Sinsheim - Quality and potential are two nouns commonly used to describe the assets of Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen, but a quick glance at the league table makes it clear that neither are currently delivering the goods ahead of their clash at the Wirsol Rhein-Neckar Arena on Sunday (15:30 CET)
Hosts and visitors alike have talent in abundance at their disposal, but as yet, neither has been able to deliver on that promise.
With the likes of Eren Derdiyok, Takashi Usami and Matthieu Delpierre, Hoffenheim have plenty of quality right through their side while Roberto Firmino and Joselu have the potential to become two of the Bundesliga’s biggest stars. Likewise, Marko Arnautovic, Kevin De Bruyne and Clemens Fritz vouch for the quality in the Bremen camp with Mehmet Ekici, and Francois Affolter two stars for the future, yet the bottom third of the table is currently housing both of these clubs, whose expectations were quite different at the start of the season.
“Hoffenheim are a team who play far better football than their league position suggests,” said Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf. “We mustn't let the table mislead us. The players they have are all top quality.” Hoffenheim coach Markus Babbel duly returned the compliment. “They are a great side with a good mentality. The situation in Bremen is similar to ours - they have a great deal of quality going forward, but problems in defence,” he said.
So how can the two sides’ current plight be explained? How can two teams who started the season with the clear intention of finishing inside the top six currently be languishing in the lower reaches of the league? Neither have the excuse of European football being a distraction this season and they have both been able to focus on the Bundesliga, yet their ambitions have turned a bit blurry.
Injuries have taken their tolls on both sides with Chris, Delpierre and Sebastian Rudy still sidelined for Hoffenheim while Boris Vukcevic is still in hospital after a life-threatening car crash. Bremen have not been able to count regularly on Fritz or Sebastian Prödl all season while Arnautovic has yet to hit the heights he can reach, although he has good recollections of playing against Hoffenheim. Last season, the Autrian hitman scored both home and away as Bremen picked up four points against Hoffenheim, and he has been passed fit to play on Sunday after missing training with a cold this week.
Transforming quality into points
Babbel will have to magic something out of the hat to cover for his loss of players, but he is not one to use injuries as an excuse for poor results. “We have enough quality within our team to compensate,” he said. Again, that word quality - Hoffenheim and Bremen have it in abundance,now they need to start converting it into the hard currency of points.
Hoffenheim: Casteels - Beck, Delpierre, Compper, Johnson - Williams, Salihovic - Roberto Firmino, Volland, Usami - Schipplock
Werder Bremen: Mielitz - Gebre Selassie, Prödl, Sokratis, Ignjovski - Fritz - Arnautovic, de Bruyne, Hunt, Elia - Petersen