Andy Brassell On European Football: Big week for Bremen and Portugal returns
The European season is regathering momentum, so Andy Brassell looks forward to a couple of huge Bundesliga matches as well as a tight title race in Portugal.
Crunch time for Werder Bremen's revival
Since coach Florian Kohfeldt's rousing call to arms before the recent game at Freiburg, proclaiming himself the best man for the Werder Bremen job, his side have been transformed. A defensively suspect, seemingly doomed team has turned into a tough to break down contender, with seven points from a possible nine being built on the cornerstone of three successive clean sheets.
Now Werder have a golden opportunity, knowing that a win over Eintracht Frankfurt in Wednesday night's rearranged game would lift them above Fortuna Düsseldorf and out of the bottom two. They could potentially also leapfrog Mainz and nestle into the safety zone, but that would require them winning by five.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. This is huge for Eintracht too. Adi Hütter's side are only five points above Fortuna in the relegation playoff and they would be looking at the table from behind the sofa had they not plucked a fortunate win at Wolfsburg out of the ether on Saturday.
With Bas Dost and an in-form André Silva (scorer of three goals in four games since the resumption), they have the greater firepower. Perhaps most importantly, Werder have to overcome a huge mental block, having not won a Bundesliga game at their Weserstadion since the first day of September.
Back Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt to draw at3.55
Portugal is back, and it's tight at the top
Another European league is on its way back this week, with Portugal resuming competition and being available to watch for free in the UK, it is worth taking a look. There's a tasty title race for starters, with current leaders Porto going to Famalicão on Wednesday before Benfica (just a point behind) host Tondela on Thursday.
The gap between the top two has closed appreciably during the last few years since Sérgio Conceição has taken the helm at Porto, and they could easily have won the title last term before Benfica eventually sealed the 36th crown in their history. The fact that the big two (apologies to Sporting Clube de Portugal, the other traditional giant, who are struggling to break back into the top three) have such formidable coaches in Conceição and Bruno Lage respectively makes the race all the more intriguing.
The market is thus finding it very hard to pick a winner, with Benfica themarginal favourites at 1.97. Porto have the tougher task this week, travelling to early season pacesetters Famalicão with a reshaped defence, following Ivan Marcano's season-ending injury in training and the inspirational Alex Telles' ban. Benfica, though, have the tougher run-in, with trips to fifth-placed Rio Ave and to the island of Madeira to face Marítimo, before a final-day derby with Sporting. It promises to be a thrilling sprint to the line.
Back Porto to be champions at 2.00
Leverkusen could do Dortmund a favour
Stopping Bayern Munich seems like an impossible task as stands. They sealed off a great week by following their win in Der Klassiker with a resounding 5-0 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf, and celebrated afterwards as if they were doing so for both games. Seeing coach Hansi Flick at the centre of these expressions of joy showed just how important he is regarded to have been in the acceleration of their season.
Surely if anyone can provide them with a test right now, though, it must be Bayer Leverkusen. Peter Bosz's team are flying, having won 12, drawn one and lost one of their last 14 games in all competitions. The coach has made up for the absence of Kevin Volland with the redeployment of his young star Kai Havertz, who has been magnificent in 2020, further forward. Havertz has five goals already since the resumption.
Leverkusen are also in the thick of chasing a Champions League spot, so there is no chance of them standing on ceremony here. Bayern's price of1.51 would seem reasonable to anyone who their defensive collapse in that one recent defeat, at home to Wolfsburg, but we shouldn't allow that to cloud judgement. Nor should we assume that that Die Werkself would be doing Borussia Dortmund a huge favour by vanquishing Bayern - they are only four points behind second place and Lucien Favre's side are by no means assured of a top four spot just yet.