“We are facing the biggest game in our club’s history.” Frank Schmidt clearly knows what is at stake in the second leg of the ‘Relegation’ play-off between his 1. FC Heidenheim and four-time German champions SV Werder Bremen.
His team put in a brave performance in Thursday’s first leg at the Weserstadion, which finished 0-0, and now they bring them back to the highest stadium in German professional football to see if they can complete the most incredible of promotions.
Bremen had barely got out of first gear on Thursday, and the pressure will be on them to avoid the fate last season of Stuttgart and drop into the 2. Bundesliga at the hands of Bundesliga novices.
Tactics from the forest
Schmidt threw a curveball at Bremen on Thursday, lining his side up in a 3-5-2 formation. “For us, it is not about making surprises, but making the right decisions,” explained Schmidt, known for tailoring his tactics to the opposition, a couple of days later.
He also gave a rare start to 19-year-old Kevin Sessa. “With Niklas Dorsch and [Sessa] we had two players in the central of midfield who are very fast and aggressive on the ground, so we could quickly go to second balls,” said Schmidt. “Of course Kevin Sessa didn’t play much before, but he had done well in his previous short missions.”
What will he do on Monday? He obviously didn’t give that away, but he did describe his thought process. Talking about how he switched focus from the first to second legs, he said “I went here by bike and through the forest. After that, my head was clear and an idea for the second leg was born. It’s so easy to relax and create a match plan at the same time.”
For the 46-year-old, it will be key to be flexible, “to be able to switch quickly in the field” to react to whatever Bremen through at them. “It is important that we act as passionately as we do in Bremen and that we stay clear on the matter,” he continued.
In terms of personnel, everyone is available, and one would imagine changes are likely as they go in hunt of a win. Jonas Föhrenbach, Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Marc Schnatterer, who all came from the bench on Thursday, will be the obvious options to come in and freshen the side up. All could provide a more attacking focus than Norman Theuerkauf, Sessa and Maurice Multhaup if Schmidt wants to go for it.
Winner takes all
With the score at 0-0, a win for either club will secure their Bundesliga place.
A draw is where it gets interesting. The away goals rule is in effect, so only another goalless draw will result in extra time (and potentially penalties).
A score draw will see Bremen take the spoils.
Full Bremen focus on the win-or-bust game
If Heidenheim fail to make it up, the shockwaves will be limited. They may lose a player or two, it may take a year or two to recover, but they will see it as just a bump in the road, and their time will come again. If Bremen dropped out of the Bundesliga for just the second time in their history, it would be seismic. Almost as big as Hamburg’s fall from grace two years ago.
The pressure is clearly on. Florian Kohfeldt, who has been through a lot with his team this season, is trying to thrive on that pressure. “To be allowed to play games like this is a privilege, after all,” as he sees it. “We all dreamed of it when we were little.” Although it’s questionable if he really dreamed of taking one of Germany’s biggest clubs to the brink of relegation.
The focus is less on than circumstances, and more on the task at hand. “We focus on this one game, not the whole thing. And it is and remains a game,” he says. The city was vibrant after they avoided automatic relegation just over a week ago, and it is fully expectant now. The team have been taken out of the bubble though, flying to Heidenheim early on Sunday, where they will continue their preparations.
“We have to stay cool and rational and still show the emotions that are needed to be aggressive and sharp,” Kohfeldt adds, even though the consequences of failure are great. “There is no more afterwards, no back door that you can still go through.” It’s simply win or bust.
They will have to do without captain Niklas Moisander, sent off late in the first game. Kevin Vogt also returns from his own suspension, but is unlikely to replace Moisander. The most likely replacement is Marco Friedl, with Ludwig Augustinsson taking his place on the left. Kevin Vogt, back from suspension himself, could replace Philipp Bargfrede whilst Josh Sargent could come in for Niclas Füllkrug.
Date: Monday 6th 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 Repibic of Ireland), Fox Sport 2, Fox Deportes (USA), Sportsnet (Canada), beIN SPORTS 3 (Australia), beIN Sports Connect (New Zealand), Sports 2 World, Fox Sports 2 (Hong Kong), PPTV Sport, Star Sports, QQ Sports Live (China).
It will be as nervy and tactical as the first leg, and that will probably suit Heidenheim more than Bremen. The ‘sensation’, as Schmidt put it before the first leg, is on.