September 23, 2017

2017-18 Season Preview: 1. FC Nürnberg Confident Promotion Is In Sight

Basics

Name: 1. Fussball-Club Nürnberg Verein für Leibesübungen e. V.
NicknamesDer Club (The Club), Der Altmeister (The Old Champions)
Founded: May 4th, 1900
Club Colors: Red and White
Primary Rivals: SpVgg Greuther Fürth, FC Bayern München
Fan Friendship: FC Schalke 04

Max-Morlock-Stadion

Capacity: 50,000
2016-17 Attendance: 490,484 (28,834 per match — 4th in the 2. Bundesliga).

Max Morlock Stadion, Nürnberg, Bavaria, Germany

Trophies

  • German Champions: 1919-20, 1920-21, 1923-24, 1924-25, 1926-27, 1935-36, 1947-48, 1960-61, 1967-68
  • 2. Bundesliga Champions: 1979-80, 1984-85, 2000-01, 2004-05
  • DFB-Pokal Champions: 1935, 1939, 1962, 2007

2016-17 Finishes

2. Bundesliga: 12th Place with 42 points (46 goals scored, 52 allowed, -6 goal differential)

DFB Pokal: 2nd Round (2-3 loss to FC Schalke 04)

Number of matches won by two or more goals: 5
Number of matches won by one goal: 7
Number of matches drawn: 6
Number of matches lost by one goal: 11
Number of matches lost by two or more goals: 5
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in a loss: 3
Number of matches in which a lead was blown, resulting in a draw: 3
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw: 4
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a win: 2

2016-17 Leading Scorers

  • Guido Burgstaller: 14
  • Tim Matavz: 5
  • Abdelhamid Sabiri: 5

Summer Test Results

Record: 7-0-0
Goals Scored: 29
Goals Conceded: 6

 

View From The Experts:

If you are a 1. FC Nürnberg fan and you have not subscribed to the Clubfans-United podcast, then you are missing out. The following questions are answered by two of the three hosts of this fantastic show, Stefan Helmer and Florian Zenger, which talks about everything in and around Der Club. You can follow them on twitter as well @clubfans_united

 

Which player should a new fan pay close attention to?

Not sure that Eduard Löwen can be considered a surprise at this point. He has played every match under Michael Köllner if he was fit. Still, Löwen is likely the player who is not a household name to the casual fan, that will make the biggest jump. He is extremely versatile and can perform in a number of positions, is good in possession as well as passing, and one on one duels. Löwen has everything a player needs to stand out in the 2. Bundesliga.

Which player is the fan-favorite in 2017-18

After his re-signing with the club and after being named captain, likely Hanno Behrens. The man from the north is well accepted in Franconia with his great sense of humor and has shown a positive sign by extending with Nürnberg until 2020. Many fans have enormous value for such an act. 

Which player must Nürnberg sell without a doubt?

The player that had to be sold after his behaviour in the preseason was Adbelhamid Sabiri. He has been sold to Huddersfield where we will now see if this is truly “his chance of a lifetime.”

How would you like to see Nürnberg play? Formation/lineup 

Thanks to Enrico Valentini and Tim Leibold, FCN now has the personnel to move to a three man back line and the use of “wing-backs,” moreover, with Löwen, Margreitter, and Ewerton, they now have three players who understand how to play using three in the back. Take the Sebastian Kerk injury as it is, in addition to the still-injured Patrick Erras, and the lineup would look something like this: Bredlow  –  Löwen, Ewerton, Margreitter  –  Valentini, Kammerbauer, Behrens, Leibold  –  Möhwald  –  Werner, Teuchert.

Opposition player/club that you do not care for?

Due to the local rivalry it would have to be Greuther Fürth.

Who is the MVP of the team who cannot be missed under any circumstances?

With the injury to Sebastian Kerk, FCN is now missing an important building block and outstanding assist-man. Now, it all points towards Kevin Möhwald, who is one-of-a-kind for Nürnberg with his goal-scoring ability and creativity. 

Where will Nürnberg finish in the table this season?

With the injury to Sebastian Kerk, it will be a great challenge to try and stay in the top of the table. Both manager and players still lack the experience at the moment to make this push. Realistically, they will end up in sixth place.

For you personally: The best moment in the history of the club that you yourself experienced (TV, radio, in-person)

As many FCN fans of our generation will say, it has to be winning the DFB-Pokal in 2007. The atmosphere in the stadium, how surreal it was, that we won our first piece of silverware in almost 40 years. It is hard to describe to someone who was not there in person.

 

When Last We Saw Them

The 2016-17 campaign can only be described as “underwhelming” for 1. FC Nürnberg. Der Club was only minutes away from a Bundesliga promotion as they drew with Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their promotion/relegation playoff after the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. Ahead on away goals, Nürnberg lost 0-1 at home to SGE and failed to exit the 2. Bundesliga. What was otherwise a successful season ended in painful defeat, with all momentum lost heading into the summer.

