Bayerna s domination,Dortmunda s shocking collapse,Wolfsburg chances of closing down the gap between them and Bayern, these news have long been dominating the season headlines in Bundesliga. But right down the neck of the table there is an interesting battle brewing, where six teams are battling neck to neck for the European qualification. Among them, there is a club that has been just like water under the bridge, going on with their business silently.
FC Augsburg have been one of the most entertaining teams in the league this season. Even though the Swabians sit sixth in the table right now, just a point adrift of 3rd placed Leverkusen(28) there is only goal difference separating them from big guns like Schalke and Monchengladbach. With the resilience and hunger only few teams possess in Europe, Markus Weinzierla s men look to secure atleast a Europa League spot at the end of the season. Where newly promoted sides play to save themselves from getting relegated, for a club playing their 4th season in the top flight, Augsburg journey has been nothing short of incredible.
To Win or Go Down Fighting
The above phrase simply describes Augsburga s story this season. They are the only team that has not yet drawn a single match out of 17 games. 27 points from 9 wins and 8 defeats out of which 6 were lost by a single goal difference shows that die fuggerstadter are not looking for a middle ground. Only the superior goal difference of +9 stands between them and a Champions League spot which is currently occupied by Borussia Monchengladbach. Should any of them slip, Augsburg are ready to capitalize on it. This clearly indicates the danger the little known Bavarian club pose to the top clubs of Bundesliga.
Space and Resilience
Even though the campaign started with defeats against fellow competitors TSG Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund, Markus Weinzierla s charges bounced back with wins against Frankfurt and Werder Bremen. This same steely determination saw them survive relegation back in 2013 and finish 8th last season. After losing 3 out of 4 matches against the likes of Wolfsburg, Mainz and Schalke in October, Augsburg proved to be no pushovers by winning four matches against SC Paderborn, Vfb Stuttgart, Hamburger SV and FC Koln on the trot. Though they were defeated 4-0 by a far superior Bayern Munich, they were the club who ended the famous 53-game unbeaten run of the champions last season. They looked like losing foothold in the rankings after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Hannover 96, then came out winners against Gladbach three days later. Every time they lost games, they kept coming back stronger.
This mentality has to be credited for the coacha s tactics who primarily made use of width down the flanks. The full backs bombed forward whenever they were offered space from the opposition. Paul Verhaegh and new signing Abdul Rahman Baba were the chief creators for the club sharing 5 assists between them which depicts their playing style. The usage of spaces formed a perfect alloy with brilliant tackling making them the best tacklers of the league with 55% success rate which is greater than that of Bayerna s 54%. Their aerial play have also been one of the stronger points with 62% success in winning defensive headers so far.
Leaders and Realists
After head coach Jos Luhukay resigned following a 14th place finish in 2012,the management brought in Markus Weinzierl from SSV Jahn Regensburg a third division outfit. Being a young coach doubts arose and still lingered over the 39-year old when the club survived relegation for the second time with a lesser placed finish. The club seemed to go down in a downward spiral with that narrow escape. But the confidence of the management in their coach was paid off in style as he worked wonders the next season. Smart transfer policy laid down by sporting director Stefan Reuter within the limited resources helped in building a decent team. At this same stage last season, they were in the 8th position which they held on to until end of the campaign. They might have missed out on the 7th position just by a hairline to Mainz a 05 but it was made clear that they dona t wanted to be relegation surviving minnows. Defeating record breaking Bayern and win against Monchengladbach were the highlights of the season.
Captain Paul Verhaegh is another influential figure in the side who brings calm and composure to the unit. The Dutchman never missed a penalty this season scoring five out of five. The captain is no doubt a vital cog in this side. Any team has a tendency to get carried away once things workout better than expected. But both the captain and the boss play down the talk of European qualification. a Things can take a turn in the wrong direction very quickly. We have given ourselves a nice cushion, but that doesna t mean we can relax on it in 2015,a says the 31-year old skipper reflecting the realistic approach of his coach and team.
Improvements to be made for the Bright future ahead
Even though the team has been exceeding expectations with their unique way of competing, there are areas they need to improve. Scoring goals from open play has been a bit of setback for Augsburg. 5 penalties from captain Verhaegh account for 22% of the total goals scored this season. To win more number of games they need forwards Tobias Werner,Raul Bobadilla, Tim Matavz and Nikola Djurdjic to score more often. The crossing from the full backs lacked the end product which makes them the 6th highest team in creating clear cut chances. If they are to challenge the big teams in the closing stages of the season where the contest for the top spots becomes tougher than it already is, they have to be at their best in the final third.
With the kind of form they are in coupled with the great virtues of being down-to-earth about their chances, the Swabians are a club on the rise. Their coacha s vision and fearless gameplay employed to win every match only indicates that better things are yet to come. And it might start with qualifying for Europe at the end of this season.