Werder Bremen v. Udinese
First Leg: 9 April 2009 – Weserstadion, Germany
Second Leg: 16 April 2009 – Stadio Friuli, Italy
Domestically, the 2008-2009 season has been a disappointment for both Werder Bremen and Udinese. Both clubs are toiling in the middle of the standings in their respective leagues and have been out of title contention for a while. As such, both clubs will want a chance to salvage their seasons by winning the UEFA Cup and guaranteeing European play for next season.
Werder Bremen started the season with promise, thumping Bayern Munich by a score of 5-2 and then earning a point at the San Siro against Inter Milan in the Champions League group phase. However, a run of poor results, including a winless October, saw the club fall off the pace domestically. They were able to fight back in the Champions League, claiming an impressive win against Inter Milan at home and clinching a spot in the UEFA Cup. Once in the UEFA Cup, Werder Bremen knocked off star-studded AC Milan and unheralded St. Etienne, securing a spot in the Quarterfinals.
Their domestic form continues to be erratic, as they seem to play up to (or down to) their competition. In recent months, they’ve lost to relegation-threatened Energie Cottbus and Arminia Bielefeld, and drawn with Borussia Monchengladbach. However, in that timespan, they’ve also beaten Stuttgart by a score of 4-0 and Wolfsburg by a score of 5-2, and they’ve taken a point from both Bayern Munich and TSG Hoffenheim. They’ve also advanced to the Semi-Finals of the DFB Pokal, eliminating Wolfsburg in the Quarterfinals. Talent hasn’t been their problem. They boast several German internationals, notably Torsten Frings, Per Mertesacker, and Clemens Fritz. They also have Claudio Pizarro, who has been reborn ever since arriving from Chelsea on loan. He has 12 league goals on the year, more than Miroslav Klose, Kevin Kuranyi, and Luca Toni. If they play up to their potential (and they play up to the occasion, to say nothing of the opposition), then Werder could very go all the way to the championship.
Like Werder Bremen, Udinese haven’t had much to cheer about domestically. However, they have been a force in the cup competitions, advancing to the Quarterfinals of the Coppa Italia before being eliminated by Sampdoria on penalty kicks. In the UEFA Cup, they’ve done some impressive work, easily winning their group despite the presence of heavyweights like Tottenham, Spartak Moscow, and Dinamo Zagreb. They then eliminated defending champions Zenit St. Petersburg to reach the Quarterfinals.
Udinese have been inconsistent as of late, winning twice, losing twice, and drawing three times in their last seven Serie A matches before the international break. Their skipper, Antonio Di Natale, has been his usual productive self, scoring 16 goals in all competitions, including the tie-clinching goal against Zenit in the previous round. However, Di Natale suffered a serious knee injury while on international duty and could be out for the rest of hte season. If so, then Udinese will need Fabio Quagliarella (14 goals in all competitions), Gaetano D’Agostino (9 goals in all competitions), and Simone Pepe (5 goals in all competitions, including 2 in UEFA Cup action) to step up their production. Their defense has been breached a few times, with AC Milan (5 goals in one match) and Fiorentina (4) doing the best job on Udinese’s back four. They’ll have to make sure that they keep their eyes on Werder Bremen’s snipers. Otherwise, they could miss out on their only chance for silverware this year.