It was a very indifferent Hinrunde campaign for last season’s overachievers from southwest Bavaria. Even having been lucky enough to keep the majority of their 2014-15 squad together and avoid the unfortunate tradition of being picked apart by the vultures – as seems routine in modern-day football whenever a smaller club exceeds expectations in any given season – FC Augsburg endured a tough start to the campaign.
Just one win and three draws from the first twelve league matches left the club rock bottom of the table, with only 13 goals scored (five of which were Paul Verhaegh spot-kicks) and extraordinary difficulty trying to balance commitments between league and European football. By this point, doubts had begun to cloud over young, talented manager Markus Weinzierl’s future. It did seem like a very tough position for the 41-year-old (then 40) German tactician to be in and even harder to get out of. There were even rumors of calls for him to get sacked.
Remarkably though, the team went on a run of form at the end of the fall and started to look like the Augsburg of last season at long last, thanks in large part to some key tactical decisions from Weinzierl, involving: a move of Alexander Esswein to the right wing; Raul Bobadilla taking Ji’s place up top; and Koo Ja-Cheol forming a trio with Daniel Baier and Dominik Kohr in the center of midfield, alternating between 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 as the base formations. These changes balanced the side and solidified them defensively as they went on a run of four clean sheets in their five final league games, with improvements from the likes of Ragnar Klavan and Philipp Max proving key.
The main difference, though, was that collectively they stepped up big-time, starting with the stunning 4-0 win at VfB Stuttgart, which undoubtedly gave the squad new-found confidence that was evident in their last few games as they looked a lot more defensively disciplined in comparison to the early parts of the season. Offensively – the Stuttgart game aside – they still look short of the levels they want to be at, but that just leaves something to work on over the pause ahead of the Rückrunde. Most importantly, as far as Weinzierl is concerned, is that the team is playing with confidence again, has gotten their defensive issues sorted out, and are back on track in the league, sitting twelfth, four points clear of danger.
The patience the board had in him in such a tough position seems to be paying dividends, and it’s evident in the clear improvements the performances on the pitch have brought about. As long as they stick together the way they did in the final weeks of the fall, the only way is up, and there’s more to look forward to from the Fuggerstadter in the Rückrunde starting in a couple of weeks’ time.
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