Marvin Ducksch (l.) and Niclas Füllkrug have developed a formidable strike partnership in just 19 games together. - © Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Marvin Ducksch (l.) and Niclas Füllkrug have developed a formidable strike partnership in just 19 games together. - © Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
2. Bundesliga

Füllkrug and Ducksch revelling in a wonderful friendship at leaders Werder Bremen

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What had at one point seemed like the unlikeliest of double acts is now blazing a trail across Bundesliga 2, with league leaders Werder Bremen reaping the rewards of their indomitable striking duo, Marvin Ducksch and Niclas Füllkrug.

Asked to put a name to a phenomenal partnership that has delivered a combined 31 goals and 12 assists to the Werder cause this term, the formidable forwards jokingly agreed on the moniker, "the ugly ducklings." Yet theirs is a beautiful synergy that needs to be witnessed at first hand and one that has fans of the Die Grünweißen dreaming of a return to Germany's top flight after relegation last year.

Incredibly, Ducksch and Füllkrug only began starting together up front from Matchday 12, when the latter teed up his new strike partner for Werder's opener in a 1-1 draw against St. Pauli. At that point, Bremen were mid table after claiming just four wins and a season of mediocrity looked a real possibility at the Weserstadion. However, the following week things burst into life, with Füllkrug - who had returned to Bremen for a second spell in 2019 - scoring and assisting in a morale boosting come-from-behind 2-1 triumph at Nuremberg.

Watch: Ducksch and Füllkrug fire Werder to Nordderby glory

Hard as it is to imagine now, in the opening nine matches of the campaign, Füllkrug failed to score or provide a single assist and had lost his role as main striker to the then far more effective Ducksch, drafted in from Hannover. Dropping to the bench hurt the 29-year-old forward, nicknamed Lücke on account of a gap in his teeth - and he let his frustration be known at the time.

Yet with that change of team formation, and the subsequent appointment of coach Ole Werner in late November, things have changed dramatically for Füllkrug, who - after breaking his duck on Matchday 14 - has scored 14 goals in his last 18 games of which Werder have won 11 and drawn five. It means Füllkrug has now levelled his 14-goal campaign bests at Nuremberg in 2015/16 and Hannover two seasons later.

"I'm delighted things are going so well with Ducksch," Füllkrug said recently. "You can see that we get on really well; it's just so much fun to play with him." Crucially, in those tighter, grind-out-a-win, all-or-nothing and six-pointer type games - like the 3-2 Nordderby win over Hamburg - the pair are doing their bit to push Werder over the line. Ducksch struck twice either side of Füllkrug's penalty in that one to not only give their side local bragging rights but also a potentially critical three points in the promotion race.

Watch: All of Ducksch and Füllkrug's goals this season

While Füllkrug was toiling at the start of the current campaign, Ducksch exploded onto the Bremen scene following his move to Die Werderaner from Hannover, for whom he played the opening five games of 2021/22. Goals in his opening two matches for the Green-and-Whites set the standard but the 28-year-old lit up the afterburners from early December and is currently on 17 goals and eight assists this term. "I'm just trying to bring my strengths to the fore and I think I'm doing that very well now," the man affectionately known among his teammates as Duckschi, said.

Born in Dortmund, Ducksch has had experience playing in the Bundesliga with local side Borussia as well as Paderborn and Fortuna Düsseldorf, yet it never really quite happened for the striker in Germany's top division, which makes him eager to give it one more shot with the current Bundesliga 2 leaders.

"Unfortunately, I didn't manage to show my full potential in the [Bundesliga] but maybe I'll have another chance," the former Germany youth international said. "I think it's everyone's goal to play in the Bundesliga. That's my goal too, and I think we're on the right track at the moment," he added.

Füllkrug (l.) and Ducksch are hoping to fire The River-Islanders back into the big time. - nordphoto GmbH / gumzmedia via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Nordphoto

With just six games to play and Werder one point clear at the top of the standings, the River Islanders and their Ugly Ducklings are proving an attractive combination and one effective enough to end the team's first stint in the second division for over 40 years after just one season.