It must be so satisfying to be an Augsburg fan right now as you turn and stick two fingers up to all the naysayers and doom-mongers who predicted an end to the Fuggerstädter’s seven year stay in the Bundesliga at the start of the season.
Following their matchday 31 win over Mainz (which saw them mathematically safe) the celebration T-shirts were donned-‘obACHT: Auch im nächsten Jahr wieder Abstiegskandidat Nummer 1?’ (Even though 8th, still relegation candidate number 1 next year?). The message? Don’t underestimate FC Augsburg!
With fellow Bavarians Bayern Munich making a habit of securing the Meisterschale, the relative minnows from the WWK Arena have been making a habit of upsetting the established order and cementing themselves as a Bundesliga mainstay.
Manuel Baum’s side quickly went about their business despite suffering an opening day defeat to Hamburg. Three wins and two draws in their next six matches saw them getting points on the board and elevating themselves into the top five temporarily.
They occupied a place in the top ten for the majority of the campaign and never really got themselves involved in the scrap to avoid the dreaded drop. A final position of 12th was more than respectable considering the fact that 12 months earlier they were scrabbling about for points right up to the final matchday to secure safety.
Club captain Daniel Baier summed the season up more perfectly than I could by saying, “Every team deserves to be where they are. So as a result, I’m happy with our season. It doesn’t do any good for anyone to talk about missed opportunities either. We’ve done superbly for the most part.”
The way Augsburg started their campaign wasn’t overly auspicious with a first round exit from the DFB Pokal and an opening day loss to Hamburg, but the way they responded was impressive with a five match unbeaten run, which included three consecutive wins over Köln, Eintracht Frankfurt and more remarkably RB Leipzig.
The positive start provided them with a firm foundation and they never really looked in danger of being sucked into a relegation scrap.
Their best single performance arguably came on matchday 10 when they completely outplayed Werder Bremen at the Weser Stadion in a 3-0 win. Granted, Werder were very poor on the day, but Augsburg played really well and really could have won the game by a greater margin than just 3-0, such was their dominance and the chances they created.
Michael Gregoritsch headed the visitors ahead just before half-time from a Philipp Max (who else?) cross and Alfred Finnbogason added a second from the penalty spot in stoppage time with what was Augsburg’s 250th Bundesliga goal.
Gregoritsch added his second and Augsburg’s third on the hour mark. The chances just kept coming for the visitors, but sadly for them, no further goals were forthcoming. No matter. The nature of their display had the fans, who had made the long journey north purring with delight.
At least Augsburg got their lowlight out of the way early in the season. The first round of the DFB usually throws up a shock or two, but sadly for the Fuggerstädter, it was they who provided the headlines back in August.
Two late goals saw them dumped out of the Cup by third division 1FC Magdeburg at the MDCC Arena. Magdeburg are becoming a bogey team for Augsburg having eliminated them three years previously in the second round.
While not a low-point per se, it must hurt a little to see the way that midfielder Erik Thommy has really blossomed in the Rückrunde following his January switch to VfB Stuttgart. At Augsburg he was limited to just two starts and four brief substitute appearances following his summer move from Jahn Regensburg, but at the Mercedes-Benz Arena under Tayfun Korkut, he has cemented himself as a first-team regular scoring twice and providing seven assists.
Scorer of 43 goals and averaging 1.26 per game (the same as the 2014-15 season when they qualified for Europe) Augsburg always looked like a team with goals in them and they had reliable sources rather than relying just upon one main man.
The focal point up front was Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason, who scored 12 from his 22 appearances. He bagged two hat tricks (vs Köln and Freiburg) with the one against the Breisgauer being completed with two injury time goals to cap a marvellous fightback from FCA. If it wasn’t for a three-month calf injury lay off in the Rückrunde, it’s more than likely that he would have gone on to increase his tally.
With Finnbogason the central striker, the support role played by Michael Gregoritsch was superb. The summer signing had an incredible season scoring 13 goals. The only other scorer of note was Caiuby, who bagged five. 24 of their 43 goals came from open-play with 19 arriving via set-pieces.
The hugely impressive Philipp Max was the main source of assists with 13 (second in the league only to Thomas Müller). Brazilian Caiuby chipped in with 9 assists, while Gregoritsch provided 5.
