Schalke surrender three points to Werder Bremen

Werder Bremen’s 3-1 win at Schalke on Sunday afternoon means that none of Germany’s Champions League contenders, outside of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, won on the first matchday of the Rückrunde. There’s an impression that just like the English Premier League, nobody quite wants to be ruthless in the battle for third and fourth-spot in Germany’s top-flight.

Having led, and dominated, for the first half, Schalke surrendered what should normally be a routine three points against struggling Bremen who grabbed the points through the peerless Claudio Pizarro. The other star in white and green on the day was 35-year-old Clemens Fritz, the retiring Bremen captain who scored a superb equalizer and individually carved out both goals in the second half to keep the visitors alive and fighting in the battle for survival.

A defeat for Schalke sees them pass up the chance to move up into fourth following Borussia Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg, Hertha Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen’s inability to win this weekend. Andre Breitenreiter’s side have nursed a difficult blow in losing club captain Benedikt Höwedes since returning from their winter training camp in the United States. The World Cup winner is a leading influence at the heart of Schalke’s defense and his loss would be felt as indecision would cost the Royal Blues on the day. 

As Schalke came out of the traps strongly, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar missed a chance after three minutes. The hosts were not long in bagging the opener through Joel Matip who has been touted with a move to Liverpool this summer. The defender met Johannes Geis’ corner kick at the front post and the header went over the reach of Werder Bremen goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald. When Matip has scored for the Gelsenkirchen club in the Bundesliga, they have never lost.

Max Meyer was particularly good in the first half, flitting between the left-touchline and inside positions. The 20-year-old has been nudged to one side by the prodigious talents of Leroy Sane, a player linked with Manchester City in the January transfer window. Another of Schalke’s litany of homegrown players, Meyer was the soul of all attacking moves before the break.

Meyer’s true control and pass was pivotal in carving out a golden chance for Huntelaar on 26 minutes. With the angle blocked by Jannik Vestergaard, the veteran Dutch forward went for the chip over the defender and the keeper, but it struck the crossbar. Huntelaar was active in the first period, but eventually, the home side’s intensity seemed to fall away, allowing Bremen to respond.

BUNDESLIGA RESULTS

The pressing urgency for Viktor Skripnik’s side to turn things around is palpable with other sides taking points in-and-around the bottom-three. Florian Grillitsch had one of his better games for the River Islanders and was a constant menace when he pushed on freely from a midfield position. On 38 minutes, his curling shot was clever and heading for goal, but in the end just landed past Ralf Fährmann’s goal.

Clemens Fritz, Werder’s long-serving captain, was making his 300th league appearance and he marked a milestone moment in his career – which will come to an end in the summer – with a superb finish to draw the scores level on 42 minutes. The 35-year-old spun sharply on the edge of the box, leaving Geis in his wake, and he bent the ball into the far corner of the net.

Both sides missed easy chances in the first 120 seconds of the second period. Pizarro first, then Sane who ballooned an effort over from just outside the six-yard box. If a response from Schalke was a foregone conclusion, then this game was about to take a serious twist. Pizarro cushioned home Fritz’s well-placed cross from the right-hand side to put Bremen in the lead on 57 minutes. 

The fact the visitors, third-bottom, looked clearly the better side was one thing, but Pizarro, yet again, defies his 37 years to add to his superb Bundesliga scoring record of 179 in 398 games – he now ties for sixth in the all-time list with Stefan Kuntz and is the outright leading all-time foreign scorer in the division’s history.

On the hour mark, Breitenreiter welcomed new signing Younes Belhanda to the team, replacing the frustrated Meyer who couldn’t quite replicate his first half performance. The Moroccan, on loan from Dynamo Kyiv until the end of the season, looked slightly off the pace on his debut as the Royal Blues struggled to mount a serious retaliation in this match. Wiedwald had no problems dealing with two efforts in a minute from Sane and midfielder Leon Goretzka. Matip’s diving effort on 79 minutes was as threatening as it got for Wiedwald in the closing minutes.

But Fritz would again make Schalke play, crossing for Anthony Ujah who clinched Bremen’s first win in six league games as the game approached the 90th minute mark. Bremen isn’t out of the bottom-three just yet, but the win has lifted a massive weight of pressure off the shoulders of Skripnik.