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A replacement for Özil? Stop the Hunt now, Werder Bremen have one in their ranks.

August 23, 2010


After the Mesut Özil transfer saga, the talk in Bremen has now moved to who will replace the attacking midfielder’s place in Thomas Schaaf’s team? On Wednesday night, one player in particular made enough noise out on the pitch to out-do the post-goal foghorn that adorns every Werder Bremen goal.

Aaron Hunt, known by most English football fans for being ‘that racist one’, gave a performance not too dissimilar to the ones Bremen fans were used to observing when Özil was still at the club. For all the talk of Hatem Ben Arfa ending up at the ‘Weserstadion’ via Newcastle, it turns out that Thomas Schaaf may have had the replacement under his permanently tickled nose for around seven years now.

Hunt was the main performer in a very entertaining match, his passing and movement reminiscent of Özil’s. Playing in the same position as the recent Real Madrid signing, he showed the characteristics and attributes that made Özil so potent and dangerous during the Bundesliga season.

The Hunt steps up

Playing at the tip of the midfield diamond, just behind strikers Claudio Pizarro and Hugo Almeida, he was given free reign to move where he felt most effective.

Hunt (cyan) takes up a position behind the strikers.

Playing behind two strikers rather than one offers greater opportunities to find the incisive pass, as strikers do not have to make space for themselves. Two strikers can work together to pull centre-backs apart for a pass to be made. It is this same formation that won Wolfsburg the Bundesliga title two years ago, entirely down to the attacking trio of Grafite, Džeko and Misimović.

Movement from one-striker allows space to be created in between centre-backs and full-backs...

Playing with two strikers also occupies the two centre-backs, giving the player in the advanced midfielder role more time and space to create something. This, of course, is only the case if a team does not recognise this and place a deeper-lying midfielder to hassle this attacking midfielder. Sampdoria did not look to do this.

Without a central midfielder looking to track Hunt's every move, he's given time to bring the fall forward and find a delicate pass through to the other strike running into the space created

It is for these two reasons that the most creative players in the past two Bundesliga seasons have all played behind a front-two in a diamond midfield. It is to be remembered that it is in this role where Diego, formerly of Werder Bremen, got his expensive move to a top European club after performing in that role.

Hunting for width in a naturally narrow system

Just like Mesut, Hunt was happy to provide the width and change the predictability of a rigid diamond midfield and move out to the channels as well as offering a more conventional wide position. This was one of Özil’s strengths, his ability to stretch the play when needed, creating space for other players in the middle of the pitch, as well as shifting central midfielders out of position.

By playing a diamond midfield, the formation is inherently narrow. Narrowness makes a team easy to defend against as a defence can remain compact and cut the space between the defence and midfield. Hunt, and anyone who plays at the tip of the diamond has a significant role in breaking down a defence through their movement. Hunt did this well, for when Sampdoria’s defence was narrow, he looked to isolate a full-back, drifting them wide, providing opportunities for strikers to drop deep into the space vacated (1) and for midfielders to drive forward (2 & 3).

Sampdoria’s 4-4-2 struggles with the midfield diamond

Sampdoria’s shape played into Werder Bremen’s plans, as well as allowing Aaron Hunt an opportunity to parade his game. Bremen, setting out with a very close-knit trio in the middle, did not afford Sampdoria space in the middle of the park. Sampdoria strangely did not adapt their strategy given its obvious failure throughout, continuing to look to play direct balls to the deeper-lying Antonio Cassano. When the ball made it to his feet, Cassano was hounded out by suitable glam-rock lookalike Torsten Frings.

Werder Bremen were able to dominate possession, a stat that tends to indicate who had the stronger midfield and thus who controlled the match. Sampdoria’s static 4-4-2, with only three bands, made it easy for Bremen’s fluid midfield to move in between the gaps left in the lines – allowing them to move the ball comfortably and have time to turn and consider their options in dangerous areas. Bargfrede, Hunt and Borowski were all looking to find these spaces, looking to create triangles to intersect the straight lines of the Sampdoria midfield. With Cassano and Pazzini not looking to close down Bremen’s midfield, it gave Frings so much time on the ball, able to pick out the right pass.

Bremen's fluid midfield: Hunt dropping deep, whilst Borowski and Bargfrede drove forward

This dissection of Sampdoria’s straight-lines played directly into the hands of Hunt, who has a good eye for a pass, as well as good reading of the game. Accompanied with a reasonable understanding with the two strikers ahead of him, this made him the game’s most dangerous player. With the ball at his feet, he looked composed and knew what he wanted to do before the ball was played to him, all strengths shown time and time again by Özil.

Similar to Özil, Hunt's ability to turn and face defences is impressive. Always looking to drive and threaten the opposition.

