Following a season of few highs and lots of lows, Bremen are trying to save their 40-year relationship with Germany's top flight and avoid adding to a growing trend. On Monday in Heidenheim, they have one final chance.
It is hard to picture the Bundesliga standings without Werder Bremen. Then again, the same could have been said of Kaiserslautern, Bochum, Nuremberg, Hannover and most recently Stuttgart and Hamburg. On Monday, Bremen have one last chance to avoid adding their name to the increasing number of tradition-rich heavyweights who have been knocked out of the top flight.
Last Thursday's goalless draw in the relegation playoff first leg produced just a single shot on target. Now, opponents Heidenheim are ready to defend home turf in a bid to secure the club's first-ever Bundesliga promotion at the expense of Bremen's 40-year relationship with Germany's top flight.
A decade of decline
When they bounced back from their only ever relegation to date in 1980, Otto Rehhagel wasted no time in establishing Werder amongst the Bundesliga's elite, going on to claim two Bundesliga titles. Thomas Schaaf built on that foundation in his 14-year tenure to produce another successful era, which included another title win in 2004 and Champions League qualification on six occasions.
Florian Kohfeldt was the man charged with restoring Bremen's status as a top-half-of-the-table contender
Falling short in their pursuit of further top four finishes left Schaaf to hand over a club battling a decline. When Robin Dutt, Viktor Skripnik and Alexander Nouri fell afoul of the poisoned chalice, Florian Kohfeldt was pegged as the chosen one for a project to restore Bremen's status.
Everything was on course before this season produced a series of setbacks that Werder struggled to compensate for. The departure of Max Kruse hit hard, but losing the man signed as his replacement Niclas Füllkrug to a long-term knee injury hit harder. That was just the tip of the iceberg that would have sunk many a Bundesliga ship though.
Nevertheless, Kohfeldt was honest in his appraisal towards the end of a disastrous season in outlining that his side "only have ourselves to blame for our current situation.”
Kohfeldt: "We have a lot to win"
A dramatic 6-1 win over Köln on the final day put fate back in their own hands only for his charges to look like shadows of themselves in the first leg against Heidenheim. "I won't beat around the bush, it was a very bad game from us," admitted Kohfelft. "We didn't manage to do what we spoke about before the game."
A neutral would have struggled to pick out the top-flight side at the Weserstadion on Thursday and, as a result, Kohfeldt has called Bremen to "have the confidence to decide the game in 90 minutes."
Easier said than done for a squad that have had their self-confidence stripped and are without talismanic captain Niklas Moisander following his sending-off in the first leg. "From minute-to-minute since [the first leg] we've begun accepting that our starting position for the second leg presents enough possibilities,” continued Kohfeldt.
"In the context of the whole season we have a lot to win. We were dead and buried at least three times. It is that fact which we draw a lot of motivation from and, in this game, we have to have more desire to win than fear of losing in every moment.”
To lose the Bundesliga's longest-serving club just a year on from them taking that title from Hamburg seems ill-fated. Werder only need heed the warning of their northerly rivals own woes as to uncertainty demotion brings.
In 21 previous relegation playoffs the Bundesliga side has triumphed 15 times. However, if Bremen's season has taught them anything, it is that history counts for little when it comes to securing survival.