Nürnberg was rather unlucky in both 2016-17 transfer windows as well, losing their two biggest stars — Niclas Füllkrug in the summer, and Guido Burgstaller in the winter — without finding suitable replacements. The team, still reeling from the painful loss to Frankfurt, got off to a disastrous start in the Hinrunde, which did not see them win their first match until match day seven. Nürnberg would recover nicely though, staying undefeated for eight consecutive matches, winning six. This was in large part due to the aforementioned Burgstaller, their outstanding forward who led the club in scoring for the entire 2016-17 season despite being sold to Schalke during the winter break.

Nürnberg floundered in the mid-table in the Rückrunde, never getting higher than seventh place. The club was simply not able to replace the scoring of Burgstaller, making them highly inconsistent in attack. That, in combination with the massive hole they dug themselves to start the campaign (Nürnberg was in last place after match week six), was too much for the squad to overcome. It did not help that two successful clubs who had played a combined six decades-plus of top flight football, VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 respectively, had been relegated into the second tier. For those clubs, anything less than promotion would have been devastating. Once it became clear that Nürnberg would not be able to reach these two juggernauts, they appeared to concede. Nürnberg limped to the finish line, losing their last four matches of the season and finishing a disappointing twelfth.

Aspiration

Nürnberg are referred to as “Der Altmeister.” Long before FC Bayern München ruled German football, it was 1. FC Nürnberg which dominated. They shared the title of Rekordmeister (record champions) with Schalke until 1987. Having grown up 45 kilometers from this magnificent city, I have seen first-hand the suffering of the fans of this club. It has been difficult for an old king to accept his new role as soldier, constantly fighting simply to stay in the Bundesliga, much less win it. Nürnberg’s aspiration when playing top-flight football ranges anywhere from staying in the top-tier, to a European qualifying spot. In recent times, whenever the club has qualified for the Europa League they have always suffered in the Bundesliga during the following campaign.

Currently, Der Club finds themselves in 2. Bundesliga. Their aspiration in this scenario is simple: promotion. This was a simpler goal to achieve 15 to 20 years ago when Nürnberg were one of the few Traditionsvereine to have slipped into the second division. During the past couple of decades however, more of Germany’s “old powers” have fallen on hard times. Today the 2. Bundesliga is filled with clubs that used to battle each other for the German championship. Now, they are clawing just to get back into the fight.

Reality

Nürnberg certainly possesses the talent to seek promotion to the Bundesliga. Their fan base is growing slightly restless as this latest stint in the second division has gone longer than many expected. Quite often, Nürnberg has made the jump straight back up, as many newly-relegated clubs do. As they enter year four in the 2. Bundesliga, the pressure will continue to mount in regards to promotion.

Many of the Nürnberg faithful fall reluctantly into the same category as some Freiburg, Kaiserslautern, Braunschweig, and Karlsruhe fans. There is a mindset that has developed which stands as an unwritten goal for these clubs, that equally as many within the fan base will never accept. The goal is simple: Be a top 25 club in Germany. For the clubs listed above, most of which have been German Champions, it is a rather harsh reality. Doing the math, it becomes simple to see why some fans refuse to accept this notion. If there is acceptance of being a top 25 club in Germany, that means that seven clubs have to be satisfied falling somewhere within the top half of the table in the second tier. These clubs are constantly being relegated, then promoted, and then re-relegated. They buy new players to add quality and depth post-promotion for the next season in the Bundesliga, only to be forced to sell half of the squad nine months later if they are relegated back to the 2. Bundesliga. For some clubs, this has become a frequent occurrence, effectively making them a “yo-yo” club. This is indeed life for many of Germany’s former top clubs, and unless the Bundesliga expands from 18 to 25 teams, it is not going to change. This reality Nürnberg knows all too well, as they hold the record for most promotions to the Bundesliga (7), as well as most relegations to the 2. Bundesliga (8).

Nürnberg falls somewhere between 15 and 25 in terms of rank within German football. There are some years when they have a great season and climb as high as sixth, qualifying for the Europa League. Opposite that, they can play a season similar to 2016-17, one in which they never really gathered any positive momentum and thus, finished twelfth in the second division. Again, a tough pill to swallow for a club that was once counted as one of Germany’s elite. Be that as it may, I believe Nürnberg will again perform well in the 2. Bundesliga, finishing somewhere between first and fifth, making them strong contenders for promotion into the German top flight.

