Werder Bremen arrived in Munich with the possibility of setting a peculiar record. Having drawn 1-1 in their last four Bundesliga meetings, they had equalled a 40-year-old run by Bayer Leverkusen and had, in theory at least, the opportunity to supplant Die Werkself in the most niche of trivia categories. With Bayern to face, nobody thought it would actually happen, of course.
Any team in their shoes has reason for trepidation, but Werder had particular cause to fear the worst and no real obligation to hope for the best. They arrived for Saturday’s match having lost 22 times in a row against Bayern across Bundesliga and DfB Pokal matches. Putting an end to that recurring nightmare was the sequence that they really wanted to break, but even a coach as typically bullish as Florian Kohfeldt must have had his doubts.
How curious, then, that not only did Werder get their 1-1 draw – semi-acclaimed by Kohfeldt as “probably the most boring record the Bundesliga has to offer” – but that their boss talked of mixed emotions to the Sky cameras at the end of a match that his side could have as easily won as lost. Werder had played with such confidence and certainty, in the first half in particular, that they left the Allianz Arena pitch with a feeling almost as rare as their series of stalemates. Kohfeldt’s men stepped off the turf unbeaten, yet not quite satisfied.
There were moments in that opening 45 minuteswhichfelt too good to be true, that Werder’s excellence would go unrewarded – not least on the quarter hour when Manuel Neuer pulled off an outstanding double save, first from Josh Sargent and then Ludwig Augustinsson. Seeing the Swedish wing-back that far forward and slap bang in the centre of the opposing penalty area – away at Bayern for goodness’ sake – was in itself a signal of their brio. Maxi Eggestein’s goal to give Werder the lead on the brink of half-time, delightfully crafted by Sargent, allayed the fears of the neutral and was richly deserved.
Never, though, were Werder likely to be consumed by hubris. “We defended in an extremely disciplined manner,” emphasised Kohfeldt. “We didn’t let ourselves be tempted.” He did add, however, that his team were “really brave with the ball”, having delivered on the “healthy aggression” that he had called on his charges to display before the game.
It can’t be underlined enough what a huge step forward this is for Werder. The idea of Kohfeldt as a coach has often been more beguiling than the reality during an up-and-down three years at the helm. There really is so much to love about him – his commitment to attack, his self-belief, and even his Klopp-esque vow to stop getting himself in trouble with officials. He failed in that last clause quite spectacularly on Saturday, receiving a yellow card after referee Guido Winkmann failed to call one perceived foul on Sargent.
At times, however, he has struggled to get to grips with the reality of modern day Werder, and with how expansively he can hope to play with the quality available to him. Yet as he reaches the milestone of 100 Bundesliga games in charge – and let us be in no doubt what an achievement that is at Werder nowadays – there is the feeling that the penny has started to drop. Influenced by the input of sporting director Frank Baumann, the coach has started to realise that a happy medium is desirable, or even essential.
That apparently anecdotal run of draws has its value. Imagining Kohfeldt’s side being solid and circumspect enough to get those results in the Hinrunde in total, let alone consecutively, would have been difficult even at that start of this season, but he has realised that he has to adapt to survive. Kohfeldt’s praise of his team’s maturity was to an extent a pat on the back for himself too.
His players are benefitting individually, as well as collectively. After years of hype, Sargent finally looks like a Bundesliga striker of substance. Milot Rashica, held up by failed transfers away and a knee injury, is being reincorporated successfully and if marginally sharper, could have landed the decisive blow here. Grafters like Jean-Manuel Mbom and Felix Agu, the 21-year-old summer signing thrown on for 24 minutes of sink-or-swim top-flight debut and who coped admirably, are now a big part of the plan.
That depth pales in comparison to what’s available to Bayern, of course, and Werder fans would have taken a collective gulp when Hansi Flick introduced Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting in one fell second-half swoop, after Kingsley Coman’s equaliser. Choupo-Moting had the best chance to break Werder hearts but even after that, the excellent Sargent had the chance to win it, only to be denied again by Neuer. Hence his coach’s feeling of what might have been shortly after the whistle.
Their aims are likely to remain modest – defender Marco Friedl, who came through the Bayern academy and remains close with David Alaba, said in the run-up to the game that making 20 points by Christmas was the team’s target in an interview with Weser Kurier. Kohfeldt remarked with a grin in his pre-match press conference that “I almost spilled my coffee when I read that,” recalling that it took Werder 27 matches to reach that tally last term. That modesty is the essential ingredient of Werder’s building blocks for the future.