My Grandfather was born and raised in Bremen, a small-to-medium-sized city on the Weser River in Northern Germany. He was deeply proud of his Bremener roots, and always wanted me to visit his hometown: to stroll down Marktplatz in front of Bremen’s opulent Rathaus as he did as a child, or watch towering cargo ships enter the Port of Bremen, or marvel at Bremer Dom, the city’s imposing cathedral which has existed in one form or another since the 8th century. One of my favorite stories as a child was that of the Bremen Town Musicians, a well-known German fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm, in which a troupe of farm animals fool a pair of robbers by standing on each others’ backs, a story now memorialized by a statue in the city square.
I learned only a few years ago, after I had already become a BVB fan, that my Grandfather was an ardent Werder Bremen fan as a child and as a young man. He moved to the United States in the 1960s and his fandom had gradually faded away over the decades, so I was pretty surprised to hear that he used to love going to matches at the Weser-Stadion with his friends, collected programs, and knew all the players’ names by heart. I never really pictured him as soccer type. The idea of him hopping up and down with the crowd, belting fan songs in an off-key baritone, beer in one hand and the other arm wrapped around a fellow fan, has always seemed hilarious to me (if you knew him, you might agree).
Even when Fox began broadcasting Bundesliga matches in the U.S. (by the time I came around, he was more of a hockey fan anyway), he never quite got back into his Werder Bremen fandom, but it nevertheless gave me a soft spot for Die Werderaner. If I had known earlier that he had been a Bremen fan as a child, maybe I would’ve become a fan of them instead of Dortmund! While my BVB fandom is firmly entrenched at this point, I don’t think I could ever bring myself to dislike Werder Bremen.
But god damn, if they don’t make it difficult for me.
Quite frankly, I think I’ve seen enough of the Green-and Whites, and something tells me that If you polled Borussia Dortmund’s fans, players, coaching staff, they’d probably tell you the same thing. Despite struggling to keep their heads afloat in the Bundesliga, Werder have now knocked BVB out of the DFB Cup in successive years, in heartbreaking fashion nonetheless. It was only 17 days ago that Bremen out-hustled, out-fought, and ultimately out-played Borussia Dortmund en route to a 3-2 victory in the DFB-Pokal, a result that both sides fully deserved. For whatever reason, playing BVB seems to bring out the very best in Werder Bremen, as they have consistently gotten the better of BVB despite struggling against basically everybody else. It’s simultaneously baffling and exasperating.
Much like the last time these two teams met, Borussia Dortmund will face Werder Bremen running hot. Tuesday’s 2-1 victory against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League was one of Dortmund’s best team efforts this season, as was BVB’s 4-0 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt the Friday before. Unfortunately, as BVB’s defeat in the Pokal demonstrated, past victories do not guarantee future success. Werder Bremen won’t care one bit how BVB played against PSG. They’ve got a relegation fight on their hands, and will be just as desperate for three points as Borussia Dortmund.
Having played during the week, BVB will likely need to rotate. Erling Håland, Lukasz Piszczek, Achraf Hakimi, and Dan-Axel Zagadou all played the full 90 minutes on Tuesday, and seem like prime candidates for rotation. Lucien Favre subbed off Jadon Sancho, so he could be a potential starter. Gio Reyna and Thorgan Hazard, who started against PSG on the bench, are also obvious choices. There’s also good news on the injury front: Julian Brandt is reportedly back in training, and should be ready to rejoin the midfield against Bremen.
There’s reason to be hopeful here. BVB are fresh off of two resounding victories. One would think that their defeat against Bremen earlier this month would motivate them to perform better this time. At the very least, it should ensure that BVB’s players don’t make the mistake of underestimating them again. If they do, it could very well end in another defeat, which could easily put BVB out of the title race for good.
Such a result would be infuriating to BVB fans and endearing to Werder Bremen fans, who would get to watch their boys play giant-killers for the second time in as many weeks. I’m sure that wherever my Grandfather is, he might just let his inner Werder Bremen fan surrender a smile, no matter how many years it’s been.
And I can’t hate that.