It was a case of déjà vu for Augsburg this season as their campaign mirrored that of 2018-19 in many ways. They finished the Hinrunde with 23 points and sat in 10th (18-19 it was 24 points and 9th). A poor run of results after Christmas saw the club panic and sack their coach Martin Schmidt at the start of March (last year Manuel Baum went at the beginning of April). In the end they finished one place above the relegation place (just as the year before).
The season start was far from ideal. Regionalliga side SC Verl dumped them out of the DFB Pokal in the first round and they were soundly thrashed 5-1 at the Signal Iduna Park by Dortmund on the opening weekend of the season despite opening the scoring themselves after just 43 seconds. The opening ten matches brought just the single win against Eintracht Frankfurt, five defeats and not a single clean sheet.
There was a change in fortune leading up to the Winterpause with five games won out of seven with only the single loss at RB Leipzig. However, a poor start to the Rückrunde saw them lose six out of their eight matches, only picking up one win (v Werder) and one draw (v Freiburg). The club’s bosses deemed a change of coach was needed to stop the Fuggerstädter’s freefall and Martin Schmidt was let go.
“It wasn’t an easy decision but based on a record of only four points from nine matches we have decided to make a change in the coaching position,” Augsburg’s sporting director Stefan Reuter told the club’s official website after their 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich.
The club turned to former Bayer Leverkusen trainer Heiko Herrlich, but then the season went pear-shaped. 48 hours before the new coach was to take control of his first game against Freiburg, the season was interrupted by the corona virus lockdown. When it finally did return in May, Herrlich was absent from the bench having broken the strict curfew to go out and but hand cream and toothpaste from a supermarket!
A 3-0 win over a poor Schalke side and a 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Mainz (Florian Niederlechner once more opening the scoring after 43 seconds) on matchday 31 saw them take a huge step towards survival. In the end finishing 15th was enough and for the tenth year in succession, Augsburg had survived the drop.
If Groundhog Day is to keep repeating itself, then expect Augsburg to finish next season’s Hinrunde in 10th, sack Heiko Herrlich in April 2021 and finish one place above safety by matchday 34. And repeat.
Taking a point off eventual champions Bayern must go down as a highlight. In their matchday 8 clash they took a blitz lead through Marco Richter in the opening minute of the game only for Robert Lewandowski to equalise and Serge Gnabry to put Bayern in front four minutes into the second period. Augsburg were not going to be denied though with Alfred Finnbogason scoring a 91st minute equaliser.
The period between match 11 and matchday 16 saw them go on a really good run with five wins and a draw which took them to tenth (one point behind Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg).
The final run-in saw vital wins secured against Schalke (3-0) and more importantly away at Mainz.
Losing to a Regionalliga side in the Pokal was not the ideal start to the season and an obvious low point before the Bundesliga had even started.
Augsburg didn’t get any joy out of any of their games with Dortmund this season, losing 5-1 on the opening day and then suffering a 5-3 loss at the WWK Arena with Erling Haaland bagging a second half hat trick as a substitute.
Their performance against Borussia Mönchengladbach on matchday 7 saw them 4-0 down by halftime after an abject first half display. Keeper Tomas Koubek suffered his own personal low point with his comical blunder for Alassane Plea’s goal for 4-0. The eventually lost 5-1.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 9-9-16, 36 points (1.06 per game), 15th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 20 points (5-5-7) Away Record: 16 points (4-4-9)
Goals: 45 (1.32 per game), Goals Against: 63 (1.85 per game), Diff: -18
xG: 43.6, xGA: 55.1, Diff: -11.5
45 goals were scored in the league this season giving the side an average of 1.32 per game. Florian Niederlechner, their summer signing from Freiburg, finished as top scorer with 13. Alfred Finnbogason was limited to just 10 starts this season after struggling at the start to get over his tendon injury before suffering a shoulder injury in November. He scored just three having reached double figures in both the previous seasons.