The Boss

The man in charge of Der Club is Michael Köllner. He was named the permanent manager in May after a short stint as interim manager. Before that, he managed the 1. FC Nürnberg reserve team and was also head of the Nürnberg youth department. Köllner is certainly not a flashy manager; rather, he states things simply as they are. There was very little talk about promotion before their win over 1. FC Kaiserslautern on match day one, despite this being Nürnberg’s fourth-consecutive season playing in the second division. Most Nürnberg fans are united in their thinking that four years in the 2. Bundesliga is too long. Köllner has maintained that his side need only worry about one match at a time and keep steady throughout the season. Consistency is the key to promotion.

Köllner is respected by many fans of the club because he is not afraid to make the tough decisions when the time calls for it. He has said of himself: “I try to be a compassionate dictator.” He wants this to be “his” team. Köllner has stated that having his players adopt his philosophy and watching the team grow brings him the utmost joy. In addition, the manager greatly values his independence and making his own decisions. When all is said and done, whether something was right or wrong, Köllner wants to be able to call it his own, without outside influence. I believe this to be a valuable trait for any successful manager.

Der Club boss Michael Köllner, the Bundesliga’s Ira Glass (of This American Like) lookalike.

Additionally, Köllner believes it is highly important to treat his squad like a family. “I try to see things like we are a family. Differences of opinion will happen on occasion. But mutual appreciation and respect are necessary elements for coexistence” says the manager. He also encourages his players to think about life after football, when there is no one telling them when to train, where a match is, or what time to be at the airport. Köllner is building cohesiveness in Nürnberg. Many clubs have great individual talent, but to truly be a winning side, these individuals must play well as a unit. Köllner understands this and has brought this mentality to a team that was floundering in mediocrity, yet should be playing top-flight football.

For Köllner, there are no “Stammplätze” (guaranteed starters) at this moment on the team. He knows the ultimate goal is promotion and he is going to play “his” best XI on any given match day to secure a win. “The squad is in the middle of a transition. Our long-term goal is promotion. We have put together an interesting and exciting team, but a team that needs time to gel and play at a high level together.” Köllner is not going to rush this process. He understands that he alone is ultimately responsible for how his side performs. “I am always only concerned about the cause and the club,” he says. There is no better message a manager can deliver. Every Nürnberg supporter should rest easy with Michael Köllner in charge.

Philosophy

Der Club is most commonly lined up in a 4-1-4-1 under Köllner. Much like the man himself, the team takes a rather conservative, solid, and effective approach when on the pitch. Nürnberg will often resort to playing the ball in their own half until they feel the time is right to make a move toward goal. This results in many short passes within a non-aggressive system. Köllner has instructed his players to wait for the opposition to make a mistake and then react appropriately. He does not want his side to make unforced errors that can lead to their opponents scoring a cheap goal. Instead, Nürnberg will almost “bore” the opposing team to death with their simple passing and lack of moving forward. What this is designed to do is to make the other side vulnerable to a quick attack. The opposing team will essentially “give up” trying to win the ball back, due to Nürnberg’s lack of frontward offensive movement. Köllner has instructed his players to look for moments when it appears that the defenders have seemingly lost interest in winning the ball. Once this occurs, the Nürnberg attack will seize the moment and spring into action, attacking quickly down the wings to create a scoring chance.

This can certainly be considered unattractive football, but understandable considering Nürnberg’s desire to gain promotion back to the Bundesliga. Ugly, yet effective football, such as Darmstadt’s efforts during the 2014-15 season, is sometimes the safest way to finish within the promotion zone. In other words, slow and steady wins the race. Experimenting with a more-aggressive style of play can be attempted once the club has reached the top-flight. Until that goal has been achieved, it is hard to argue against a conservative approach, regardless of how boring it may be to watch.

Notable Transfers

In:

  • Adam Zrelek (FK Jablonek)
  • Ewerton (Sporting CP)
  • Sebastian Kerk (SC Freiburg)
  • Alexander Fuchs (1860 München II)
  • Fabian Bredlow(Hallescher FC)
  • Enrico Valentini (Karlsruher SC)
  • Lukas Jäger (SCR Altach)
  • Tobias Werner (VfB Stuttgart – Loan)

Out:

  • Stefan Kutschke (FC Ingolstadt)
  • Abdelhamid Sabiri (Huddersfield)
  • Tobias Kempe (SV Darmstadt 98)
  • Dave Bulthuis (FK Gabala)
  • Willi Evseev (Hansa Rostock)
  • Philipp Förster (SV Sandhausen)

Strengths

Nürnberg was successful in many areas of the game during the 2016-17 campaign. The team was consistent on the offensive side of the ball having attempted the most shots per game (14.8 spg) as well as the most shots on target per game (4.8 sotpg). These chances were created with quick attacks down the wings and players possessing great individual skill such as forward Guido Burgstaller. With Burgstaller now playing in Gelsenkirchen, it will be up to players such as Mikel Ishak, Hanno Behrens, Sebastian Kerk, and Cedric Teuchert to convert chances into goals for Der Club.

