Werder Bremen have been flying high this season, and had expected to slip smoothly into second place after playing Bayer Leverkusen at the Weserstadion this weekend. Instead, we were treated to eight goals, and one of the weirdest and most entertaining games of the Bundesliga season so far.
Florian Kohfeldt has been on a roll since replacing Alexander Nouri at Werder Bremen last season. The 36-year-old coach has turned the club's fortunes around, fuelling fans with dreams of glorious days gone by and a bright future. Unbeaten at home, the green-whites were hoping for all three points against a Bayer Leverkusen team that have blown more cold than hot this term.
They were in for a very rude shock.
The Bremen coach made two changes to the starting eleven that had won 2:0 at Schalke 04, but one was unexpected. Defensive stalwart Niklas Moisander was a last-minute absentee, and was replaced by Sebastian Langkamp. Despite the loss of the influential Swede, Kohfeldt stuck with his other switch, where he brought in young FC Bayern loanee Marco Friedl instead of Florian Kainz, who was on the bench.
Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich has been under pressure for a while, and simply had to react to his team's poor 2:3 Europa League defeat against unfancied FC Zürich. He made four changes: Jonathan Tah, Mitchell Weiser, Julian Brandt and Kevin Volland were all back in, with Leon Bailey, Isaac Kiese Thelin, Dominik Kohr and Tin Jedvaj all in the dugout.
At the end of the match, it was pretty clear which coach had made the soundest selection decisions.
Bayer strike first
Playing three at the back, the Werder coach looked to play high up the pitch and press the opposition, but instead it provided the visitors with plenty of counterattacking options. Ludwig Augustinsson had the first opportunity in the seventh minute for Kohfeldt's side, but almost immediately Leverkusen - playing in a crisp cornflower blue - broke quickly.
Shifting swiftly up the pitch, Karim Bellarabi found Volland, who made no mistake to open the scoring.
Consistent with their approach, Bremen had plenty of the ball, and did create chances. Augustinsson was denied by Werkself 'keeper Lukáš Hrádecký, and Max Kruse had an effort cleared off the line.
However, it was their opponents from the Rhineland that looked more dangerous.
Leverkusen find their touch
Against Borussia Dortmund, Leverkusen had taken an early lead and should have put the game out of sight. It was much the same story in the middle of the first half at the Weserstadion.
The uncertain Friedl was having a nightmare, and two chances were presented to the visitors in as many minutes. First Bellarabi could not take his chance (28.) and two minutes later teenager Kai Havertz also missed a good chance to double Bayer's lead.
While Herrlich's men were fluffing their lines in front of goal, Bremen were favourites to find an equaliser. Max Kruse went close, missing the target by the whisker.
Then, Leverkusen found their touch. When Bremen 'keeper Jiří Pavlenka could only half clear a Bellaravi cross, Brandt was able to line up a shot that fizzed into the net (38.) When Bellarabi made his three with a sweetly-timed dink over the Pavlenka right on the brink of half-time, the visitors must have surely thought that they had done enough.
But Leverkusen would not be Leverkusen without a dose of the jitters. Time and again the team has given away leads, and there were flashes of the Dortmund game around the hour mark.
At half time, Kohfeldt replaced the frazzled Friedl with veteran striker Claudio Pizarro, and despite being three goals down there was a spring in the home side's step. Pressure began to build on the visitors' goal, and right on the hour the 40-year-old Peruvian pulled a goal back. Looking like a man half his age, Pizarro stepped smartly inside his marker before hitting a crisp left-footed shot past Hrádecký.
Bremen were not done yet. Just two minutes later, there was a melée in the Leverkusen box. The ball ended up at the feet of Japanese international Yuya Osako, who stabbed it home from close range. The offside flag went up, and it looked like an obvious and correct decision. Then, the referee pointed to the centre circle.
Osako had been in an offside position - what one could call the perfect goal-hanger's spot. But replays showed that the last touch had come from Sven Bender.
In the blink of an eye, Bremen were right back in the contest.
Bremen had all the momentum, but it was Die Werkself that scored the next crucial goal. Again, it was a swift break that did all the damage. Volland found the excellent Havertz out on the left, and the teenager took the ball into the box before sending it across Pavlenka and into the net (67.)
After that, it was all Leverkusen. Defensive errors from both Pavlenka and Langkamp allowed Dragović to restore the three-goal cushion just five minutes later, though there were grounds to suggest that it had been an own goal from the poorly-positioned Langkamp.
Bremen's defensive horror show was completed when Leverkusen made it three goals in a frantic ten minutes, completing a round half dozen. A Mitchell Weiser cross was sent towards the goal by Havertz, with the final touch coming off the unfortunate Langkamp. Again, it looked like an own goal - but in the end it was credited to Havertz.
It could have been even worse for the hosts, but Pavlenka managed to do enough to prevent any further damage. For Bremen fans, it was utter carnage. For Leverkusen fans, an illustration of just how dangerous their team can be. For neutrals, it was a fun end to what had been an interesting Bundesliga weekend.
Werder Bremen 2 (Pizarro 60., Osako 62.) Bayer 04 Leverkusen 6 (Volland 8., Brandt 38., Bellarabi 45., Havertz 67., 77., Dragović 72.)