2. Bundesliga side 1. FC Heidenheim held Bundesliga giants SV Werder Bremen to a goalless draw in the first leg of their play-off for a place in the top flight next season.
Bremen were disappointing as Heidenheim’s defensive set-up worked to blunt an attack that had rampaged as they saved themselves from automatic relegation at the weekend.
Bremen will have to do without Niklas Moisander in Monday’s second leg after he was sent off late on, and Heidenheim will really fancy their chances of a shock result.
Schmidt plays the game perfectly
Frank Schmidt may have been in charge of Heidenheim for 13 years but he is anything but predictable. Having played a back four virtually all season, he sprung a surprise by setting his team up here in a 3-5-2.
It will certainly have taken Florian Kohfeldt by surprise, and if the intention was to prevent the sort of damage that Bremen had unleashed on 1. FC Köln at the weekend, or indeed on Heidenheim themselves when the two met in the DFB-Pokal in October, then it was a resounding success.
Bremen’s attack struggled to create anything close to a real chance in the entire 90 minutes. The decision to play Maurice Multhaup and Norman Theuerkauf as wing-backs, with Marnon Busch in the back three, worked well for Heidenheim’s defensive play, whilst the usual centre-back pairing of Patrick Mainka and Timo Beermann was immense.
The result sets up Heidenheim for a smash-and-grab raid at the Voith-Arena on Monday night – they are much better at home than on the road. The only good thing to come out of this game for Bremen – except game time for Philipp Bargfrede and Niclas Füllkrug – was that they didn’t concede an away goal.
Defensive Heidenheim blunt Werder attack
Schmidt sprung another surprise in his team selection, naming 19-year-old Kevin Sessa, rarely seen this season and making just his fifth start for the club, in midfield. Jonas Föhrenbach, Konstantin Kerschbaumer and David Otto dropped out of the side beaten by Arminia Bielefeld, with Theuerkauf and Multhaup the others coming in. Bremen replaced the suspended Kevin Vogt with Bargfrede, who acted at the top of a 4-4-2 diamond.
Bremen scored three in the first 18 minutes when the two sides last met, and three in half-an-hour at against Köln, but the more defensive set-up from Heidenheim kept their ‘first choice’ attack of Yuya Osako, Milot Rashica and Füllkrug very quiet in the first half.
The hosts, unsurprisingly, had the majority of the possession but Heidenheim didn’t just simply sit back and in fact, after some decent moves early on, had the first chance of any real sort halfway through the first 45. Tim Kleindinest took advantage of a poor ball from Marco Friedl but his shot was unconvincingly parried by Jiří Pavlenka.
As rain poured down on the empty Weserstadion, the closest the hosts came to breaking the deadlock in the first half was from a free-kick, with Osako heading wide. Heidenheim also struggled to create further chances, with Multhaup missing what could have been a great chance with a strike that was always going wide, leaving Schmidt shaking his head.
Late pressure from Heidenheim after red card
Neither manager changed anything at half-time, and the second half picked up where the first had left off. The rain was still pelting down and there was thunder and lightning to company the variety of musical instruments coming from the subs and officials in the stands. Kleindienst had another chance for the visitors but didn’t get it on target.
Bremen were still struggling to create anything from open play. Set pieces seemed to give them their best chances but they couldn’t make the most them. Osako headed wide from a Fin Bartels cross, after a good run on the counter from Rashica, but it was a difficult chance to get on target. Soon after at the other end, Niklas Dorsch went over.
There was a sense though of Bremen trying to up the pressure in the closing stages. Kevin Müller was made to make his first real save of the evening despite likely seeing Bartels’s shot late through a crowd of bodies. However, there was a late twist as Moisander was booked for a late challenge on Sebastian Greisbeck. It was his second yellow of the game, meaning Bremen had to play the last few minutes, and the second leg, without their captain.
Heidenheim were then though indebted to Busch for a goalline clearance after Müller made a hash off what would have with a dry ball been a simple take. Josh Sargent made the effort on goal but was denied. Föhrenbach then had a deflected shot go out for a corner, which was just headed wide by Beermann. Heidenheim couldn’t make the most of the late pressure, but the draw sets them up brilliantly for Monday’s second leg.
Bremen: Pavlenka; Gebre Selassie, Veljkovic, Moisander, Friedl (Augustinsson 77‘); Bargfrede (Groß 65‘), Eggestein, Klaasen (Bittencourt 65‘), Osako (Sargent 84‘); Rashica, Füllkrug (Bartels 65‘).
Heidenheim: Müller; Busch, Mainka, Beermann; Multhaup (Schnatterer 69‘), Sessa (Kerschbaumer 59‘), Griesbeck, Dorsch, Theuerkauf (Föhrenbach 83‘); Kleindinest, Thomalla (Otto 69‘).
Referee: Felix Zwayer.