After escaping the drop against all the odds in the club’s debut top-flight season, many believed there is a long way to go for Jos Luhukay at Augsburg. But before the start of the sophomore season, there comes the unpredictable – the Bavarians replaced the veteran Dutch coach with someone whose highlight of his career involves a promotion to the second-tier with minnows SSV Jahn Regensburg.
To make matters worse, his start to the season solidifies pre-season predictions, as they only won one matches over the course of the first half of the season. Fast forward to two years from then, Augsburg are now flying high in the table under the same man - Markus Weinzierl.
It may took a bizarre brace from Sascha Mölders against Fortuna Düsseldorf to change their season for better in the start of the second half of the season back in 2012-13, but once they get back on their feet, and introduced with the new managers’ philosophy, there is no stopping of them from emerging as a mid-table side.
In only their fourth season in the Bundesliga, Augsburg sit in sixth place midway the season, two places further up from where they finished last term. There were no huge expectations, once again, but they have a huge shot of making it into Europe for the first time in the club’s history going by the solid Hinrunde they were having, and some shrewed business taking off-the-pitch in the ongoing winter transfer market.
Most of the time, the fact there are no particular star players in a side means the coach will be taking more credit for making the best out of the squad at his disposal.
The story at Augsburg is no different, and the 40-years-old Weinzierl attracts lots of interests from big clubs after taking the regular relegation candidates to the potential European football faithfuls. He is mainly admired for staying focus under circumstances, and demanding more from his players, an attribute that draws comparisons with the certain Pep Guardiola.
There are a lot of games in the current season that Augsburg could have easily dropped points off, but a patient football bares its fruits, as six of their nine wins comes courtesy of second half strikes. You might hear the fans of Hertha Berlin, Hamburg and Stuttgart fans complaining about controversial penalty-kick decisions that directly affects the results in their respective matches against Augsburg, but at the end, like their skipper Paul Verhaegh’s perfection from six yards out, the Fuggerstädter grasp each and every opportunity to stay among the mix at the top of the standings.
The season started with back-to-back defeats, despite a promising late comeback display against Borussia Dortmund in the first home match. But it was the Yellow-and-Blacks who stayed in the wrong end of the table for the remaining good part of the year. As for the Weinzierl’s troops, they are well on course to avoid any relegation scare when half of the league clubs seems to be in danger of slipping to the bottom of the table.
Hitting the jackpot with transfers
The off-season departures of regulars Kevin Vogt (FC Köln) and Andre Hahn (Borussia M’gladbach) are easily forgotten, as the squad depth is getting stronger than ever. Hahn enjoyed a breakaway season last term, with his attacking prowess were at the center stage, but Argentinian Raúl Bobadilla stepped up with a new role to fill in the gap, and has enjoyed a tremendous season so far, summed up by scoring a winning goal against his old club Mönchengladbach in the final match of the year.
Bayer Leverkusen-loanee Dominik Kohr produced solid performances alongside the ever-present Daniel Baier in the middle of the park, but with his tendencies of picking up too many cards for reckless challenges, fellow summer acquisition Markus Feulner takes the role in latter stages to great effect.
But the veteran could not expect to be named the club’s best signing, as the late arrival Abdul Rahman Baba excelled in left fullback position, so much so many pundits thinks he is the best performer in his position this season. The former Greuther Fürth youngster will be in action for Ghana in the AFCON, which will probably leave his club to deal without him for a little longer when the league resumes in February.
They will be hoping to get same quality service from the recent arrivals as well. Bayern Munich prospect Pierre Emile Højbjerg is expecting to see more playing time after his loan deal completes, and there is also a player at the ranks of Borussia Dortmund who joins Augsburg during the winter transfer window. His time at Sunderland and Dortmund might involve a lot of warming the bench, more than anything, but the name Ji Dong-Won is hugely popular at the SGL Arena.
In his two stints at the club, he was a regular fixture for the Bundesliga side, and formed a memorable partnership with fellow South Korean Koo Ja-Cheol, who is now plying his trade at Mainz. For Ji and Augsburg. It’s the third time calling this winter, and he will be keen to continue where he left off when the season resumes.
One would find it hard to come up with a better Bundesliga player than Tobias Werner to define the term underrated. He is fast with the ball, a good finisher, and, above all, a team player who runs his socks off every other week. And with Halil Altıntop still at his best in orchestrating attacking plays, Augsburg possess one of the most underestimated offensive sides in the league.
The late resurgence in the rather disappointing career of Alexander Esswein will also be vital in the second half of the season. One thing missing from the previous Augsburg Bundesliga seasons, though, is the lack of a distinguished striker upfront. Sascha Mölders was pretty much the face of Augsburg for a couple of years since their maiden season, but with successive injuries and a drop in form played its role, he is no longer making an impacts in the side. New signings Tim Matavž and Nikola Đurđić have had their share at times, but still lacks the sharp edge to be a reliable sources of goals.
On the other side of the pitch, the pairing of Ragnar Klavan and Callsen-Bracker still continues at center-back, and with Paul Verhaegh a regular at the right-back, three of the four defenders have been the mainstay since Weinzierl’s first day at helm. In fact, the only change of personnel at the back - Matthias Ostrzolek by Rahman Baba - is regarded by many as a huge step up.
Of course, there is another familiar figure in the form of Daniel Baier at the middle, as the wizard continues to be the heartbeat of the side.
Of all the nine wins Augsburg registered this season, the one that comes right at the end against ‘Gladbach, not least coming from a goal behind, stands out for the right reasons. After a drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich and another defeat in the bounce at Hannover, it would have been far from ideal to end the year with three defeats in the row, but they stood their own to stun their high flying guests. Eventually, the win also makes sure their draw-less season continues, as they’ve lost the remaining eight league games.
And if there is a lesson to take from the late rough patch, it’s the fact there is little between the sides in the league (Bayern Munich, notwithstanding, obviously), and a run of results would totally change the complexion of the standings. For further evidence, just look back at Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2010-11 season , as the Eagles eventually relegated after finishing the first half of the season in seventh place with 26 points (only one point shy off Augsburg’s tally this season).
But at the same time, the sight of a European place is looming for the low-budget side, and with experience last season coming handy, where they eventually lost out to Mainz for a Europa League berth, Augsburg can dream big for the rest of the season.
Written by Eskender Tamrat
Follow Eskender on Twitter @eskeBMG
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