Michael Köllner’s lads were not particularly effective at attacking down the middle. As a result, the team resorted to taking long shots (41% of shots taken were outside of the box. Ranked 8th in the 2.BL) on many occasions, as well as drawing fouls to set up a free kick (14 goals scored from set pieces. Ranked 5th in the 2. BL). Nürnberg was rather good at converting chances from both of these scenarios.

Emerging star Kevin Möhwald.

Where this team truly excelled though, was the counter. Nürnberg led the 2. Bundesliga in goals scored through counterattacks (10) in 2016-17. The team’s ability to transition from defense to offense and form an organized attack after regaining possession was extremely impressive. This is something that will only continue to improve under the leadership of Michael Köllner. His conservative approach will minimize mistakes, which greatly hurt his team last season. If Nürnberg is able to continue their success on the wings and perhaps find a bit more creativity in the middle of the pitch, making them less one-dimensional, it will only bolster the club’s chances at securing a top three finish in the league and a possible climb back into Germany’s top flight.

Weaknesses

Nürnberg’s Achilles’ heel in 2016-17 was their defense, or lack thereof. It killed any chance the club had of reaching promotion. Everything Köllner’s side did correctly in attack, they exhibited almost the opposite while defending. Individual player errors in particular were a major issue for them. As a result, Nürnberg almost never attacked up the middle, instead almost exclusively opting for wing play, making them rather one-dimensional. If the team did attack down the middle they almost certainly would commit an error, which sparked an opposing counterattack and potential scoring opportunity (Nürnberg scored only 18 goals from open play in 2016-17, which ranked in the bottom third of the league). Unfortunately for Der Club, this happened far too often, yet was only one of their many defensive deficiencies.

Defensive positioning was also a glaring hole for Nürnberg. This made them highly susceptible to through balls as well as committing senseless fouls to halt the opposing side’s momentum. In turn, this exposed yet another weakness within the Nürnberg squad: defending set-pieces. Nürnberg defenders gave up the most goals from open play in the 2. Bundesliga in 2016-17 (30) as well as the fifth-most from set pieces (12). If The Clubbers are going to have even the slightest chance at finishing within the top three of the league Köllner must address his squad’s defensive weaknesses first and foremost.

Lastly, Nürnberg must also improve immediately in the closeout phase of the match. The saying goes: “Its not how you start, but how you finish.” Nürnberg was not a team that finished matches well last season. They surrendered the second-most fouls in the league (3.8) in the final fifteen minutes, enabling their opponents to reorganize their attack as well as allowing them additional scoring opportunities through set-pieces. Köllner’s disciplined approach should help the team improve significantly in this area for the upcoming season.

Crucial Stretch In The Schedule

A six-week stretch from September 30 – November 18, could have a major impact on the top of table.

Verdict

2. Bundesliga: 3rd

DFB Pokal: Round of 16

For Nürnberg fans, the past three seasons have been a roller-coaster ride. A mid-table finish the season after they were relegated from the Bundesliga, followed by a third-place finish in 2015-16 which saw the club squander a fantastic chance at promotion, and finally, last season, which was the textbook definition of inconsistency. Nürnberg appears to be in a constant state of flux. Manager Michael Köllner was hired to stabilize the team and through a disciplined approach, collect the points needed to take the club back where many believe they belong: The Bundesliga.

WE ARE “DER CLUB”

Predicting how Der Club will finish a season is often like playing blackjack: sometimes you pull the cards; sometimes you bust. The past three seasons are honestly a microcosm for the past three decades for the club. Nürnberg will finish sixth in the Bundesliga and qualify safely for the Europa League, only to finish 17th the next season, securing a drop into the second division. To say these have been a frustrating 30 years for the passionate fans of this club is an undersatement. How does it change though?

It starts with stability. Nürnberg must eliminate careless errors in their build-up play. Additionally, Köllner needs to identify a player with creative instincts who will enable the ball to flow through the midfield, allowing the team to have a multi-dimensional attack. They must keep their composure in the final minutes of a match and limit fouls in their defensive third of the pitch. Lastly, Köllner must convince the front office to retain his quality players if the side is contending for a top-three spot. Nürnberg can ill-afford to lose another Burgstaller during the winter break if they are in contention for promotion. This appears like a long task list, but with Köllner’s team-building efforts and simplistic, yet effective approach to the game, Nürnberg possesses the quality within the squad to make 2017-18 the year they finally get back to where the belong.

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Christopher Smith

Christopher grew up in Amberg, Germany, but now resides in Charleston, South Carolina in the USA where he follows the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga on a weekly basis. He is an avid Borussia Dortmund fan, but enjoys all German football from top to bottom. His favorite players are "Super" Mario Götze and Christian Pulisic. You can follow him on twitter @crittysmith

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