From bot­tom in Bun­desliga, Bre­men now chas­ing Euro­pean spot

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Pre­vi­ously bot­tom of the Bun­desliga, Werder Bre­men are now even think­ing of Euro­pean qual­i­fi­ca­tion af­ter a re­mark­able turn­around un­der new coach Alexan­der Nouri.

Only league leader Bay­ern Mu­nich has claimed more points since the win­ter break.

Last week­end’s 2-1 win at home over old ri­val Ham­burger SV lifted Bre­men to eighth. It’s just two points be­hind Freiburg in sixth - the last spot to guar­an­tee a Euro­pean place - and one be­hind Cologne in sev­enth, which may be enough de­pend­ing on re­sults in the Ger­man Cup.

Nouri is just think­ing of his next game on Sat­ur­day.

“We’re not look­ing any­where else,” Nouri said. “We’re fo­cused on the next op­po­nent, and that’s called In­gol­stadt.”

Nouri’s side is un­beaten in nine games since a 1-0 de­feat to Borus­sia Moenchenglad­bach on Feb. 11, clock­ing up seven vic­to­ries in that run which helped it es­cape the rel­e­ga­tion zone. With five games re­main­ing, Bre­men ap­pears safe, seven points clear of Augs­burg in the rel­e­ga­tion play­off place.

Nouri, Bre­men’s former un­der23 coach, en­dured a mixed start af­ter tak­ing over from the fired Vik­tor Skrip­nik in Septem­ber. But he has trans­formed the side since the win­ter break, help­ing play­ers shed the in­se­cu­rity that led to mis­takes ear­lier in the sea­son.

There were en­cour­ag­ing signs in nar­row de­feats to Borus­sia Dort­mund and Bay­ern Mu­nich be­fore the un­beaten run started against Mainz. Re­sults helped the team grow in con­fi­dence as play­ers saw their hard work pay off.

Mid­fielder Fin Bar­tels is play­ing like he’s just dis­cov­ered the joy of foot­ball, Zlatko Junuzovic is sim­i­larly lib­er­ated, and Max Kruse has scored five goals and set up four more in his last six games. Bre­men top-scorer Serge Gnabry’s ab­sence due to a thigh prob­lem has hardly been no­ticed.

Now it seems odd that Bre­men was ever in­volved in a rel­e­ga­tion scrap in the first place.

“Our con­fi­dence is boom­ing,” Bre­men de­fender Nik­las Moisander said on Wed­nes­day.

Bre­men’s run-in is far from straight­for­ward, start­ing at In­gol­stadt which is fight­ing for sur­vival, be­fore Bre­men plays Euro­pean-qual­i­fi­ca­tion ri­vals Hertha Ber­lin, Cologne, Hof­fen­heim and Dort­mund.

Bre­men’s play­ers re­main cau­tious with rel­e­ga­tion-bat­tle mem­o­ries still fresh.

“The fans are wel­come to sing about Europe, we did too a bit,” Bar­tels said. “You can peer at what’s go­ing on up there for one or two days, but we’re stay­ing care­ful. Our fo­cus is on the next game and the 40-point mark.”

Bre­men is only a point off that 40-point mark and a win in the next round could even move it past Cologne and Freiburg. Cologne hosts Hof­fen­heim and Freiburg wel­comes Bayer Lev­erkusen.

Bre­men's coach Alexan­der Nouri Photo: AP

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