Leonardo Bittencourt fired Werder Bremen to within two points of the relegation play-off spot with his sensational match-winner away to free-falling Schalke.
Buoyed by positive results against Freiburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach, Werder made a confident start at the Veltins-Arena, dominating possession and keeping Schalke at arm's length for the bulk of the half. Reinstated Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nübel successfully dealt with a deflected warning shot from Davy Klasssen, but was powerless to prevent Bremen forging ahead with 32 minutes gone as Bittencourt swept inside and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed effort from a good 30 yards. The Hoffenheim loanee sent a fierce effort off target soon after, before captain Niklas Moisander met US international Josh Sargent's flick-on with a header that sailed just over the crossbar.
Schalke were much improved after the restart as Michael Gregoritsch went close with a header, and substitute Benito Raman made Jiri Pavlenka work at his near post. Gregoritsch had the chance to level just short of the hour, but thundered wide on the volley following a corner. Having lost goalscorer Bittencourt and top scorer Milot Rashica to injury, Bremen's only attacking outlet was substitute Davie Selke. The former Germany U21 striker had spent most of his time defending, before testing the Schalke rearguard late on. His effort was deflected wide, while Yuya Osako fluffed his lines when clean through as Werder edged over the line with a priceless victory - one that gives them every chance of beating the drop, and leaves Schalke winless in 11 league matches.
- Werder recorded back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since October 2018.
- Bremen have won on their last four competitive trips to Schalke, and recorded 16 wins in Gelsenkirchen overall - more than against any other club
- Werder have never had fewer than 26 points on the board at this stage of a season. They currently have 25.
- Bittencourt has scored four goals this season - five would be equal his previous best of 2017/18. The Werder No.10 has now had a hand in four goals in his last five matches (two goals, two assists). He's also scored in each of his three Bundesliga games against Schalke.
- Nübel made his first appearance since Matchday 24, and 21st of the current league campaign. He has conceded 28 goals.
- US teammates Sargent and Weston McKennie faced each other for the first time in the Bundesliga.
Watch: Bittencourt: “Luckily it went in!”
Schalke: Nübel - Kabak, Sane, Todibo (Ozcipka 46') - Kenny, McKennie (Boujellab 55'), Schöpf, Miranda (Burgstaller 80') - Caligiuri (c), Gregoritsch (Kutucu 58'), Matondo (Raman 46')
Unused subs: Schubert, Nastasic, Becker, Thiaw
Out: Harit (ligament), Mascarell (groin), Serdar (knee), Stambouli (match fitness)
Coach: David Wagner
Bremen: Pavlenka - Langkamp, Vogt, Moisander (c) - Gebre Selassie, M. Eggestein, Klaassen, Friedl - Bittencourt (Osako 46') (Groß 90'+2), Sargent (Bargfrede 70'), Rashica (Selke 58')
Unused subs: Kapino, Lang, Augustinsson, Bartles, Woltemade
Out: Füllkrug (torn ACL), Möhwald (knee), Pizarro (thigh), Toprak (calf), Veljkovic (suspended)
Coach: Florian Kohfeldt
Watch: Raman: “A very difficult time”
Ricardo Pepi primed for breakout season
If the trajectory of his compatriots in the Bundesliga is anything to go by, the USMNT forward could be set for a watershed 2022/23 campaign.
Official Bundesliga transfer centre: Summer 2022
All the official ins and outs at your favourite Bundesliga club...
Official Bundesliga 2 transfer centre: Summer 2022
Every move in Germany's second division during the summer window...