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Werder Bremen have gone from heavyweights to sparring partners

For years, Bremen have been a model of consistency, stability and harmony. But with this season already a likely write-off, even hardcore fans are calling for some major changes on the River Weser.

Werder players look around after conceding another goal

Conceding goals has been an all too regular occurence for Werder this year

If there was any small consolation for Bremen after their 6-0 thrashing by Stuttgart on Sunday, it was that the scoreline could have been worse. After all, goalkeeper Tim Wiese had saved a penalty in the 60th minute.

But Wiese remained disconsolate.

"The way we played here was embarrassing," the keeper told reporters after the match. "I'm ashamed of us, and every one else should be ashamed as well."

It was Werder's second straight league loss after an unexpected home to defeat to Nuremberg in round 10. Coach Thomas Schaaf took refuge in gallows humor.

"We were a good sparring partner," Schaaf told the press. "That's an opponent you invite to your training camp, when you want to stay fit. It was like in practice, and that's not enough for a competitive match."

Werder are currently eleventh in the table, 15 points behind leaders Dortmund. The team has been in similar positions before, but rarely have things looked so black for the men in green.

In 2008-9, Bremen stumbled to tenth place in the Bundesliga but salvaged their season by reaching the final of the Europa League and winning the German Cup. This year, they are already out of the Cup and adrift at the bottom of their Champions League group.

Werder have qualified for international competition every year since 2004 and have missed the Champions League only once, making them Germany's second most successful team. Nonetheless, the problems they are currently encountering have been in the making for some time.

Achilles' Heel

Mikael Silvestre challenges for the ball

Silvestre is one of the main problems in a terrible defense

Werder have always conceded more goals than the other top German teams but have thrived because they also scored more. That's down to the style favored by Schaaf, which features the defenders pushed relatively far upfield.

But after 11 matches this season, Bremen have already conceded 27 goals. By way of comparison, Werder's season average for the past six campaigns is 41.5.

Schaaf and company have sorely missed central defender Naldo, who's out indefinitely while recovering from an operation to combat necrosis of the knee. Neither Sebastian Proedl nor Mikael Silvestre has been an adequate replacement, and Germany international Per Mertesacker has been unable to compensate.

Werder's goal production – 19 – is also down, which has something to do with the hole left behind by Mesut Oezil, who left this summer for Real Madrid. Aaron Hunt, a converted striker, has not been able to fill the playmaker role, and new acquisition Wesley has been forced to play in the back four.

As a relatively low-budget club by top European standards, Bremen are used to losing star players. Schaaf and commercial manager Klaus Allofs have always shown a remarkable knack for finding replacements.

Not this season, though, and that's causing some major friction in the Werder family.

Fussing and feuding

Bremen's head coach Thomas Schaaf, left, talks to managr KlausAllofs

Schaaf and Allofs are no longer beyond criticism

Schaaf and Allofs have been running things at Werder since 1999, a unique record of longevity in the hire-‘em-fire-‘em Bundesliga, and harmony has been the rule in their eleven-year tenure.

But questionable personnel decisions and curious management reactions have created an atmosphere of conflict.

Disappointed with the team's early form, Allofs took the strange step of freezing players' wages earlier this season. That created a climate of tension that may have emerged when striker Marko Arnautovic reportedly hurled an obscenity in Allofs' direction after being substituted out in Bremen's most recent Champions League loss.

The Serbian-Austrian is known for his mercurial temperament, and many fans questioned the decision to acquire him this summer. But that's nothing compared to the outrage directed at the 33-year-old Silvestre.

The Frenchman was brought in despite coming off a horrible year with Arsenal and is, according to the grades handed out by kicker magazine, by far and away the worst defender in the Bundesliga.

He was roundly booed after the Nuremberg match, an understandable reaction from disappointed ticket-holders. But Schaaf subsequently went on local radio accusing supporters of not being “real fans.”

And that has the Werder faithful up in arms.

"Werder Bremen is suffering from the arrogance and vanity of Schaaf and Allofs," wrote one enraged user on the Fanszene-bremen internet forum. "These gentlemen have lost touch after having so much success and being treated with kid gloves by the media. Criticism, including boos, is interpreted as an insult to their royal highnesses."

A fellow supporter, writing on a different platform, concurred.

"Here everyone blames a team that is playing badly," the user opined on forum.werder.de. "That's one issue. Another one is that Klaus Allofs isn't capable of buying reasonable players and Thomas Schaaf has been unable to form them into a reasonable team."

A couple of wins would probably be enough to silence the voices of dissent, and Bremen get a chance to make amends on Saturday when they host Frankfurt – a team they'd expect to beat most seasons.

But this season is anything but typical. Frankfurt are riding high in fourth place, while Werder Bremen are facing a potential relegation fight – and an ill-tempered debate about the future of the club.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner

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