During the 2009-10 Bundesliga season, Thomas Schaaf found himself with three supremely talented attacking midfielders, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Hunt and recently signed winger Marko Marin.
Marko Marin was at that moment probably the most hyped up players amongst the three and with good reason some might say. His talent was being talked about much before his move to Bremen. He was a surprise selection in Joachim Low's preliminary squad for Euro 2008, when Marin was just 19. After playing two warm-up matches prior to the final selection, he was then deemed a surprise omission from the squad taken to the tournament.
The 2009-10 season was one of success and excitement for Bremen as, after coming a disappointing 10th in the previous season, they reached the third spot in the Bundesliga table and the DFB Pokal final.
The excitement was for what the future was to hold for the young Bremen side, especially for the trio of Hunt, Ozil and Marin, who together combined for fantastic statistics of 23 goals and 32 assists during the Bundesliga season. Marin especially was in unstoppable form in the second half of the season, where he had to carry Bremen much of way since the form of Ozil and Hunt had drained after the winter break. Prophecy's were made and labels of 'New Messi' were given. All in all, Marin was on his way to the top.
The key to the success of the trio was the formation Thomas Schaaf had input.
Different from his customary 4-1-2-1-2 formation used for his previous successful squads, Schaaf saw the talent of all three players when played in their favoured positions and went forward with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Marin and Hunt on opposite wings while Ozil played behind the lone striker with some rotation amongst the three, showing that Marin had a little versatility to play across the front three.
All three players were irreplaceable so when it was announced that Ozil would be leaving Bremen, much was discussed as to who would fill the central playmaker position.
The answer seemed to come from either the new signing Marko Arnautovic or Aaron Hunt. Needless to say, neither of them worked in that role.
The early part of the season proved chaotic for Thomas Schaaf as his tactical plans all went undone with a combination of inconsistent performances from players and the horrific amount of defensive injuries. There never seemed to be a fixed formation used throughout the opening few months, with rotation between the 4-2-3-1 from last season and Schaaf's favoured 4-1-2-1-2 formation being common.
All of that proved very detrimental to Marko Marin's performances.
While still playing in his favoured left wing position, Marin was now expected to fill the playmaking role that Ozil had left behind, something that Marin wasn't and frankly never was capable off. He was strictly a winger who attacked full backs and tied them into knots.
Without a proper passer in the middle of the part, Marin was forced to move much deeper in order to get possession of the ball and from there was often crowed out from being able to do anything productive.
With Marin's failings in the winger position and the general lack of form of the team, Schaaf slowly moved away from the 4-2-3-1 formation. He made a conscience decision in the 2nd half of the season to adopt the diamond shaped 4-1-2-1-2, which had no use for a winger. Marin was therefore dropped and confined to a few minutes for the first few months during which the formation was adopted.
With Bremen's form not getting much better (one win, three draws and three defeats), Schaaf decided to try and play Marin at the tip of the diamond. After a match-winning performance off the bench against Freiburg with a goal and assist, Bremen's first win in six matches, Marin was the given a start in the Bremen's next away match against Nurenberg, also a win.
That sparked an impressive end of season for Bremen which ultimately took them into 13th place after flirting with relegation for much of the campaign.
Marin started the final eight matches of the season at the tip of the diamond, contributing three assists to Bremen's three wins and three draws. While his performances were inconsistent, there had always been signs that Marin was getting more used to the role and returning to his form of old.
Even though he was being played as a central playmaker by position, Marin was given the freedom to roam the final third from left to right in order to find space to attack. As the video of his performance against Frankfurt shows, Marin was seen regularly along the wings as much as he was in the center. His creativity allows him to find space but what was usually missing was the final pass, which brought about his inconsistency, something which previous Bremen playmakers like Diego, Micoud and Ozil had in abundance.
The post season saw a lot of new arrivals, most important of which was the signing of Bayern Munich's Mehmet Ekici, a bona fide attacking playmaker to play at the top of the 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
But after Ekici was injured for much of the preseason, Marko Marin started off once again as the head playmaker. He showed impressive form, especially in the last match against Freiburg where Marin contributed with three assists.
While still having his ability to dribble the ball at will, Marin is now also contributing to the build up of the play. When there is a better option available, he is playing shorter passes more often rather then directly dribbling at his opponent. A good sign for the future if he is to continue to play in that position.
The graph of his passing performance against Freiburg shows the positions where Marin was usually finding the ball. Not only does it again show the freedom Marin is being given in the final third but also his growing eagerness to pass the ball. Out of the 61 touches Marin had in the game, he performed 38 passes with an 84% success rate, seven of which created chances. A superb contribution overall and hopefully a sign of things to come.
There was much talk of Marin moving away from Bremen but Schaaf and Marin himself consistently said that there were no plans to move away from Bremen.
That could only mean that both the coach and the player believe in the new role being set out for Marin and that the potential is there for Marin to fulfill his potential and become a World Class player, albeit in a position completely different to one he was set out for.