Augsburg are very much a club with the reputation of “punching above their weight.” And have been so since their promotion in 2011. During this remarkable run, FCA have somehow managed to avoid being caught in a relegation dogfight, only once finishing in the bottom four, and incredibly achieving fifth place in 2014/15. This is the Bundesliga’s biggest overachieving club.
Last year was another year of overachievement for the Bavarian club, albeit slight overachievement, who ended up 12th after looking likely to finish in the top half for much of the season. Yet very much has changed at the WWK-Arena since the end of last season.
After defeating Hannover 2-1 in the league and knocking Mainz out of the DFB-Pokal in late October, Augsburg did not pick up another victory in the Hinrunde, a winless run which saw them slip from the top half to the 15th spot. Then came a turbulent January which saw defensive lynchpin Martin Hinteregger loaned to Eintracht Frankfurt after publicly criticising coach Manuel Baum and Brazilian winger Caiuby suspended and placed on gardening leave due to disciplinary problems.
With little time to steady the ship, Augsburg brought in Hoffenheim goalkeeper Gregor Kobel and West Ham’s Reece Oxford, both players far from proven at Bundesliga level. They also hired former goalkeeper Jens Lehmann as an assistant coach – a man with great playing experience, but also a very volatile character.
This was why it was surprising and significant that they beat mid-table Mainz 3-0 on Sunday. This first win in 11 league matches came at a time when Augsburg desperately needed it. Also significant was the fact that all three goals were scored by Alfred Finnbogason.
It is impossible to overstate Finnbogason’s importance to Der FCA. He has scored 10 Bundesliga goals this season and has done so in just 13 matches – only Paco Alcácer and Luka Jović have a better record of goals per game. They have only won once all season without him.
Last season, when Finnbogason was injured, Michael Gregoritsch stepped up to the plate, scoring 13 Bundesliga goals. This season, Gregoritsch is Augburg’s second highest scorer again, but has managed just three goals so far, while Sergio Córdova has two. This year Finnbogason is their only major goal threat, scoring a third of all their Bundesliga goals.
In the midweek Pokal fixture against 2. Bundesliga side Holstein Kiel, FCA picked up their second consecutive victory, impressively without the unfit Finnbogason.
However, against both Mainz and Kiel, they also needed a lot of luck. Two of their goals at the weekend came from the penalty spot after two harsh handball decisions went against Mainz. At Kiel, they were decisively second best. Kiel could and should have won comfortably, with Alexander Mühling, Masayo Okugawa and Jae Sung Lee all wasting easy opportunities.
On another day, Augsburg could have lost both of those games. If Finnbogason keeps scoring, they shouldn’t have too many problems, but if they want to finish higher than their current 15th place, they cannot rely on luck to keep favouring them.
Thankfully for FCA, Nürnberg and Hannover have proven even more profligate in front of goal. On paper, Augsburg should be safe from automatic relegation at least whether the ball bounces their way or not.
The idea lingers that Hannover would certainly be in a better position had their talisman Niclas Füllkrug not struggled for form and suffered a long-term injury. Relying on the likes of Hendrik Weydandt, Bobby Wood and Takuma Asano for goals, last-placed Hannover have been toothless all season.
It could just as easily be Augsburg in that position without “Finnbo.”
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