The 4-2-3-1 was the favoured formation of both Martin Schmidt and Heiko Herrlich so the lone striker was supported by advanced attacking midfielders like Ruben Vargas (six goals), Marco Richter (four goals) and Andre Hahn (one goal). Full back Philipp Max once again contributed heavily to the attack with eight goals and six assists.
Augsburg however had the fewest amount of shots in the entire league with 358, although they ranked 6th for percentage of shots on target (35.8%).
Tomas Koubek made a very jittery start to life in the Bundesliga but was Augsburg’s first-choice keeper throughout the season. As a team they conceded 63 giving them an average of 1.85 per game. Koubek’s goals against average per 90mins was 2.12 whereas Andreas Luthe, who played yen matches had only a 1.20 average.
Kevin Danso’s departure to Southampton was a blow last summer and the club brought in the likes of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Tin Jedvaj, Marek Suchy and Felix Uduokhai to bolster their back line along with Jeffrey Gouweleeuw.
Philipp Max took his usual place on the left with Lichtsteiner or Raphael Framberger on the right.
Jedvaj ranked 3rd in the Bundesliga for clearances (181), 11th overall for blocks (67), and 10th for interceptions (58) and he formed a new central partnership with Uduokhai.
Rani Khedira and Daniel Baier formed the double anchor in midfield with the former missing just two games. Baier at times was covered by Jan Moravek (four starts) or Carlos Gruezo (ten starts).
Of the midfielders, Ecuadorian Gruezo had the best passing accuracy with 82.5%. Khedira led the way on tackles in the midfield third by a long way with 33, and also on pressures in the midfield third with 329.
There were fourteen arrivals in the summer as Augsburg looked to set themselves up for an improvement on the previous season’s 15th place finish. The biggest fee (€7.5 million) paid was to Stade Rennes in France for their Czech goalkeeper Tomas Koubek- a hero of their French Cup win. He established himself as the number one at the WWK Arena, but not without some dodgy moments.
22-year-old Iago came in from Brazilian side Internacional for €6.5 million, but the left back/ midfielder made just ten appearances (seven starts). Carlos Gruezo’s arrival from FC Dallas was slightly more impactful, with Ruben Vargas also proving a wise purchase from Luzern in Switzerland.
The €2.5 million spent on Florian Niederlechner was a snip when you consider his goal return. Having impressed on loan and before that at Mönchengladbach Augsburg snapped up English youngster Reece Oxford on a permanent deal for €2 million.
Noah Sarenren Bazee was another positive signing with a bright future. The right-sided attacker made ten appearances (four starts) and scored in the 3-0 win over Schalke. The free signing of Lichtsteiner proved a no-brainer with the new centre back pairing of Jedvaj and Uduokhai also working out well. Czech Marek Suchy was limited to four starts at the back, while 22-year-old Danish left back Mads Pedersen made just one start. Eduard Löwen made 16 appearances in total (7 as a starter) and scored twice including a highly memorable free kick against Schalke.
Player of the Season
There was a lot of chat last summer about Philipp Max being lured away from the club, but in the end, he stayed loyal to the club and they must be absolutely delighted he did. It was another very impressive season from the 26-year-old with eight goals and six assists. He developed a great understanding with striker Florian Niederlechner, who fed off Max’s crosses from the left.
The only downside for Augsburg is that once again this summer a host of clubs from Italy and England will be linked with the left back, but unlike last summer, the result might not be in their favour.
Augsburg, like Mainz, are one of those teams many people forecast for the drop each year, but who annually succeed in avoiding relegation to the 2. Bundesliga. They did toy with the bottom three, but in the end had the quality to avoid it. They had the players to finish higher up as realistically their squad was no worse than the likes of Mainz, Köln, Union.
Martin Schmidt was fired with the club in 14th and they ended up finishing 15th with Heiko Herrlich taking charge of the final nine matches, so who knows if the story would have ended differently under the original coach. It’s another season in the Bundesliga for Augsburg though so overall it’s satisfaction with a tinge of ‘what if?’ added.