There's more riding on Hannover's trip to a buoyant Werder Bremen side on Matchday 25 than Thomas Schaaf's return. Friendship is put to one side as the green-and-whites look to protect their Bundesliga status.
If Claudio Pizarro's words weren't enough, the Peruvian veteran added a hat trick for good measure in Werder Bremen's 4-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, which carried the club out of the bottom-three for the first time since the start of Matchday 17. The oldest player to score a hat trick in league history, the 37-year-old Pizarro's performance illustrated the support in the squad for under fire coach Viktor Skripnik,whose job seemed to rest on the next two games
following a2-2 draw at home
to Darmstadt last week.
The scenes of rare jubilationwhich followed Pizarro's second and third goal
- that brought him within two of the club's all-time scoring record - gave the impression that an enormous weight had been lifted from the coach's shoulders. "We stand behind him," Pizarro told reporters. But the Peruvian's display of timeless ingenuity dismantled Leverkusen and was a more poetic way of throwing his influence behind Skripnik.
Even the club's fans seem to be collectively behind Skripnik, a former player and cult figure who won a league championship and two German Cups in an eight-year spell at the club. The 46-year-old, who tends to sit quietly in his technical area, finally managed to crack a smile when Bremen opened up a 3-1 lead at Leverkusen - the same margin of victory that had secured a place in the German Cup semifinals last month. There was even room for a joke or two with players on the team bus, according to Fin Bartels, scorer of the opener on Wednesday.
'It's all about points'
The 3-1 win at Schalke to open 2016 and two emphatic victories over Leverkusen in the space of just a few weeks have shown that Werder are capable of winning performances. Contrary to conventional wisdom in football, the league table sometimes does lie: Werder's performances have deserved better. Draws against Hoffenheim and Darmstadt in recent weeks could have quite easily been converted into victories.
Pizarro, with nine goals in his last eight games, has led the line, demonstrating his sheer class. Clemens Fritz, the captain, has led by example in midfield even as he prepares to retire in the summer. Florian Grillitsch has added dynamism in midfield, while Papy Djilobodji, on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season, has taken to the Bundesliga like a duck to water.
If there's one team that hasn't justified such a lowly position in the table, you could argue it's probably Werder Bremen. But the very nature of the Bundesliga means that a minor run of form can be enough to change a whole season. Hoffenheim's recent resurgence under Julian Nagelmsann has been the shot in the arm that several clubs have needed throughout the season.
Schaaf returns to Bremen, but it's no final
On Saturday, Werder have the opportunity to open up a 10-point cushion over bottom-placed Hannover when Thomas Schaaf returns to his former stomping ground. Pizarro, Skripnik, Fritz and assistant coach Torsten Frings are set to reunite with the Werder legend who was head coach for 14 years and won the club's last league title in 2004. He left in 2013 to an emotional farewell having taken Werder to the brink of European success a few years earlier.
But when referee Felix Zwayer starts proceedings, there will be no pleasantries on show at the Weser-Stadion.
"We cannot care about Thomas, it's all about survival," said Pizarro who was signed by Schaaf in 1999. "It's still the same dangerous situation," cautioned Austrian midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic whose claims of an upcoming "final" were dismissed by Schaaf. "This isn't a final," he said. "My ties aren't here [at Werder] now, but my memories are."
With six defeats in the seven games since the 54-year-old was appointed during the winter break, Hannover appear destined for relegation. The chances of survival look so bleak that the club's management has already begun planning for next year in the second division. And defeat for Schaaf against his former employers might be the decisive nail in the coffin.
Bundesliga Matchday 25 fixtures:
Cologne vs. Schalke (Saturday)
Stuttgart vs. Hoffenheim
Werder Bremen vs. Hannover
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Ingolstadt
Augsburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich
Mainz vs. Darmstadt (Sunday)
Hamburg vs. Hertha Berlin