Bremen - The briefest of glances at last season's final Bundesliga standings is enough to establish a necessary focal point of Werder Bremen's preparations for the upcoming campaign. A goals-against tally of 66 was the second worst in the division, just one fewer than category cellar-dwellers 1899 Hoffenheim.
"There are a few areas we need to improve in, but we really need to knuckle down as far as the defensive work goes," acknowledges , himself one of Werder's most experienced hands at the back.
The departure of Sokratis for Dortmund has certainly not made the task any easier. In the combative Greece international's stead, the Green-Whites have signed up Luca Caldirola and while the Italy U-21 skipper is an undoubted talent, the bulk of his league experience to date has been at Second Division level. Which means that while he is adapting to the rigours of life in the Bundesliga, Sebastian Prödl will more than likely be called upon to step up to the plate as head of the back line.
The tarsal fracture suffered in a friendly against 1860 Munich by Lukas Schmitz, sidelining the left-back for around six weeks, only serves to further complicate matters, while the team's form in their friendlies to date has done little to assuage the doubts of their fans after last season's extended flirtation with relegation.
New playing philosophy
Head coach Robin Dutt believes the players have not yet fully recovered either from what was a turbulent campaign. "The basic structures of our defensive and forward play are still not meshing optimally. The lads probably haven't got the second half of last season out of their system yet," noted the 48-year-old tactician. With Dutt himself fresh in the job as successor to the long-serving Thomas Schaaf, sporting director Thomas Eichin for one is not overly concerned about the pre-season developments so far, saying, "The current situation doesn't interest me. We need to be at 100 percent for our first competitive game, in the DFB Cup at Saarbrücken."
In the meantime, former Freiburg and Leverkusen coach Dutt, latterly the German FA's (DFB) technical director, is working to get his concept across to the players. "A new chapter's opening at Bremen. Robin Dutt has his own philosophy of the game and he's laying it out for us very precisely. Now it's up to us to internalise it," says Fritz, who has once again been nominated as captain by his team-mates.
Makiadi the key?
It's a process in which new signing Cedrick Makiadi could well assume a key role. The 29-year-old DR Congo international played under Dutt at Freiburg and has the top-flight experience to steady things in the middle of the park and help get the best out of the unquestionably talented likes of Mehmet Ekici and Eljero Elia.
If, on top of that, Nils Petersen can carry on where he left off up front last season, perhaps in tandem with the gifted but thus far inconsistent Marko Arnautovic, Bremen should certainly have more than enough in reserve to ensure at the very least there is no repeat of last season's lower-table struggles. For Petersen himself, the recipe is straightforward: "A lot of players underperformed last time around. If we can improve on that, we can finish higher up the table."