On Friday eveniug last-place FC Augsburg hosted Werder Bremen, eighth in the Bundesliga table, and earned their first win of the season, pinning a thorough 3-1 loss on their north German visitors. Augsburg had gained only two positive results coming into MatchDay 7, and had never beaten their Werder Bremen opponents in a competitive match. The win at least temporarily lifted the Bavarian side from the Bundesliga cellar and gave Coach Markus Weinzierl his first victory in the Bundesliga, while Thomas Schaaf’s club saw its record fall to 2-1-4 with a -3 goal differential.
Formations and Tactics
Augsburg’s young coach, Markus Weinzierl, made two changes to his starting lineup for Friday’s SGL Arena fixture arranged in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Torsten Oehrl and Milan Petrzela, starters in last week’s scoreless draw with Hoffenheim, were replaced by Knowledge Musona and Stephan Hain. Aristide Bance, who was scoring for fun in the preseason, was again not in the starting XI as he has yet to produce a goal during the regular season. Moroccan goalkeeper Mohamed Amsif again deputized for the injured Simon Jentzach.
Schaaf, who has coached Werder Bremen since May, 1999, only made one change to the lineup that held then-unbeaten Bayern München scoreless for eighty minutes before surrendering two late goals to drop all three points. Czech Republic back Theodor Gebre Selassie was replaced by former Schalke man Lukaz Schmitz, with Schmitz lining up at left back and Clemens Fritz at right back. Werder’s leading scorers, Aaron Hunt and loanee Kevin De Bruyne, played in front of defensive midfielder Zlatko Junuzović while Nigerian Joseph Akpala led the line. Akpala signed with Werder in August from Club Brugge.
First Half: Augsburg Joy
A feeling of unease circulated among Augsburg fans prior to the game, although the official word from club President Walther Seinsch was “not worried”about the club’s poor start and failure to score goals with any consistency. Weinzierl, 37, replaced familiar Augsburg Coach Jos Luhukay following the end of last season, and had only coached SSV Jahn Regensburg at the 3. Liga level, although he did lead them to promotion last season. Despite the fact that Augsburg’s 2011/2012 Hinrunde was also poor, Luhukay had his Bundesliga-inexperienced club at least getting results in more than half of their first 17 games before winter break, keeping morale and confidence at an acceptable level before the team improved in the second half of the season to finish 14th in the table.
Despite their winless situation, FC Augsburg came out of the tunnel with the spirit of the Oktoberfest in nearby Munich, and quickly made their intentions apparent as Tobias Werner thrilled fans at the SGL Arena barely a minute after kickoff. The 27 year-old former Carl Zeiss Jena midfielder headed well to give Weinzierl’s club a 1-0 lead from a Paul Verhaegh cross. The early goal instilled confidence in the home side before its supporters that lasted the entire match.
De Bruyne found Werder an equalizer on a well-placed free kick that skipped through the box and into the net (a bit reminiscent of the Giorgios Tzavelas goal against Schalke that set the distance record for a Bundesliga goal two seasons ago) in the 19th minute after Arnautovic and Akpala had looked dangerous earlier. But FCA did not collapse, and retained their sense of organization and attack. The reward came in the 32nd minute when Hain was freed by a fine ball from Musona and fired accurately to beat Sebastian Mielitz and restore the FCA lead. Despite Werder Bremen’s dominance in possession punctuated by more than 150 touches and 150 passes made more than their hosts in the first 45 minutes, few could doubt that the 2-1 lead carried by FCA into the locker room at intermission was in any way undeserved.
Second Half: Schaaf’s Woes Continue
Werder Bremen came out for the second half need a goal(s). Eljer Elia made his presence known in the 49th minute, when he was open deep in FCA territory on the left of goal, but his anonymous day continued as his centering pass was totally ineffective. Moments later, De Bruyne displayed his spirit and quality by hustling deep to break up a FCA counterattack that looked like danger. Musona missed on a volleyed shot for the home side while the Arnautovic blast from distance in the 68th minute had pace and accuracy but didn’t bother Amsif. Daniel Bair ended the day’s scoring in the 72nd minute. His free kick attempt caught Mielitz making an initial reaction in the wrong direction and the ball went into the Werder net to give FCA a 3-1 lead.
Weinzierl made a questionable substitution just prior to the hour mark, bringing in Bance for Jan Moravek, who had performed well, but later brought in veteran Andreas Ottl for Hain to protect the lead and gave Petrzela a nod late, replacing Musona, who also had a strong match. Schaaf’s attempts to pull level saw him bring in attackers Füllkrug and Petersen after subbing off Schmitz at halftime for Selassie. Unfortunately for Werder fans, his changes made little difference as Werder fell to a bright Augsburg side.
For the neutral fan, Friday evening’s match was a delight and was yet another in a long line of reasons that we love the Bundesliga — the league’s last place team soundly defeating a club that had held powerful Bayern for most of their fixture last weekend. FC Augsburg are a low-budget team with little pretension of becoming a Bundesliga power at any time soon, yet they prevailed stylishly over a Werder Bremen side overhauled in the offseason by Schaaf and Klaus Allofs.
The heroes for FCA were many. The backline of Verhaegh, Langkamp, Klavan and Canadian De Jong combined to win 41 tackles, while the fullbacks sent a combined six crosses into the box. More telling than statistics, though, was the discipline of the four, in combination with holding mids Vogt and Bair, that was constantly breaking up Bremen build-ups while the Vogt/Bair duo led their team in ground covered. Amsif again showed well, and would have had a clean sheet if not for De Bruyne’s fluky goal. Werner supplied the adrenaline and confidence for his club with his early goal, and may have had another if he had a step or two more pace, while Hoffenheim-loanee Musona showed some true passing knowledge when he unleashed Hain for the second FCA goal. And of course, kudos go to young Weinzierl, who got FCA its first win earlier than Luhukay did last year, as that initial three points didn’t come until MatchDay 9 last year.
It is cold comfort for Schaaf and his squad that they were so dominant in statistics with nothing to show for it. Werder held 62% of possession, completing passes at a rate 12% better than their hosts, and had more shots and won 53% of tackles made. That said, FCA covered more ground at a faster rate and proved that Schaaf’s ‘squad in transition’ is far from reaching its potential. Werder’s defending continues to be problematic. One would think that a foursome from Schmitz, Prödl, Selassie, Fritz and Sokratis would be adequate at worst, as Prödl has certainly improved from the jittery young defender he was two years ago, Selassie starred in the 2012 Euros and the others are solid players. But Sokratis’ play Friday was perhaps emblametic of Werder’s defensive problems, as some very good tackles were nullified by some absentee defending. The right side of Werder’s defense was certainly skinned often enough by Musona and Hain while little useful was supplied in attack. Mielitz, too, had a rather indifferent performance after doing reasonably well in his first season as the number one.
Probably more disappointing for fans of the orange/green clad team today was the lack of cohesion in attack. Loanee De Bruyne seems by far to be the most useful Werder player going forward, while Elia’s game seems as unproductive as it was at Juventus and at the end of his days with Hamburg.. Arnautovic seems plagued by inconsistency as no one, including Petersen, has stepped forward to provide the goal-scoring and leadership provided by the departed Claudio Pizarro, admittedly a daunting task considering the Peruvian’s dedication and talent. Schaaf will have two weeks to figure it all out, though, with the international break next week before his club hosts struggling Borussia Mönchengladbach on October 20. Weinzierl, meanwhile will try to build on his club’s performance as they prepare for a Sunday road fixture at Nürnberg.
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