's Boubacar Sanogo

Bremen could sure use a return to form by Sanogo


Bremen had already said they would try to off-load some of their non-performers, including strikers Boubacar Sanogo and Martin Harnik, during the winter break. But unless they want to write off this season, this long-term strategy may have to be modified to address some pressing needs.

Not only will Diego and Pizarro have to be replaced. Hugo Almeida could also now be out for some weeks with an injury so Werder have to either buy a forward or rehabilitate one of those they already have.

Bremen could also use a couple of stocking stuffers for their porous defense, but bringing in too much new talent could result in a glut, and further damage to team chemistry, when regulars return from injury and suspension.

Werder are now eight points adrift of third place and a chance to qualify for the Champions League. With Wolfsburg still to play this year, and three more league games to survive before the team is back to full strength, Bremen could find itself too far back by March to mount a realistic challenge at the top three.

In any case, it's going to be a precarious Christmas this year for what was once the Bundesliga's most consistent club.

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