As well as playing a well-timed through ball for attackers

His quick mind, escorted with swift feet, make him an ideal player for the role in Schaaf’s seemingly preferred formation. With forwards dropping deep and midfielders pushing forward, Bremen’s game is based around creating triangles and one-two’s. Hunt’s football intelligence is up to scratch too, knowing when to drift wide and create space for other players to work with – something that lesser players would struggle with, making the system predictable and easy to defend against.

Both left-footed, both play in the same position and both are acutely aware of their similar family history – the similarities between the two continue past the shallowest of similarities. Bremen fans may have been left worrying after the departure of Özil, but with the intelligence and technical ability shown by Aaron Hunt on Wednesday, they needn’t stress too much.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2010 10:40 am

    Great article mate, I was impressed with Hunt on Wednesday, an adaquate replacement for Mesut, two questions, if Werder do out and buy another player to replace Ozil, where does Hunt fit in this system, do Werder need to buy?

    Second question, after the performance on Wednesday, What happened on Saturday against Hoffenheim, formation, performance, or something else, what went wrong?

    • Ian permalink
      August 23, 2010 11:33 am

      1. Hunt can play as a winger on either side as well. He played with Ozil, so he should be able to play with any Ozil-replacement as well. If Werder does buy one.

      2. Hunt came down with the flue, had to be taken out on Saturday after the first half and will be missing in Genua.

    • August 23, 2010 11:52 am

      I think he could play as a winger if they play 4-2-3-1, as they did sometimes last year. I think they possibly do need to buy in case of injuries, purely for strength in depth.

      I’ve not seen the match or the highlights from the weekend, I’ll try and watch them if I can. They were impressive vs. Sampdoria, something must have gone desperately wrong.

    • hwk permalink
      August 23, 2010 12:11 pm

      Werder bought Wesley (from Santos). He’s not like Oezil or Hunt (that’s what we hear), but a man for the midfield and so a replacement in terms of pure numbers.
      Bremen has problems against attacking teams, because their defence (defencive work as a team) is not the best. they play a style that includes more risk than other teams would play and against teams like Hoffenheim thats always a problem.
      since years the public talkes about Werder needing a better defence (a good back-up centre-back and better full-backs). with injured-Naldo and out-of-form-Mertesacker they have serious problems.

  2. hwk permalink
    August 23, 2010 12:04 pm

    about the ‘racist one’: as far as I know Hunt’s parents are from England and Germany (language barrier*lol).
    Question: what happend after this affair? does anybody know what really happened?

    racism is a bad thing but it’s very easy to point at someone and say: ‘he called me …., he’s a racist!’

    • August 23, 2010 12:23 pm

      I don’t think anything happened from it to be honest. It was quite big news in England, but I don’t think it was anything too serious.

      What is his personality like? Is he that type of person?

      • hwk permalink
        August 23, 2010 12:45 pm

        it seems that he is a calm person, very reserved. doesn’t talk that much. he was a little bit ‘under the radar’ because of injurys and players like Diego and Özil.
        I can’t say much about him, but that’s usually a good sign and nothing to worry about in Bremen.

        Racism is nothing to make fun about in Germany, and I never heard about Hunt being a person like that or being involved in a discussion like that.

  3. August 23, 2010 12:59 pm

    I always thought that, I’d not heard anything saying he was a horrible person, yet alone racist. I guess it was just English newspapers making the story bigger than it really was, again.

    • hwk permalink
      August 23, 2010 1:11 pm

      yeah. but you never know … you know.

      how much do we know the persons on TV? not talking about racism, but about their personality.

  4. Kraut permalink
    August 23, 2010 9:41 pm

    Hunt moslty stayed under the radar because of his injury history in the past. He was always known as a very talented player (youngest scorer in Bundesliga im Werder’s history) but a series of injuries kept him from really having his break-through. 2009/2010 was his first season without injuries (maybe thanks to Werders new fitness coach) and he played a great one (with Özil still on board). He definitely has high strategic capabilities and yet also knows how to play a clever defensive part (quite the opposite of Özil and Marin in these terms as of today).

    What will happen if somebody new is going to join the squad? Hunt will play. And he will play a good part. That’s for sure. I’d love to see him stay at Werder for the rest of his career :).

    • hwk permalink
      August 24, 2010 9:23 am

      I think the new man Wesley is not a playmaker and will fight with Borowski about the spot in the midfield. Borowski had two weak years, now he looks better but Schaaf knows that he needs more quality in the squad. They have something around 33 players but a lot of them are not a real competition for the guys in the starting line-up.
      If Borowski loses his form again or someone like Frings or Bargfrede is injured (or for tactical reasons), they need a good man. Bremen plays in Europe every year, and good qualitiy on the bench (players 12 to 18 or 20) should be normal.

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