Werder Bremen are fighting for their lives to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga, and the Green-White shirt leading the battle is midfielder Davy Klaassen, who bagged a brace in a veritable six-pointer away at Paderborn on Matchday 31.
It was Klaassen who opened the scoring for Bremen at the Benteler-Arena with a thunderous header from almost the edge of the box. Not necessarily remarkable in itself but highly symbolic, as it came just a minute after Milot Rashica had seen his penalty saved by Paderborn goalkeeper Leopold Zingerle when Werder heads could have easily dropped.
The 16-time Netherlands international then bagged his first Bundesliga brace when ghosting into the box unmarked and latching onto Milos Veljkovic’s header down from Rashica’s free-kick, giving the visitors a three-goal advantage at the break.
He was crucial again for the fourth as he broke away and teed up Josh Sargent. The American’s saved effort was slotted away by Maximilian Eggestein on the way to a resounding 5-1 victory – Bremen's largest under Florian Kohfeldt – that moved the club level on points with Fortuna Düsseldorf, who remain in the relative safety of 16th place and the play-off spot by a solitary goal on goal difference.
The 27-year-old, who signed from Everton last season, has become a shining light in a dark campaign for Bremen.
No team has played in the Bundesliga for more seasons than Werder, whose sole absence was the 1980/81 campaign following relegation. Yet the northern club are eight points worse off than they would’ve been at the same stage in 1979/80 (converted to three points for a win), enduring the worst top-flight campaign in their history.
Watch: Klaassen: "It was all or nothing"
Klaassen has given them hope, though. His six goals from central midfield is second only to Rashica (seven) for Die Grün-Weißen, who are unbeaten in the five games where he has scored (W2, D3). In fact, Werder haven’t lost in any of the 14 competitive matches in which Klaassen has found the back of the net over two seasons. His four assists are also second only to the Kosovan forward (five).
Yet his importance goes far beyond the pure numbers of goals and assists. A three-time title winner in his homeland with Ajax, he has developed into an on-field leader for Bremen.
He is perhaps the first name on Kohfeldt’s team sheet, only missing a single game this season, which was on Matchday 26 against Bayer Leverkusen due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Klaassen has spent more minutes on the pitch than any Bremen outfield player this term and also skippered the side in the absence of club captain Niklas Moisander, proving that the coach also sees him as a leader.
The Dutchman is clearly the heart and head of the team – and not just because four of his 10 Bundesliga goals have been headers. Crucial in both attack and defence, where he has won the ball back more times than any other Bremen player, he combines two players into one, providing a lifeline to a team that has been decimated by injuries throughout the season at both ends of the pitch.
All the talk in Bremen ahead of the resumption of the season after the enforced break due to the coronavirus was that the team had 10 finals ahead of them, beginning five points adrift of Fortuna.
Now, the pair are level on points. Klaassen described the Paderborn game as “all or nothing”, before adding that he and Werder now have “three more games to prove that we should be in the first division next year”.
The first of those is the biggest of the lot as Klaassen & Co. have to stand up and be counted for when they host champions-elect Bayern Munich on Tuesday. The Green-Whites then face fellow strugglers Mainz and Cologne in a final bid to avoid their second Bundesliga relegation. They say that Klaas always tells…