Augsburg benefited from a very settled first XI and none more so than in defence. Austrian Martin Hinteregger and Dutchman Jeffrey Gouweleeuw formed the central partnership in front of regular keeper Marwin Hitz. The usual 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by Manuel Baum saw Philipp Max on the left and either Daniel Opare or Jonathan Schmid on the right.
The Fuggerstädter conceded 46 goals in their 34 games, but one worrying statistic was the number of goals conceded from set-pieces- 19 in all which was 41% of their total. Of those 19 goals, 11 came from corners. They conceded an average of 13.8 shots per game and averaged 11.8 interceptions per 90 minutes. Centre-back Hinteregger was guilty of 12 individual mistakes which led to goals with partner Gouweleeuw culpable a further 8 times.
The attacking role from left-back given to Philipp Max meant that both Rani Khedira and Daniel Baier had important covering defensive roles in Manuel Baum’s set-up.
The defensive role occupied by captain Daniel Baier cannot be trumpeted too highly. The 33-year-old was the one providing the grit in the centre of the pitch allowing the more attack minded players to do their thing.
He led the team on challenges in defence with 335 across the season with a 52% won. He intercepted opposition attacks 191 times and was also the team’s top tackler overall with 139 (60% success). Baier led Augsburg for ball contacts with an average of 68.76 per game (10 more that Philipp Max).
The Augsburg midfield wasn’t a one-man band though with Rani Khedira operating as the Doppelsechs with Baier allowing Caiuby, Marcel Heller and Gregoritsch more attacking leeway.
Improve for Next Season
With Augsburg surprising many with their survival, it’s hard to pinpoint a lot that needs to be improved upon. Weaknesses such as defending set-pieces and being caught on the counter-attack will be areas to focus on in pre-season, while Manuel Baum would do well to address improving their ability to keep possession of the ball and not concede fouls in dangerous areas as was the cause in part this season.
Transfer Review/ Preview
The loss of Marwin Hitz means Augsburg could be in the market for a new goalkeeper. Both Andreas Luthe and Fabian Giefer will be hoping they will be asked to step into the number 1 slot following Hitz’ departure (to Borussia Dortmund?), but it may well be the case that FCA sign another option.
A striker could be on the cards to act as back-up to Finnbogason with Sergio Cordova doing little to impress this season in that role. There will no doubt be plenty of interest around top performers Max and Gregoritsch and Augsburg will have to fend off all potential suitors if they are to repeat this season’s relative success.
Augsburg’s settled line-up was a key feature this season, but the squad could do with the injection of a little more quality to help it deal with injuries and suspensions. With Köln, Hamburg and potentially Wolfsburg players looking to stay in the Bundesliga, an eye may be cast over those three clubs for additions.
Player of the Season
There was no shortage of candidates from the Augsburg squad to be awarded the Player of the Season award with Philipp Max the team’s assist king putting in such consistent and productive performances that he was being touted as a potential outside bet to make the German World Cup squad (alas!).
Alfred Finnbogason, who is going to the World Cup with Iceland, was a reliable source of goals and midfield lynchpin Daniel Baier’s contribution has already been highlighted.
But, the nod here goes to Michael Gregoritsch, who had a stand-out debut season following his summer move from Hamburg. The €5 million paid to HSV for his services seems an absolute bargain in retrospect. 13 in his 32 appearances was the bottom line, but his impact goes deeper. The 24-year-old was involved in 23 of Augsburg’s 43 goals scored (56%) and was way ahead for total shots on goal with 89- 22 more than Caiuby behind him in second.
At 6ft 4inches, he was Augsburg’s main target from corners and set-pieces. His previous best season was with Bochum in the second tier back in 2013-14 when he scored 7 goals. No wonder the likes of Leicester and Tottenham from the Premier League are reportedly keen on his signature.
Personally, the pick of his 13 goals came on matchday 21 during Augsburg’s 3-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Leading 1-0, Gregoritsch plucked a Caiuby header out of the air with a fantastic piece of control before turning and firing past Lukas Hradecky.
There is very little to reproach FC Augsburg for this season as they once again proved they fully deserve their place in Germany’s top flight. The sceptics were there at the start of the season, but Manuel Baum’s side simply played to their strengths and benefitted from key-players producing the goods on a regular basis. The defensive organisation that came from a stable line-up, the solidity provided by Daniel Baier, the regular supply from Philipp Max, and the goals of Finnbogason and Gregoritsch was the recipe for success for Augsburg.
They will be doubted again next season, but don’t be surprised if the naysayers and forced to eat humble pie once again.
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