36-year-old Florian Kohfeldt has brought a brand of entertaining football to what was a rudderless Werder Bremen side as they have finally unearthed a manager to fulfil their potential. The German recently received the Manager of the year award as Bremen’s massive improvement in league position and playing style have earned them participation in the race for a Europa League spot. Kohfeldt has used a 4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 as he has shown tactical versatility while Max Kruse, Davy Klaassen, Milot Rashica, Maximillian Eggestein, Johannes Eggestein and Lukas Augustinsson have seen a massive improvement in their performances under their young manager.
Werder’s build-up shape
Werder Bremen like to have a deep-lying midfielder in Nuri Sahin, Phillip Bargfrede or Eggestein drop in between the two centre-backs as the full-backs, Theodore Gebre-Selassie and Lukas Augustinsson push forward. They do not push up high as when the keeper, Jiri Pavlenka is in possession of the ball, he can play a lob to one of the wider and more highly positioned full-backs to beat the first wave of opposition pressure. Bremen seek to create passing triangles in early build-up as the centre-backs, Niklas Moisander, Sebastian Langkamp, Milos Veljkovic and Marco Friedl will look to play the ball to the deep-lying midfielder dropping in between them. The centre-backs are also willing to move the ball to the full-backs, especially Augustinsson on the left who is a gifted vertical passer, who will play a delayed pass to the six-space and work three-man passing moves to progress in possession.
It is intriguing how Kohfeldt’s team will drop in build-up play in order to give the man in possession options. They seek to progress through rapid three-man passing sequences and movements as well as quick combination play in space. Their build-up play can be patient with the defensive midfielder and centre-backs circulating play amongst themselves before spaces open up while Kruse will pull away from the opposition defensive chain to play ball to onrushing teammates in the wide channels. This is an integral facet of Werder’s build-up combinations as when the man in possession is supported by a teammate dropping deep into space to receive possession, this will trigger a third man run into the space vacated. The man in possession can chip a ball into the space in behind for the third man runner or work a short pass to his teammate dropping deep who will work a combination to play through the third man runner.
Bremen wide build-up
Augustinsson is pivotal to the build-up as he is an option for a direct pass from the goalkeeper due to his wide positioning. The Swede will have a passing option drop underneath him into the half-space while Kruse and the wide-midfielder will also move into the left lateral zone to participate in the high-tempo passing combinations to work the ball into space. Wide build-up is integral to Werder Bremen’s game as they utilise aggressive lateral pressure and a rigid defensive shape to force the opposition out wide so Bremen win a large amount of possession in their own half and in the opposition half while the ball is in the wide areas.
Klaassen has become a pivotal build-up conduit as a wide-midfielder when he drops into the half-space to work one or two touch passes to Augustinsson while Eggestein is integral in dropping deep to receive the ball while he is also capable of making runs in behind. Kohfeldt’s side has utilised wide-build up as a counter-attacking medium as their rehearsed sequences of a player dropping while a teammate makes a run behind prove to be pivotal in helping move the ball to space in behind the opposition in the wide areas. Bremen are also accustomed to switching the ball to the opposite flank after working passing moves into the opposition half from the other flank. This disorientates the opposition and creates space for Bremen to stretch the pitch as the ball will be worked to a player in the half-space who will turn, open his body and play a ball into a runner on the opposite flank as Bremen have created goals with this move.
Werder three-man passing combinations in approach play
Werder employ switch balls in attack while they also use triangular three-man passing rotations in approach play. Kohfeldt likes to stretch the field in attacking situations but he also likes to have representation in the half-spaces as a deeper player, a player positioned in the wide zone and a player positioned in the half-space creates 3v3 situations against the opposition in attacking situations. The first player in the sequence is encouraged to continue his run as space will be created by the passing and movement of the second player before the third player will find the first player with a pass into the space created. Stretching the pitch also allows Werder Bremen to play early passes into the half-space where low-crossing opportunities can be created.
The three-man passing triangles are integral to Werder’s build-up play to beat pressure and work the ball forward while it is also crucial to creating spaces for opportunities in approach play. The passes and movements are fluid while interchanges and combinations allow Kohfeldt’s side to move into the box and create high-quality goalscoring opportunities.
Werder Bremen pressing
Werder Bremen will normally press the opposition in a 4-4-2 diamond shape or a 4-3-3 shape as they mark the opposition centre-backs and defensive midfielder to prevent the opposition from playing out of the back. The intriguing aspect of this is how they utilise their own defensive midfielder who will drop in between the centre-backs to form a five chain and switch to a 5-3-2 when the opposition play out of Bremen high pressure. During the pressure phase or counter-pressing phase, the defensive midfielder will push out of the back to win possession or create press security.
Bargfrede has become very adept at this role and shouldering these positional interchanges and responsibilities. Maximilian Eggestein has the mobility to cover the spaces while also push out to win possession in the counter-press effectively as well as recycling the ball in a quicker and more direct fashion.
Werder Bremen’s pressing can be more ball-orientated than man orientated as when the opposition defence are circulating possession at the back, Bremen will switch, and their line of pressure will move to mark the player in possession and his direct passing options. In the picture above, Bremen have moved to mark the player passing the ball and the player about to receive possession. The opposition defensive midfielder is also marked while the wide-midfielder and winger have also been marked as they drop into space to demand possession.
The ball-far centre-back and the ball-far full-back have been left free as Werder Bremen focus on putting direct pressure on the ball and denying the man in possession direct passing options. The chances of the man in possession executing a switch ball to the opposite flank are low. It is intriguing to notice how many bodies that Bremen will commit to the lateral press as they are focused on winning possession on the flank and working their wide-build-up combinations to counter at pace.
Werder Bremen high defensive line
Kohfeldt deploys a high defensive line to facilitate an aggressive counter-press as Bremen seek to win the ball as quickly as possible after ball-loss. They will switch to their aforementioned 5-3-2 shape but with a high defensive line as they will seek to hound the opposition player in possession after losing the ball. The presence of the defensive midfielder positioned in between the two centre-backs allows the centre-back to push up and engage the man in possession and then work a quick ball into the front line to create an opportunity.
Kohfeldt is Nagelsmann-ish in the fact that he has his team competing for a European place after taking over the season prior and staving off relegation. The 36-year-old also has his team playing a buccaneering brand of dominant and entertaining football as he has developed players, young and old in his squad. Werder Bremen have always been innovative and shrewd operators in the transfer market while possessing one of the Bundesliga’s better performing academies. They finally have the innovative and precocious young manager to match their expectations as they are nudging their way into the driver’s seat of the race for Europa League qualification. The accolades and awards that Kofheldt has received have been well-deserved for the astonishing job that he has done so far.