A defensively-solid Werder Bremen side condemned us to our first defeat of pre-season yesterday evening in the first-leg of The Betway Cup at The Osterwald-Stadion in Schneverdingen.
Slaven Bilic named a starting XI that included a blend of youth and experience, but one that was considerably weaker than the starting sides that faced Sturm Graz ll and Fulham. Under-pressure Spanish keeper Adrian San-Miguel started in-goal and was protected by a youthful back-four of Sam Byram, Reece Burke, James Collins and Aaron Cresswell. Declan Rice, skipper Mark Noble and starlets Nathan Holland, Moses Makasi and Josh Cullen guarded the defence, with former Valencia man Antonio Martinez as the lone striker.
The hosts named a very strong line-up themselves that included the likes of Czech international full-back Gebre Selassie and USA forward Aron Johannsson. Bremen’s quality showed early on with a wave of pressure and an early opportunity for Selassie, who fired a close-range volley high over the bar. However, it wouldn’t be long before the home side hit the target and took the lead through Johannes Eggestein. The 19-year-old was played through on the left and wasted no time in lashing an effort across the face of goal that found the back of the net, with the help of the post.
Bremen were soon in charge of the encounter, but could not find their range, firing far over The Claret and Blue net on various occasions. Mark Noble hobbled off on the half-hour mark being replaced by Pedro Obiang, and the change was soon followed by our best chance of the game so far. Prolific U23 goal-scorer Toni Martinez fired a fantastic low ball across the area, narrowly avoiding a vital touch from either Makasi or Obiang. Long-serving keeper Adrian had a point to prove after the signing of England Number one Joe Hart and was making a good case for himself after saving low from Germany U19 international Niklas Schmidt. As the half-time whistle blew, there was no doubt that Alexander Nouri would be far happier than Slaven Bilic at the break, but things would not improve for The Croat.
The best of our second-half chances would come in the opening 20 minutes, as Declan Rice’s header and Nathan Holland’s threatening cross both amounted to nothing. On the hour mark, a whole host of changes were made by Bilic, with Pablo Zabaleta, Jose Fonte, Arthur Masuaku, Robert Snodgrass, Edimilson Fernandes, debutant Marko Arnautovic, and Andre Ayew being introduced. The club-record signing Arnautovic looked bright and threatened with a short chip into the area, but Makasi could not deliver the goods. As the clash drew to a close, it was the four-time Bundesliga Champions who threatened the most, forcing Adrian into a stunning double save to deny first Schmidt and then Jerome Gondorf. Late inroads from Arthur Masuaku fizzled out and the referee finally blew the full-time whistle to bring the drab affair to an end, and an end to our pre-season unbeaten run.
Werder Bremen will now take a one-goal advantage into the second-leg of The Betway Cup later today, leaving us with work to do to avoid a third straight defeat in the annual pre-season competition.