Can Niclas Füllkrug point the way back to the Bundesliga for Werder Bremen? - © Laci Perenyi via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Laci Perenyi
Can Niclas Füllkrug point the way back to the Bundesliga for Werder Bremen? - © Laci Perenyi via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Laci Perenyi
bundesliga

Werder Bremen: 2021/22 season preview

The last time Werder Bremen were relegated to Bundesliga 2, a certain Otto Rehhagel resuscitated them through the most glorious era in the northern club's history. Not only football romantics will be craving a repeat starting in 2021/22.

Last season

Bremen's 40th consecutive season in the Bundesliga is not one they will look back on fondly, ending as it did with their second relegation to Bundesliga 2. There had not been many early signs of their ultimate demise, however. The Green-Whites cruised through pre-season with eight wins from eight before beating Carl Zeiss Jena in the first round of the DFB Cup - a competition they would remain in right through to the semi-finals.

A 4-1 defeat to Hertha Berlin on the opening day of the Bundesliga season was certainly a setback, but it did not throw Florian Kohfeldt's men off course. They subsequently put together a seven-game unbeaten run, which culminated in a 1-1 draw at Bayern Munich that ended a 19-game losing streak against the record champions. Peculiarly enough, it also set another league record in the process: it was Bremen's fifth straight 1-1 draw.

"It's probably the most boring record the Bundesliga has to offer," grumbled Kohfeldt after his side failed to take maximum points for the fifth game in a row.

In hindsight, Kohfeldt would have had nothing against extending that run to nine straight draws after seeing defeats to Wolfsburg, VfB Stuttgart, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund send them spiralling down to the cusp of the relegation zone.

Watch: Bremen were relegated on the final day

The DFB Cup continued to offer some source of encouragement, with wins over Hannover and Greuther Fürth earning them a quarter-final trip to Bundesliga 2's Jahn Regensburg. Indifferent form in the league, however, started to suggest that trip to north Bavaria may well be a scheduled league fixture in 2021/22.

Wins over Eintracht Frankfurt and Arminia Bielefeld did take Bremen as high as 11th before they met Bayern again, when they sparked a seven-game losing streak with a 3-1 loss at home.

Kohfeldt was nevertheless given the opportunity to put things right, and a goalless draw with Bayer Leverkusen stopped the rot. He then led the four-time Bundesliga champions to Augsburg on the penultimate weekend knowing a win would see them home and dry. But a 2-0 defeat shuffled the pack completely in the relegation battle, dealing Bremen a weak hand for their final-day clash with Borussia Mönchengladbach.

In a bid to boost their odds, former boss Thomas Schaaf was installed as caretaker coach. But he could not reproduce the magic from the majority of his previous 14-year spell in the hotseat, and Bremen - along with five-goal US striker Josh Sargent - were condemned to only the second relegation in their history.

Former Cologne and Darmstadt boss Markus Anfang is making a fresh start as head coach of Bremen for the 2021/22 campaign. - nph / Rojahn via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Nordphoto

New arrivals

Relegation inevitably leads to the loss of key players, and replacing Milot Rashica (Norwich City), Theodor Gebre Selassie (Slovan Liberec), Niklas Moisander (Malmo) and Sargent (Norwich City) is the challenge facing new head coach Markus Anfang. Since he's starting to plot Bremen's path back into the big time, perhaps it's no coincidence that Anfang's name translates into English as 'beginning'.

Anfang, though, has offered a warning about the season ahead. "We need to be realistic and first need to build a squad that makes us competitive enough to be able to name [promotion] as an objective," the 47-year-old said.

That squad will feature the likes of South Korean full-back Kyu-hyun Park, an arrival from Ulsan Hyundai, and midfielder Nicolai Rapp from Union Berlin. Former Bayern defender Lukas Mai will strengthen the defence, together with former Leipzig stopper Anthony Jung, who returns to German football after a spell with Brondby.

Lukas Mai has arrived on loan from Bayern Munich to bolster the Werder defence. - nordphoto GmbH / Stoever via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Nordphoto

What to expect

While Anfang is keeping expectations low - and northern Germany rivals Hamburg are a perfect example of how difficult it is to climb back to the Bundesliga after relegation - Bremen should still feature among the clubs pushing for promotion. The new coach has previous too, guiding Holstein Kiel from the third division to Bundesliga 2 before following up with a third-placed finish and defeat in the promotion play-off to Wolfsburg. A year later, he guided relegated Cologne most of the way back into the Bundesliga, losing his job despite the Billy Goats blazing a trail by six points with three games of the season to go.

That sort of experience is what attracted Bremen to a man they hope can revive the Otto Rehhagel years. Anfang's task is to put the club back on the domestic and international map within a minimum time frame - starting with an immediate return to the Bundesliga.

Watch: Highlights of Bremen's first win of the season on Matchday 2

Opening fixtures

Bremen 1-1 Hannover 
Fortuna Düsseldorf 2-3 Bremen
Osnabrück 2-0 Bremen (DFB Cup)
Bremen vs. Paderborn (Sunday, 15 August)
Karlsruhe vs. Bremen (Saturday, 21 August)
Bremen vs. Hansa Rostock (Sunday, 29 August)
Ingolstadt vs. Bremen (Saturday, 11 September)
Bremen vs. Hamburg (Saturday, 18 September)
Dynamo Dresden vs. Bremen (Sunday, 26 September)