An impressive season for 1. FC Heidenheim has led them to this – the brink of the Bundesliga. Standing in their way is a SV Werder Bremen side who are equally glad to be here, having only just avoided automatic relegation on the final day.
Under the guidance of Frank Schmidt, Heidenheim have come an incredibly long way, but the odds will be stacked against them here in what the Germans call the ‘Relegation’.
For Bremen, it will be a chance to salvage a Bundesliga place for next season after a terrible campaign that almost saw them slip out of the top flight for the first time in 40 years.
The odds are against the Alb side
Despite a 3-0 defeat to Bielefeld on the final day, Hamburg’s calamitous showing against Sandhausen meant that Heidenheim clung on to the third place they had snatched from Bremen’s bitter northern rivals with a dramatic 2-1 victory the week before.
Make no mistake though – this is an incredibly tough challenge for the side from the Swabian Alb. Since the play-off between the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga was reintroduced in 2009, only three second tier sides have managed to win promotion, although encouragingly 1. FC Union Berlin did beat VfB Stuttgart over two legs last season – with help from the away goals rule.
That in itself might be a downside for Heidenheim though – their away form on the road was much weaker than their performances at the Voith-Arena, with just four wins, six draws and seven defeats on their travels, and just 13 goals.
There was even, in fact, an eighth away defeat this season – at the very ground they find themselves playing on Thursday night. Bremen put four past them in a dominant first half display – barely matched until their demolition of 1. FC Köln on Saturday – with Marc Schnatterer’s goal from the spot not enough to see Heidenheim bow out of the DFB-Pokal back in October.
Heidenheim rarely bow over quite like that though – if we ignore the display against Bielefeld – but whilst their team is no much for Bremen on paper, they may be encouraged by the fact Bremen’s only other home league victory this season was back in September.
Heidenheim promotion would be ‘insane‘
Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt was still slugging it out for Bremen’s third team when in September 2007, Frank Schmidt reluctantly took charge of his hometown club, who were playing in the lowly Oberliga Baden-Württemberg (now the fifth tier but back then the fourth). A day after, the Bremen first team were playing away at Real Madrid in the Champions League.
Holger Sanwald, Heidenheim’s long-serving CEO and chairman, convinced Schmidt just to take the job “for two games.” Nearly 13 years later, the 46-year-old is just two games away from the Bundesliga. “It is insane, it is unbelievable. The Bundesliga would be absolutely insane,” he said on Tuesday at his pre-match press conference.
He is under no illusions as to how tough this will be though. He admits it would be “poison” to let Bremen have the start that they did in the previous meeting earlier in the season, but he is confident on building on positive away displays against FC St. Pauli and Greuther Fürth, where they held both to a goalless draw.
“We need a result in Bremen that gives us hope to believe in the sensation in the second leg,” he says, explaining the team’s likely straight. Although it is clear who has the favourites tag, he wants his team “to do everything we can to ensure that it doesn’t play a role in the two games.”
He admits Bremen’s poor defensive record “shows that we should have the courage to keep going forward,” but having already played them this season, “we know what to expect.”
Bremen do not underestimate Heidenheim
Frank Baumann, the Bremen sporting director who had played in that game against Madrid seemingly so very long ago, had said earlier in the week he would have preferred to play Hamburg as there would be no chance of being complacent again them.
“I am afraid that the general impression is that it is almost done,” he followed up on Wednesday, speaking of the general mood around the city. “We have tried to counteract this in the last few days. We need top performance in both games.” Kohfeldt though insisted that “there is no one here who underestimates Heidenheim.”
Continuing, he said that “we still have the feeling of total tension, total focus. We still have our backs to the wall.” He feels it is “a gift to be able to play these two games now” after an incredibly difficult season, and he is relishing the pressure of the favourites tag. “I like all-or-nothing situations,” he says.
It is unclear if Niclas Füllkrug, who played a key role in the win against Köln, will play again from the start having only just returned from a cruciate ligament rupture. If he does, he will be one of Bremen’s danger men, along with Milot Rashica and Yuya Osako, who were in spell-binding form on Saturday.
Kevin Vogt is out through suspension, however, with Christian Groß the most likely replacement in their back three. They are also without the injured Nuri Şahin, who as a result is the only out-of-contract player not to extend his deal to cover the two matches.
Heidenheim have fewer concerns, with Arne Feick, who has only been third-choice at left-back this season, the only doubt. It remains to be seen how Schmidt lines his team up, but there may well be changes after the defeat at the weekend. Captain Marc Schnatterer, who is coming back from a muscular problem, could be an option to come in to the starting line-up, as could Oliver Hüsing, the former Bremen man who is friends with Kohfeldt.
Date: Thursday 2nd July 2020.
Kick-Off: 20:30 CEST, 19:30 BST, 14:30 EDT.
Watch / Live Stream: DAZN, Amazon Prime (Germany), BT Sport 1 (UK and Republic of Ireland), Fox Sport 2, Fox Deportes (USA), Sportsnet (Canada), beIN SPORTS 2 (Australia), beIN Sports Connect (New Zealand), Fox Sports 2 (Hong Kong), PPTV Sport, Star Sports (China).
Second Leg Date: Monday 6th July 2020.
This will be very tough for Heidenheim. They could spring a surprise but it’s more likely Bremen could take a decisive lead, either 2-0 or 3-1 with the carrot of an away goal with the visitors.
Read more – Scouting Report: 1. FC Heidenheim.