Werder Bremen – Schalke 04: Werder’s Strategy On The Wings Beats Schalke’s Kick And Rush Football (4-2)

The Bundesliga clash between Werder Bremen and Schalke 04 promised to be an interesting tactical battle as the styles of play could not be more different. Schalke managed to dominae the first half with their direct vertical play and posed problems for Werder’s defense. Werder on the other hand opted for a possession-based approach, focusing on the creation of overloads in wide areas. Tedesco’s team largely failed with their approach to stop Bremen’s playmaker and man of the match Max Kruse, meaning Bremen prevailed.

Tactical analysis and match report by Max Bergmann


For both, Werder and Schalke, this match was all about keeping up with their competitors in the league table. Schalke were in need of points to keep distance to the relegation spots after disastrous 0-3 and 0-4 defeats against Mainz 05 and Fortuna Düsseldorf. Werder on the other hand, were still unbeaten in 2019. Bacause a lot of those unbeaten matches were draws, Bremen were about to lose connection to the spots qualifying for a European competition. Therefore, Werder Bremen aimed at getting the three points to keep the chance of the Europa League qualification.

Werder Bremen manager Florian Kohfeldt set his team up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Up top, the mixture of young spirit in the person of Milot Rashica and experience in the person of Claudio Pizarro was expected to lend Werder Bremen penetrating power up front. Captain Max Kruse was lined up right behind the striker duo. In the attacking phase, the German was supported by central advanced midfielders Maximilian Eggestein and Davy Klaassen. Defensive midfielder Philipp Bargfrede was tasked to cover the attacks and stabilise the defense. Due to an injury of center-back Sebastian Langkamp, Miloš Veljković played in central defense alongside Niklas Moisander. Theodor Gebre Selassie and Ludwig Augustinsson played as fullbacks to control the wide areas of the pitch. Last but not least, goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka protected the Werder goal.

Domenico Tedesco ruled out attacker Mark Uth, midfielder Amine Harit and the versatile Hamza Mendyl in his squad selection. Tedesco chose a 3-4-3 formation, but central defender Benjamin Stambouli often moved up into midfield. The wing-backs Daniel Caligiuri and Bastian Oczipka completed the back line whenever this happened. American Weston McKennie was lined up as a central midfielder next to Nabil Bentaleb. The offensive trio comprised strikers Guido Burgstaller and Breel Embolo as well as Steven Skrzybski positioned centrally behind the two attackers.



Schalke dominate the first half with direct vertical play

Schalke aimed at playing with a high focus on verticality, as they attempted to play towards the opposition goal as early as possible. Since Werder closed down central passing options with the help of their diamond midfield, Tedesco’s side often took long balls to progress up the pitch. Schalke played most of the long balls towards their robust striker Burgstaller while Embolo made deep runs to receive balls behind the back line and Skrzybski positioned himself in midfield to collect second balls. In addition to that, central midfielder McKennie also moved up the pitch to support the attack.

As long balls are less precise than short passes, this approach requires a strength in duels to dominate the game. Since Schalke won 59% of their duels and even 63% of their aerial duels, the Champions League participant was dominating the match in the first half. When attacking, Schalke’s main goal was to get behind Bremen’s last line of defense, as their central defenders lack pace, especially in comparison to Schalke’s attackers.

Schalke scored the leading goal by combining all three of these aspects: positioning, winning duels and getting behind the defensive line. After a long ball of left back Oczipka, McKennie headed the ball behind Werder’s central defenders. As Embolo was quicker than Werder defender Augustinsson, the Swiss attacker could score from just  inside the penalty area.


Schalke’s attempt to stop Max Kruse fails

A key aspect of Schalke’s defensive plan was that center-back Stambouli would move into midfield to mark Kruse. After intercepting a pass to the latter, Stambouli could play a chipped ball behind Werder’s block to forward Skrzybski, who missed his chance and could not extend the lead for Schalke.

Nevertheless, Schalke could not completely stop Kruse with Stambouli’s man-marking duties. Bremen’s key to free his playmaker were rotational movements. After the German interchanged his position with advanced midfielder Klaassen, Kruse moved towards the wing while Stambouli stayed in the center. This allowed Kruse to put in a cross after a one-two with Klaassen. Attacker Rashica was capable of converting this first chance of Werder Bremen into the equaliser.



Werder dominate in midfield and attack through overloading the wings

The side of Florian Kohfeldt played with the most center-focused system existing in football: the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. That means that all of their midfielders occupy the most central vertical lane and the half-spaces of the pitch. Only the fullbacks would occupy the wings.

Whenever Schalke was pinned down in their own half, Werder was capable of winning nearly all second balls in midfield. The reason lying behind this was the attacking trio of Schalke staying in a higher position to await counterattacking opportunities. As Werder took over more control of the game, Schalke were not capable of keeping a compact midfield anymore.


Werder’s 4-4-2 diamond formation.


This midfield domination only laid the foundation of Werder’s wing attacks. As Schalke also played with one single player on each flank, there was plenty of space given in wide areas of the pitch. Since the Schalke attackers stayed up front during the defensive phase, Schalke’s wing-backs missed support when defending on the wings. Werder utilized this by outnumbering the wide defenders of Schalke with overloads on the wings. Therefore, Bremen’s central midfielders drifted towards one side and supported fullbacks Augustinsson and Selassie in the attack.

Such as the first Werder goal, the second one also resulted from a cross. Because Kruse was fouled in the box after a cross from Rashica, Werder got a penalty resulting in the leading goal for the home-side. To emphasize how important this tactic was in this game: even the third goal resulted from a similar situation. This time Kruse put in a cross from the right side and Rashica scored at the far post.


Schalke threatening Bremen’s goal from set-piece situations

Since Schalke’s squad entailed a lot of players with good heading abilities, the team of Tedesco could threaten Bremen’s goal from set piece situations. The away team put in a lot of crosses from indirect free-kicks. Often only goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka could prevent Schalke from scoring. A few minutes before the final whistle, Schalke scored their second goal from a corner-kick. Embolo muscled Augustinsson in an aerial duel and headed the ball into the net.

In the final phase of the game, Tedesco instructed the gigantic Salif Sané to play up front. The Senegalese center-back took over the role of the target man, for long balls up front. These long balls however could not create promising opportunities anymore. On the contrary, Schalke opened up gaps within their own defense and thereby enabled substituted striker Martin Harnik to score the fourth Bremen goal during added time.



Schalke took over the initiative in the first half with a style based on long balls, winning second balls and high passion to win the duels. In the end, it is not an undeserved win for Bremen though as Schalke did not offer much more than their “kick and rush” style of play. Werder on the other hand found a promising strategy to threaten Schalke’s goal. By overloading the wings, Werder often got the opportunity to put in dangerous crosses leading to three of their goals.

Whereas Bremen can keep dreaming of a European competition, Schalke keep stuck in their crisis. The position of Domenico Tedesco therefore might be in greater risk than ever before.

Match plots will be added to this article later.

Max Bergmann (21) likes to watch football from every possible angle as an ambitious coach, player, (former) referee and analyst. Holding the UEFA B-Level license, he is coaching youth teams and making video analysis. In order to extend his knowledge about tactics, physiology and psychology in sports, he is studying sports science. Whenever Max is not on the pitch or at the university, he analyses football with a focus on the Bundesliga and the other European top leagues for TotalFootballAnalysis and Between the Posts. [ View all posts ]


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