Schalke and Werder Bremen's welcome top-flight return spices up opening day
The Bundesliga returns to light up our weekends and our favourite top division will once more be graced by the presence of two German giants, with Schalke and Werder Bremen back to battle it out in the big time.
The 2021/22 season will go down as one more rip-roaring Bundesliga campaign but there is little doubt that the Royal Blues and the Green-Whites were missed from the top flight. Battling it out for promotion in the second division, both Werder and Schalke succeeded in achieving their respective goals of an immediate return following relegation the season before.
While the River Islanders achieved promotion thanks to a second-placed Bundesliga 2 finish, Die Knappen returned as second division champions. Needless to say, both sets of supporters spent the summer months celebrating.
"I drive through the district every day and generally through the whole of Bremen and see how much the city is shaped by Werder," Niclas Füllkrug, a key member of Bremen's promotion push, explained in an interview with DAZN. "It gives you goosebumps every time. It really touches me that this club plays such a big role," the forward - who scored 19 goals and added eight assists in the second tier last term - added. "You have the feeling that the city stands still when a game day is coming up. Then, everything revolves around Werder."
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The passion is just immense at Schalke. During the club's fan day at the end of July, 70,000 supporters descended on the environs of the magnificent VELTINS-Arena to watch the team presentation and collect selfies and autographs. "The connection between the fans and the team is enormous, as are anticipation levels for this season," veteran goalkeeper Michael Langer said.
"There were so many people and such a huge interest [on fan day]," the Miners' new coach, Frank Kramer continued. "It was an awesome way to kick off the season, and it makes you even more excited for the coming weeks and months," the tactician added, in quotes appearing on Schalke's official website.
There were worrying signs for Werder and Schalke after both sides made slow starts to life in the second division last season. The Gelsenkirchen club rallied but would falter again in the second half the campaign, which led a a coaching change. Assistant Mike Büskens was promoted to a lead role and after overseeing a run of eight wins in Die Königsblauen's last nine matches, the title was clinched and promotion achieved.
Watch: Schalke crowned Bundesliga 2 champions!
Striker Simon Terodde - who is Bundesliga 2's all-time highest scorer - topped the 2021/22 charts with a league-best 30 goals while forward Marius Bülter added 10 goals to his 13 assists as the the Royal Blues finished with 72 goals for the season, more than any other team.
Speaking about the famous Schalke fans during last term, Terodde - who is a doubt for this weekend's trip to Cologne with a muscular problem - said, "Standing together in front of them and celebrating is simply outstanding. That's what you want as a footballer. Those are moments that give you goosebumps."
For Füllkrug and Werder, a season that sometimes brought struggles, but ultimately glory, showcased just how far the four-time Bundesliga champions have come in the past year. "We've got a completely different feeling at the club than we had a year ago," the striker said. "The team is no longer made up of negative memories, but of positive moments, such as our promotion and the fact that we achieved it despite some negative situations. We managed to end last season so perfectly."
Watch: Werder clinch promotion on final day
Alongside Füllkrug, Marvin Ducksch flourished last season, with the front pair weighing in with a combined 39 goals of Bremen's total tally of 65. The duo assisted each other 10 times during their run to second place and they now look set to test their prolific partnership in the Bundesliga, with Bremen visiting Wolfsburg on opening day.
"I've never played in a front two that produced such consistency," Füllkrug explained of his team's attack. "We have perfected it and adapted it to [our strengths]. We are extremely well coordinated, the system works perfectly and I love playing like this," the 29-year-old continued.
As two of the founding members of the Bundesliga, Werder and Schalke will be eager to prove they are back where they belong on opening weekend. This will be the 60th edition of Germany's top division and Bremen are set to compete in a 58th.
Watch: All 40 goals from Ducksch and Füllkrug last season
Thoughts may be initially centred on survival, but with the pressure off Ole Werner's men, a surprise may be in the offing. Schalke, too, are eager to talk of maintaining their Bundesliga status from the get-go. Incredibly, the Royal Blues sat in sixth spot in the second division with just eight games remaining last term. The aforementioned spectacular run of victories that clinched the championship means morale is high among Die Knappen.
"Schalke, with its 160,000 members and many millions of fans, is one of the biggest clubs in Germany," coach Kramer reminded everyone on his unveiling as Schalke's new boss recently. "I'm really looking forward to being on the sidelines as head coach and doing my bit to help us achieve our common goal in the coming season."
Werder's man on the sidelines, Werner, is the Bundesliga's youngest coach at 34. Yet a fearless attitude in what will be his first top-flight management experience bodes well for Die Grünweißen. "Our approach for the whole season should be to play our football and not hide," he insisted. "No matter who we play against, we want to show our football". Bundesliga beware, the big boys are back in town.
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