Bremen - When your team is struggling near the foot of the table, the last thing you need is a long-term injury to your leading goalscorer.
Youngsters on target
The news that Franco Di Santo will miss the rest of the calendar year with a knee injury will have come as a hefty blow to SV Werder Bremen and head coach Viktor Skripnik, but the Werderaner responded to that setback in the best possible manner against SC Paderborn 07 on Matchday 13.
Not only did Werder secure all three points against last year’s Bundesliga 2 runners-up, they did so in style, romping to a resounding 4-0 victory that lifted them out of the relegation places for the first time since Matchday 5. Prior to Saturday’s encounter at the Weser-Stadion, Bremen had picked up a sole win in front of their own fans this season, against fellow strugglers VfB Stuttgart.
In the absence of Di Santo and several other first-team regulars through injury and suspension, Skripnik handed starting berths to some of the younger members of his squad for the visit of Andre Breitenreiter’s side, and they did not disappoint. Germany Under-19 international Davie Selke and 20-year-old attacking midfielder Levent Aycicek both got their names on the scoresheet, while Janek Sternberg shone at left-back after being given his professional debut against Paderborn.
No time like the present
With Bremen now a point clear of the dreaded drop zone in 14th after winning three of their four games under Skripnik, it would seem the newly-installed head coach's faith in the more inexperienced members of his squad has been vindicated - for now at least. “Skripnik gives everyone a chance,” said Selke after the Paderborn win. “It’s a great feeling for us youngsters to be given a chance and it shows how good Werder’s youth department is.”
Skripnik, meanwhile, who was recently handed a new three-year contract after being promoted from the Green-Whites' U-23s in late October, revealed he had no qualms about throwing his youngsters into the firing line. “You’ve got to throw them in the water to find out if they can swim," said the Ukrainian. "Against Paderborn, it was a good opportunity for me to do that, and they did very well.”
Tough end to 2014
The key test for Werder’s young guns now is whether they can maintain that level of performance long-term. A trip to in-form Eintracht Frankfurt awaits Skripnik’s charges on Matchday 14, before games against Hannover 96, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund complete the northern clubs' 2014/15 Hinrunde schedule.
His players, however, aren't taking their first-XI opportunities for granted. “We're aware that [the Paderborn match] was only one game,” said Selke, adding: “We know that we have to keep playing like that every week if we want to stay in the side.” If the the likes of Selke, Aycicek and Sternberg do manage to keep their foot in the first-team door, Bremen fans won’t be smarting over the temporary loss of their leading marksman for much longer.