Griffin O’Neill writes about Werder Bremen’s resurgence this season under Alexander Nouri.
At the beginning of the 2016/17 Bundesliga season, Werder Bremen was coming off of a 13th place finish, only two points from the relegation playoff spot. While they had been able to score 50 goals, which put them sixth in the Bundesliga in that department, they were incredibly leaky at the back. Bremen conceded 65 goals, which made them the second worst defense in the league, only in front of relegated Stuttgart. Then-manager Viktor Skrypnyk promised improvement but was sacked after three winless games to begin 2016/17. His replacement was 37-year-old assistant coach Alexander Nouri. Under Nouri’s guidance, Bremen have greatly distanced themselves from the relegation zone and sit only one point away from the Europa League. Nouri’s tactical prowess along with impressive transfer business has transformed the Weserstadion side from the brink of relegation to European candidates. Because of his achievements throughout his first season in charge, Nouri has been awarded a multi year contract extension by the Werder board.
The Impact of Nouri
While the performances of the players cannot be undervalued, the main reason behind Werder’s resurgence has undoubtedly been Nouri. His transition to a 4-2-3-1 system has revolutionized the way Werder has played, and his faith in former fringe players has transformed the side.
Under Skrypnyk at the beginning of the season, three different formations were tried out in the first three games, with none of them working whatsoever. When Nouri was promoted from assistant manager, he committed to a system and stuck with it. His 4-2-3-1 system, which can be adapted to a three at the back, has worked wonders, and this system helped Werder to an eleven-match unbeaten run that began in mid February and ended in late April. This is the run that propelled Bremen nine places up the table.
The vast improvement that Nouri has provided is shown when you see that only Red Bull Leipzig, Bayern Munich, Hoffenheim, and Borussia Dortmund have collected more points than Werder since Nouri’s arrival. This is incredible not only because of how close Werder have been to relegation in past years, but also because of the quality present in all parts of the Bundesliga. Currently, Bundesliga giants such as Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, and Schalke are all below Werder in the table.
If Nouri’s tactics are one of two main reasons for Werder’s revival, then his player selection is the other one. Nouri’s faith in members of the squad who once were seen as expendable or on the periphery of the club has helped revitalize the entire team, along with adding more competition for positions.
Former fringe players such as Fin Bartels and Robert Bauer have become crucial in this system, with Bartels’ versatility being one of the most crucial factors in his rise to being a key member of the squad. He has been deployed at striker, right wing, and attacking midfielder so far this season, and Bauer has been equally important as well. His ability to play at either full back or holding midfield has also enabled him to become a crucial member of the first team. Bauer was rewarded by scoring his first goal in Werder colors in a 5-3 loss to Hoffenheim.
Another group that Nouri has put his faith in has been the youngsters at Bremen. Because Nouri was the Werder U-23 manager before his appointment to the senior team, he already had a good knowledge of the youth at the club, and he has used this knowledge to perfection.
Nouri’s use of youth academy graduates such as Maximillian Eggestein and Florian Grillitsch have helped add a spark to the side and has also helped Werder attain multiple victories that would not have been possible without the contributions of these young players. Another youngster who has made a telling contribution to the first team is Ousman Manneh. The former Gambian refugee was thrust into the first team directly after Nouri’s appointment and scored the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in October of 2016. While Manneh’s performances have not been as consistent as many Bremen fans hoped, his contribution against Leverkusen will not be forgotten any time soon.
Nouri’s faith in Bartels and Bauer, along with many younger players, has helped remedy the lack of trust that Skrypnyk tended to put into his players. Because of Nouri’s faith, the Werder players have been able to perform to their full potential and secure the club’s safety in the Bundesliga for another season.
Although Alexander Nouri has not had very much influence on the signings made by Werder Bremen this season, he has allowed these signings to flourish in his system, and these players, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Delaney in particular, have played crucial roles in Werder’s climb up the table in the second half of the season.
While Tomas Delaney came to the club in January, his transfer from FC Copenhagen was agreed upon during the summer window. Delaney’s impact on Werder has been instant, with the Danish midfielder playing in all but five games since his arrival, only missing because of injury. Delaney has excelled in a deeper midfield role alongside newly appointed club captain Zlatko Junuzovic. Delaney has chipped in with goals at crucial times as well. His hat-trick in a 5-2 win over Freiburg was crucial in the context of a European position, with Freiburg currently being only three points ahead of Bremen and in a Europa League spot.
Another signing who has made a telling difference in the context of Werder’s season is German winger Serge Gnabry. The twenty-one year old signed from Arsenal has taken the Bundesliga by storm, scoring eleven goals and chipping in with two assists as well. Gnabry’s incredible form so far this season is put into context by the fact that his goals to game ratio has been better for Werder Bremen this season than for the Arsenal U-23 team. This incredible form is due in large part to the role in which Nouri has played Gnabry. Before this season, Gnabry had primarily been used as a right sided winger, but under Nouri, Gnabry has mostly played wide left and he has flourished because of it. Playing on the left, Gnabry is now able to cut onto his favored right foot and create space for his teammates while doing it.
With Nouri set for multiple more years, he will continue to implement his system and buy that players for that system. One of these players is Jerome Gondorf. The holding midfielder currently at Darmstadt has been brought in for next season and should help continue the progression of the Bremen side. Plus, with more players sure to come in during the summer, Nouri’s philosophy and squad should continue to progress for many years to come.
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