Bremen - Their five-goal winning streak might have just come to an end at FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 22, but head coach Viktor Skripnik struck a moderately upbeat note all the same, at least by his own low-key standards.
'Still looking over our shoulder'
“We've tanked up our self-confidence over the past few weeks and I don't think it'll be too long before we get our next away win,” the 45-year-old former Ukraine international said after sub Sebastian Prödl's stoppage-time header had at least earned SV Werder Bremen a 1-1 draw at the Veltins Arena.
That, however, was as optimistic as Skripnik was going to get, despite the fact that Bremen are joint-top of the 2015 form table alongside VfL Wolfsburg, on 15 points. “It's a nice time for us and we're enjoying it,” he conceded, before emphasising that simply avoiding relegation remains the number one priority for the time being and accordingly, “we're still looking over our shoulder.”
An unassuming defensive all-rounder and fans' favourite in his own playing days at Bremen, Skripnik was a largely unknown quantity as a coach before getting promoted from the reserves to replace Robin Dutt nine games into the season. Now, he is in the process of expanding his cult status, with one city hairdresser even offering an old-time Skripnik cut, extra-wide parting included, at 17 euro a pop. Former mayor of Bremen Henning Scherf, who on more than one occasion between 1995 and 2005 shared the city hall balcony with a title-winning Werder team, has already predicted a “Europa League finish, between fifth and seventh place.”
Mertesacker sends his best
Sporting director Thomas Eichin, like Skripnik, views that general range as more of a mid-term goal, with the current state of affairs more like “a snapshot, which does make my job easier, all the same.” Part of said job is keeping hold of key players and in that department, set-piece specialist Zlatko Junzovic and Czech international right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie have already penned new deals. Skripnik is hopeful that Prödl, whose contract runs out this summer, will soon do likewise.
With home games against VfL Wolfsburg and FC Bayern München upcoming, not to mention a trip to high-flying FC Augsburg sandwiched in between, nobody at the club is taking even the basic minimum for granted yet. Winter signing Jannik Vestergaard confirmed as much, saying again that, “Dull as it sounds, avoiding relegation is still our top priority.”
That notwithstanding, these are heady days for fans of the club; not to mention old favourites like Per Mertesacker, who spent five years on the books there before moving to Arsenal FC. “I'm good friends with Clemens Fritz, so I get to hear all the problems,” the 104-time Germany international said, “and then they go and . It's just incredible, the way a new coaching team can spark a turnaround like that.”