This season’s Bundesliga is becoming dictated by the finest of margins.
SV Werder Bremen, third-from-bottom two months ago, now lie five points behind Hertha Berlin, who hold the second Europa League place. A consistent run of form has turned their season around dramatically.
Alexander Nouri, who took charge after four games, has faced questions about his future on a near weekly basis since Autumn. Bremen’s pattern of results throughout the campaign has been familiar – a few victories among a generally dismal first half of the league season.
But Bremen’s form has undergone a serious upturn in recent weeks. From the last seven games, Bremen have taken 19 points – three more than the team managed to collect from the previous 20. Nouri’s side have collected four clean sheets, substantially over-performing a weak defensive record, and scoring 18 goals.
— SV Werder Bremen EN (@werderbremen_en) April 6, 2017
Bremen have won three successive games by more than three goals – for the first time since 1993. This is where a deeper inquest into Bremen’s true form digs up a number of interesting conclusions. The fixture schedule, and fluctuating form patterns in the league, have set things up to Nouri’s advantage.
Bremen’s winning run has seen them dispatch of 1. FSV Mainz 04, VfL Wolfsburg, SV Darmstadt 98, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, RB Leipzig, Freiburg, and FC Schalke 04.
“Even the best of those teams, RB Leipzig have been performing more like the sixth or seventh best team in the Bundesliga since the winter break,” notes Simon Gleave, head of analysis, of Gracenote Sports.
“However, even in this run of results, Bremen have scored twice as many goals as we would expect from the quality of the chances they have created.”
Notably during these seven matches, Thomas Delaney has scored four times from five attempts, Max Kruse has four goals from seven attempts and Serge Gnabry three from seven, according to Gracenote Sports data.
The Bundesliga has generally, over the last decade, been divided into a number of factions – the leading pack, the Euro chasers, the mid-table teams and those adrift at the bottom. But with 12 points from seventh (Eintracht Frankfurt) to 17th (FC Ingolstadt 04), including the most competitive relegation battle for years, parity has been attained across the field – even if it is lacking towards the top of the table.
In Bremen’s seven match unbeaten run, they have only outperformed their opposition in terms of expected goals in three of the seven matches according to Gracenote Sports’ model – the home fixtures against Darmstadt, Leipzig and Schalke 04.
— SV Werder Bremen EN (@werderbremen_en) April 5, 2017
Bremen’s expected finish this season remains 15th place, despite a minor improvement since the winter break. The underlying data does suggest the team has over-performed considerably in front of goal, but it doesn’t mask a handful of intended improvements at the Weser-Stadion this summer.
Delaney, signed from Copenhagen in January, has given Bremen the kind of axis in midfield, which has been lacking since Thomas Schaaf’s best teams. The Dane is a dynamic pivot for the middle-three, combining and complementing Zlatko Junuzovic and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim-bound Florian Grillitsch particularly well. More aggressive and decisive, this has substantially added to Bremen’s transitional play into attack. If anything, it has given the green-and-whites a sting and surprise factor.
Bremen’s position, six points above the drop zone, remains pretty precarious with seven games left, though Frankfurt, with the worst record in the Bundesliga in 2017, may not provide the most robust of opponents on Friday. The next clutch of matches against a recovering Hamburger SV, then Ingolstadt, followed by Berlin and 1. FC Koln, has the potential to bounce in either direction.
At least from Nouri’s perspective, Bremen will be delighted if they are home-and-dry before Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund bring their campaign to a close at the end of May. Although there’s enough evidence to show Bremen aren’t as good as their form suggests, there’s nothing to claim it cannot continue for a while longer.
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