Werder Bremen 2-2 Tottenham: Schaaf’s early tactical shift rescues a point for Bremen

September 15, 2010

The starting line-ups

A frantic game that Spurs looked set to win at a canter, only to be pegged back in the second half.

Harry Redknapp went with a fairly basic 4-2-3-1 shape, with Rafael van der Vaart in behind Peter Crouch. Jermaine Jenas was a surprise starter in the centre of midfield alongside Tom Huddlestone, whilst the rest of the side was as expected.

Werder Bremen played a lopsided shape at the start; Aaron Hunt was left out, so Marko Arnautovic drifted to the left, and Marko Marin was given the freedom to roam across the pitch.

The home side looked extremely disjointed early on – both Arnautovic and Hugo Almedia looked to work the left-hand side, but there were few driving runs from the three central midfielders, whilst Marin found it difficult to find space despite having the freedom to drift where he liked. Often Bremen had no attacking players in their right-hand half of the pitch – Clemens Fritz was presumably supposed to make an overlapping run, but he was reluctant to venture forward as he was concerned with Bale’s driving runs.

Spurs start well, Bremen disjointed

Spurs were also helping to disrupt Bremen’s game – they pushed high up the pitch when Tim Wiese had the ball, preventing him playing out to his defenders, and he instead had to hit the ball long towards Almeida – Bremen weren’t able to settle.

Bremen’s shape was clearly intended to be flexible at the top end of the pitch, but unfortunately for them, their formation was too fluid in the centre of midfield as well. Torsten Frings wasn’t disciplined enough and let van der Vaart control the game. The Dutchman found plenty of room in the hole and always seemed to be in space – happy to go past Crouch to get on the end of his flick-ons, but equally likely to be found deep in midfield, helping Tottenham keep the ball, and play at a slower, more sophisticated pace than they often play in the Premier League.

Pillip Bargfrede’s role was slightly confusing – he was neither supporting Frings in the centre of midfield, nor helping combat Bale after his 2nd minute trip on the Welshman. As in the second leg against Sampdoria, Bremen’s central midfield didn’t seem solid enough, and they invited Tottenham onto them in the opening half hour.

Left-wing crosses

Bale enjoyed his freedom on the left, with no opposition right-winger to help Benoit Assou-Ekotto with, and equally this meant that Fritz had no support when Bale attacked him directly. It was no surprise when the opening goal came from a simple ball over the top into Bale’s path – Fritz got too tight, Bale’s cross acros the six-yard box was excellent, and Petri Pasanen put into his own net. It was also notable that van der Vaart had made completely untracked run into the area, ready for the pull-back.

Not long after, another cross from the left found Crouch, and Spurs were 2-0 up without having to do anything spectacular. The period between the second goal and Bremen’s tactical shift was when Spurs were most impressive – they worked the ball across their defence and into midfield intelligently, looking to retain possession in non-threatening areas. Bremen’s lopsided shape meant they found it difficult to press Spurs – they were closing down in ones and twos – and Spurs were able to pass around them easily.

Tactical shift

Bremen's 37th minute switch to a 4-2-3-1 shape, with the three attacking players behind Almeida rotating

Bargfrede was the obvious candidate to be withdrawn when Thomas Schaaf made a tactical switch before half-time, and Aaron Hunt was the equally inevitable replacement. Despite removing a defensive midfielder and bringong on a creative player, Bremen were actually more solid defensively. The Brazilian Wesley dropped in alongside Fritz to give a stronger base to the midfield, with Frings moving slightly more naturally onto van der Vaart, whilst Wesley suddenly became the game’s central player, dictating play and distributing the ball methodically into wide positions.

Meanwhile, the fact Bremen were effectively now ‘matching’ Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 meant they found it easier to press and close down – wingers on full-backs, and the central two attacking players on the centre-backs. They won the ball back higher up the pitch, Tottenham found it difficult to adapt to the sudden situation, and quickly Bremen gained the upper hand. Nothing could outline Spurs’ sudden panic in possession more than Assou-Ekotto’s ludicrous clearance to concede a silly throw-in on the opposite side of the pitch. From that, Wesley’s lofted cross was converted by Hugo Almeida.

Second half

There were no changes at half-time – Schaaf was clearly happy with Bremen’s improvement after Hunt’s introduction. It seemed inevitable that the same systems in the second half would result in the home side dominating, so it was slightly surprising Redknapp didn’t change his formation slightly – perhaps by bringing on a natural ball-winner like Wilson Palacios. In fact, the most obvious change came from Bremen, who defended much deeper – an effective tactic to deny Bale space in behind Fritz, and he was less of a threat in the second period.

Bremen’s three attacking players supporting Almeida were happy to interchange, with the dangerman Marin popping up on both flanks as well as in the centre of the pitch – and it was from the centre that he scored an excellent goal to make it 2-2, although it was terrible defending from Spurs, backing off as he lined up a shot.

There were further chances in the game – Almeida had a good opportunity from a long ball forward, Crouch wasted a one-on-one, and Bale delivered a superb low cross that was begging to be converted. But whilst woth managers are famed for their attack-minded approach, both seemed fairly content to take a draw – the introduction of holding players like Tim Borowski and Palacios showed that. In the end, 2-2 was a fair result for a good game, and an excellent tactical battle.


In many ways this was a reverse of Spurs’ trip to Young Boys last month, and whilst Redknapp will be disappointed to have conceded a two-goal advantage, both the result and performance were good. A point away from home in the Champions League should be regarded as a positive, but more promising is the fact that Spurs kept possession well and were able to control the tempo of the game – at least until Bremen made their switch. The addition of van der Vaart looks like a superb transfer.

Whilst Redknapp’s lack of a ball-winner could be identified as a reason for the collapse, equally it stemmed from basic defensive errors. The first goal was a calamity – Assou-Ekotto’s ludicrous clearance resulting in a throw-in and Jenas standing off Wesley’s cross – not to mention poor marking. Marin’s goal also could have been prevented – the Spurs defence backed off and let him get a shot in.

But credit should go to Schaaf for his early substitution – removing a defensive player for an attacking player in order to press higher and win the ball early worked extremely well.

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