Well that was rather too close for comfort! After spending the majority of the season looking like they were not going to get involved with the relegation fight, Augsburg’s form and results abandoned them and the Fuggerstädter only survived finishing in the bottom three on the final game of the season thanks to Stuttgart’s failure to beat Hoffenheim. Talk about squeaky bum time!
Having finished the previous four seasons in 14th, 13th and 15th twice, the season goal for Enrico Maaßen was to steer Augsburg clear of relegation and that was achieved…just. The new trainer started off with four defeats in the first five games with the only bright spot a win over a struggling Leverkusen side. The 3-5-2 formation the coach brought with him from Dortmund wasn’t working, but a switch to a 4-2-3-1 brought instant results.
An away win over Werder Bremen was followed by a stunning home win over reigning champions Bayern Munich before Schalke were dispatched 3-2 at the Veltins Arena. That upturn however stalled somewhat with no further wins before the Winterpause. Augsburg spent the break in 14th just a point above the drop zone.
They started the New Year with a seven-goal spectacular at the Signal Iduna Park, but were on the wrong end of the 4-3 scoreline. The next seven games saw Augsburg win all four of their homes games (Gladbach, Leverkusen, Hoffenheim, Werder), but lose all three away from the WWK Arena (Freiburg, Mainz and Hertha).
Bayern gained revenge at the Allianz Arena although they did manage to score three goals in the 5-3 loss. With the next six matches bringing just four points they just couldn’t extricate themselves from the wrong end of the table and a slow slide towards the bottom three ensued.
There was only one win (a surprise victory over Union Berlin) and when they lost the last three games of the season, their fate was ultimately decided by the failings of others rather than through their own endeavours. Had VfB Stuttgart managed to get a late winner against Hoffenheim on the final afternoon, Augsburg would have been in the relegation play-off.
So, mission accomplished and another season of Bundesliga football (a 12th) assured, but it was a tight run thing for Augsburg at the end.
The home win over Bayern Munich will go down as their highlight. Mergim Berisha’s goal sealed the 1-0 win, but Rafal Gikiewicz’s point blank save to deny Manuel Neuer in stoppage time was just as valuable. Aside from that the only other real high point was the vital three points they picked up on matchday 31 that in the end might have been the difference between survival and relegation.
The start to the season with four defeats in five wasn’t ideal, while Bayern hit five past them in both the DFB Pokal win and the league win at the Allianz Arena. The Rückrunde as a whole was a bit of a downer as the slide towards relegation gathered momentum with every point dropped.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 9-7-18, 34 points (1.00 per game), 15th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 22 points (6-4-7) Away Record: 12 points (3-3-11)
Goals: 42 (1.24 per game), Goals Against: 63 (1,85 per game), Diff: -21
xG: 34.7, xGA: 58.8, Diff: -24.0
Despite the arrival of Mergim Berisha and Ermedin Demirovic, Augsburg’s tally of 42 goals was the same as bottom side Hertha Berlin and the joint third worst in the league. Berisha was the team’s top scorer with nine although Demirovic was only one behind on eight for the season. Florian Niederlechner scored four before departing for Hertha Berlin in the January transfer window. Winter arrival Dion Beljo scored three in his 18 appearances.
Augsburg actually registered the fewest shots in total across the 18 Bundesliga teams (354) and the fewest on target (101). Their xG of 34.7 was the lowest in the Bundesliga as well, so scoring 42 was actually an achievement, but the effectiveness of the attacking department is something that needs looking at before next season gets underway.
The 63 goals conceded were the fifth most in the league and seven more than the previous season. Rafal Gikiewicz kept the number one jersey but Tomas Koubek deputised admirably on eleven occasions when he was injured. The Polish keepers will however leave the club with his contract not being extended.
The experiment with a back three at the start of the season didn’t work, so the switch was made back to a four. The back four was anchored as usual by Jeffrey Gouweleeuw with a next look constellation around him. Maxi Bauer, Robert Gumny and Mads Pedersen made the back four predominantly, with Felix Uduokhai, Iago and also getting game time.
Augsburg ranked 11th for tackles in the defensive third (251) but second overall for blocks made and fourth overall for clearances made. Their 14 defensive errors put them second highest in the division (surprisingly behind Bayern).
There was a new look to the midfield too Elvis Rexhbecaj became a key member along with Arne Maier, who impressed the previous season to earn a permanent move. Carlos Gruezo was predominantly used in the Hinrunde with Winter signing Arne Engels cementing his place in the Rückrunde.
Augsburg made the second fewest tackles in the midfield third (202), and were ranked bottom for shot creating actions (578). The stats suggest they were more direct with the ball bypassing the midfield- they ranked lowest in the Bundesliga for touches in the midfield third, and had the lowest pass completion rate of any team (66.1%).
Sporting director Stefan Reuter was very busy in the transfer market this season with a large tranche of his business done in the January transfer window with eight players added to the roster. The summer transfer window saw midfielder Arne Maier as the biggest outlay with €5 million being paid to Hertha Berlin to make his previous loan permanent and Elvis Rexhbecaj arrived for €1.7 million from VfL Wolfsburg to add creativity.
Mergim Berisha was signed in an initial loan deal from Turkish side Fenerbahce, while a partner in attack came when Ermedin Demirovic traded places with Michael Gregoritsch at Freiburg. Defender Maxi Bauer came in on a free from Greuther Fürth, while midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger arrived free from Bayer Leverkusen. All the summer signings with the exception of Baumgartlinger established themselves as first-team regulars under Enrico Maaßen.
January’s spending spree saw striker Dion Beljo arrive from NK Osijek for €3 million with fellow Croat David Colina being signed at left back for €650,000. More options in the forward department came via Irvin Cardona signed from Stade Brest, while the scouting department discovered both Renato Veiga and Arne Engels to bring in as midfield enforcements.
Kelvin Yeboah came in on loan from Genoa, while Nathanaël Mbuku signed on free from Reims. All in all, Augsburg’s transfer activity can be seen as a success even if the results on the pitch didn’t quite reflect that.
Player of the Season
A largely unknown quantity in his homeland after spending the majority of his career in Austria, Mergim Berisha settled in instantly at Augsburg and impressed enough to win a call-up to Hansi Flick’s German national team. Having joined on an initial loan, Augsburg are going to take up their purchase option, but it remains to be seen whether they keep him, or cash in by selling him on for a big profit on the back of his impressive first season in the Bundesliga.
Nine goals made him the club’s leading scorer and when he was unavailable through injury, Augsburg did look like they were playing with one hand behind their back.
The scouting department at FC Augsburg certainly came up trumps when spotting Arne Engels, but even more remarkable has been the way he instantly hit the ground running without having even made single appearance in the Belgian top flight. Signed from Club NXT in the Challenger Pro League, he was seen at first as one for the future, but Enrico Maaßen was convinced enough by what he saw to throw him in at the deep and the 19-year-old swam rather than sank.
His mature performances belie his inexperience and form-wise it became impossible to leave him out of the Augsburg starting XI.
The season’s outcome could have been so much worse and the fact that Augsburg’s fate was sealed by results elsewhere will have given them a real scare. There were positive signs in Enrico Maaßen’s first season in charge, but there are so many stats and metrics that will not make happy reading.
There was a large influx of players to the squad and you’d have to say an increase in quality, but the results and form simply didn’t match and the steady slide in the Rückrunde was palpable. They escaped by the skin of their teeth and big improvements are going to be required next season if they are not to suffer a similar jittery end to the season.