Thomas Schaaf's Werder Bremen will have to rediscover their goal touch if they are to overcome high-scoring AZ Alkmaar in Germany on Thursday.
A goalless draw in the Netherlands last week has left Werder Bremen in a strong position to turn AZ Alkmaar's 50th game in European competition into a German celebration at the Weserstadion rather than a happy jubilee for the Dutch club.
Bremen might have scored just once in their last three matches – including the first-leg stalemate – with star striker Miroslav Klose going 875 minutes without a goal, but one could be enough according to the Bundesliga team's coach, Thomas Schaaf. "We need to score one more than Alkmaar, hopefully it will be more than that, but the key is to rediscover our touch in front of goal," he said.
It is not only in attack that Schaaf has cause for concern though. Centre-back Per Mertesacker is sidelined after surgery on a knee injury sustained during Sunday's 1-0 victory over 1. FC Nürnberg, while left-back Christian Schulz is still to overcome a thigh problem. "It's too early for Christian," the coach said. "We don't want to risk anything. However, we will really miss Per because he has had a great season and has given us stability at the back." With another left-back absent in Pierre Wome, Schaaf, whose side remain two points off the Bundesliga summit, needs to be creative.
Midfielder Jurica Vranješ could protect the left flank with defensive all-rounder Petri Pasanen joining Naldo in the middle. If Schaaf requires a positive, Germany midfielder Tim Borowski may return to the starting lineup following two months out with torn ligaments and a substitute's berth in Alkmaar. "Attack is our weapon as well as Alkmaar's. I think we are set for 90 minutes of pure passion," said the trainer. Meanwhile, for all their reputation as an offensive force - witness a 4-1 thrashing of NAC Breda at the weekend - AZ's coach Louis van Gaal would rather focus on the defence. "We must be careful that Werder do not score an early goal," he warned. "I expect them to attack. We will have to adjust our tactical formation to their style of play. But there is no favourite in this match, the chances are 50/50."
Ins and outs
It seems honours are also even on the injury front. "We are worried about the absence of [David Mendes] da Silva. A sidelined player is not able to win a match for us." Da Silva has stretched a cruciate ligament, while fellow defenders Barry Opdam and Grétar Steinsson sit out the contest through a combination of injury and suspension. And just as Borowski is back for Bremen, so AZ's midfield ranks are boosted by the availability following an ankle operation of Dutch international Stijn Schaars. Van Gaal insists his team are travelling with confidence despite a 4-2 loss at Newcastle United FC on their last away day in the competition. "Werder will miss Mertesacker and Schulz. I think this is a huge blow for them because these are quality players," he said. There might yet be a jubilee party in Bremen on Thursday night.
Bremen: Tim Wiese; Clemens Fritz, Naldo, Petri Pasanen, Jurica Vranješ; Patrick Owomoyela, Torsten Frings, Diego, Tim Borowski; Miroslav Klose, Aaron Hunt.
Alkmaar: Boy Waterman; Gijs Luirink, Kew Jaliens, Ryan Donk, Tim de Cler; Julian Jenner, Demy de Zeeuw, Moussa Dembélé, Maarten Martens; Shota Arveladze, Danny Koevermans.