Munich - For much of the first decade of the millennium, games between FC Bayern München and SV Werder Bremen were contested on an equal footing, at or around the very top of the standings.
Long time, no win for Bremen
It is a few years now since that has been the case, but the first head-to-head of 2014/15 this Saturday underscores the ever-widening gulf between the sides in an unprecedented fashion: their 97th meeting in the Bundesliga is also the first that will pit the league leaders against the team propping up the table.
While Bayern, after a sluggish start, are on a three-game winning run that has helped them move four points clear at the top, Bremen's 1-1 home draw with SC Freiburg on Matchday 7 leaves them still without a single maximum haul going into Matchday 8. “A point isn't enough,” Werder coach Robin Dutt conceded after having to settle for a share of the spoils in a contest where “we had a lot of chances, but didn't use them. It's extremely frustrating.”
Not for the first time, a passionately committed performance in front of a vociferous home crowd had failed to deliver the requisite result, against the only other winless side in the top flight. So what chance of a turnaround in fortunes away to the pace-setting defending champions? A cursory glance at the big statistical picture might suggest a fairly decent one. Bremen have, after all, racked up more league victories over Bayern - 26 - than any other team have managed down the years, netting the most goals against them (119) in the process.
A closer inspection of the more recent form guide, however, confirms the growing divide. Bayern are unbeaten in their last eleven Bundesliga outings against Werder, eight of which they have won. Throw in a couple of DFB Cup successes as well and it becomes even more evident that the men from Munich these days have little reason to go into a meeting with their northern rivals with anything like the trepidation of yore. Indeed, in the last three encounters alone, Bayern have slammed in an eye-watering 18 goals.
Pizarro the professional
That one-sided balance notwithstanding, complacency has no place in head coach Pep Guardiola's book and he is preparing for the upcoming assignment with his customary meticulousness - as well as hoping Bayern's twelve-strong contingent on international duty return fit and healthy for the day job. For one among that dozen, games against Werder are always “something special.”
Some 89 of the 176 goals to date which make Claudio Pizarro the Bundesliga's highest-scoring foreign player were netted in the green-and-white cause and all sentimentality aside, the veteran Peruvian striker will take any opportunity to add to that total should he get a run-out for the hosts on Saturday.
Di Santo eyes upturn
Bremen, meanwhile, have another South American ace going for goal these days in Franco Di Santo, who bagged his fourth of the campaign to salvage the point against Freiburg last time out. While nobody is questioning his own early-season form, the rangy 25-year-old Argentinian remains more generally “confident the interview questions will be different as soon our results pick up.” And that, he says, is a matter of when rather than if.
“My own feeling is that the team have incredible potential, which isn't in any way reflected by our position in the table. We've made tremendous strides in terms of our training, structure and playing style, and just need the final piece of the jigsaw to fall into place.” Were it to do so against Bayern at the Allianz Arena this weekend, it would be a rare piece of timing, breathing fresh life into this classic Bundesliga duel.
Bayern maybe the favourites this weekend, but Bremen fans won't forget this game in a hurry: a 3-1 win in Munich that crowned them 2004 Bundesliga champions. Relive the highlights below, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: