As the 2. Bundesliga starts back up this weekend, a big question haunts midtable 1.FC Nürnberg: can Der Club survive losing Guido Burgstaller, the league’s leading scorer, to Schalke 04 during the transfer window?
This question is urgent, considering that Nürnberg were a hair away from their record-number promotion back to the Bundesliga last year, only to crack during the 2nd leg of the relegation/promotion playoff to Eintracht Frankfurt at home.
This season was supposed to be Der Club’s chance to regain promotion with both SC Freiburg and RB Leipzig no longer around to clog the table top. In football prediction terms, Der Club was a slight early season favorite to gain promotion. However, Nürnberg’s script has been ruined thus far in 2016-17, as the storied club sits at 9th place as the 2.Bundesliga’s Rückrunde begins this weekend.
What went wrong? Well, Der Club has seemingly struggled to replace summer transfer losses, especially endearingly gap-toothed striker Niclas Füllkrug (14 goals and 4 assists for Nürnberg last season), who left for Hannover 96, and role players old man Jan Polak (defensive midfielder) to Czech club Zbrojovka Brno, and Danny Blum (left winger) to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Additionally, Nürnberg’s incoming transfers have been relatively mediocre: right winger Tobias Kempe (from Darmstadt 98) has been the best, appearing in 13 matches with 3 assists; striker Tim Matavz (from FC Augsburg) has been decent with 5 goals and two assists; right winger Edgar Salli (from Monaco) has shown sparks with 2 goals and 1 assist in 10 match appearances; while central midfielder Enis Alushi (from St. Pauli) has been a bust and is currently loaned out to Maccabi Haifa.
Moreover, Nürnberg started the 2016-17 horribly, not winning a single match until MD 7 and losing 4 of its first 6 matches. If football predictions is your thing, you wouldn’t be faulted for condemning Der Club to relegation at this point. Yet after starting the season in the table cellar, Nürnberg went on to win 4 matches in a row — with Burgstaller scoring 5 goals during this stretch — only to regress back to midtable mediocre during the final 3rd of the Hinrunde.
Finally, Nürnberg’s midtable position also can be partially explained by other clubs being better than expected, such as newly relegated German giants Hannover 96 and VfB Stuttgart, who sit at 2nd and 3rd respectively. Going into the season, we didn’t know what to expect from the two giants, especially H96, who were awful in the Bundesliga last season, and who’s squad was gutted. Additionally, Eintracht Braunschweig has dramatically over-performed, sitting at 1st place with 10 wins, 4 draws, and only 3 losses. And, let’s be honest, who saw 1.FC Heidenheim, 1.FC Union Berlin, and newly promoted Würzburger Kickers occupying 4th – 6th places by die Winterpause? I certainly didn’t. And I bet the football prediction engines didn’t either. Nor did my favorite crew over at Vavel.
All of which provides the context for Burgstaller’s transfer to Schalke 04. As I stated earlier, the Austrian striker was both Nürnberg’s and the 2.Bundesliga’s leading scorer at die Winterpause with 14 goals. For Der Club, Burgstaller was responsible for just under 50% of its 30 goals scored so far, which translates into Burgstaller being worth something like 1.5+ points per match, according to Transfermarkt.
Anyway you cut it, losing Burgstaller is huge for Nürnberg, especially since a single reliable goal scorer is one of the most important components a club needs to survive the 2.Bundesliga hurly-burly and achieve relegation. Given the vicissitudes of traveling to tough environments and relying on underachieving or unproven players in general, a 2.Bundesliga side with a reliable goal scorer can cover up a multitude of footballing sins, and ride their striker to promotion.
At least this was Nürnberg’s plan from how I interpreted their off season transfers and lineups.
The fact that Nürnberg’s Fanfreundschaft club stole Burgstaller must make the striker’s loss sting even worse for Der Club’s supporters. (Of course this same Fanfreundschaft “theft” occurred a couple seasons ago when Schalke 04 “stole” Alexandre Schöpf from Nürnberg.)
So the let’s-ride-Burgstaller’s-boots-to-promotion plan is obviously dead for Der Club. The current rosters inspires little confidence in riding a single goal scorer out of the 2.Bundesliga. After Burgstaller, Nürnberg’s next leading scorer is Matavz with 5 goals, then central midfielder Kevin Möhwald with 3 goals.
In terms of replacing Burgstaller’s goal production, Der Club will have to use a committee approach with Salli, Matavz, Jakub Sylvestr, or youngster Cedric Teuchert at striker, bolstered by the emergent midfielder powers of Möhwald, Patrick Erras Ondrej Petrak, Tobias Kempe, and Hanno Behrens. Which is already one of the 2.Bundesliga’s better midfields.
I’m bullish on Nürnberg’s midfield gelling into a slick unit by season’s end — I think the future is bright for this unit in terms of their ability to control a match’s tempo — but I’m less confident about the linkup play between the strikers and the midfield, and I’m even less confident about the scoring output potential of the Salli, Matavz, Sylvestr, and Teuchert striker committee, no matter who’s feeding them “Key Pass” balls.
Despite Burgstaller’s tactical limitations, aggression, and average athletic skills, he has a helluva scorer — one of those instinctual players who, like iron filings drawn to the magnet, pivoted his feet and the ball for a shot on goal. Burgstaller seemingly thought, moved, and acted like a scorer. Which also meant he was confident, like a scorer.
And I don’t know if Der Club has such a personality on the roster right now. Yet without this personality on your roster, the chances of surviving a promotion battle in the 2.Bundesliga’s turbulent waters is not likely.
If Nürnberg becomes a promotion threat this season, I’ll be (sadly!) utterly shocked. By moving out Burgstaller, whose contract would out at season’s end anyhow, Der Club is seemingly closing the book on this season and digging in for another season of 2.Bundesliga chaos, hoping — wishfully? — in the synergy of a youthful miracle vaulting them out of the second division next season.
Regardless, there’s a Rückrunde still to play.
On Sunday, Nürnberg hosts 7th place Dynamo Dresden to kickoff the Rückrunde. Der Club is slightly favored (29/20 odds), which sounds about right, given Burgstaller’s loss and Dresden’s table position.
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