Barack Obama’s famous 2008 election slogan “Yes We Can” was meant to inspire. Yet did the President realise it would influence one Augsburg fan’s choice of lettering on their replica shirt. The words “Jos We Can” are adorned on the back of one supporter’s top in honour of now former coach Jos Luhukay.
Alas, as this particular fan trudged away into the night after a 3-1 loss to Bayer Leverkusen earlier this season, he might have had his doubts about whether Augsburg could compete in their second year in the Bundesliga without the man who’d made the club’s dreams come true.
Not only did Luhukay take Augsburg into the Bundesliga for the first time; the Dutchman kept the club in the division too, on what was the smallest budget in the Bundesliga. This was all the more remarkable given the fact the club were in the relegation zone at Christmas. An improbable run in the Rückrunde, combined with the downfall of Cologne and Hertha Berlin, saw Augsburg survive. Jos Luhukay was seen as the mastermind of this triumph but at the end of the season, feeling he could take the team no further, he left for relegated Hertha Berlin.
If Augsburg thought it had been difficult surviving with Luhukay, they’d now have to do it without their hero. In stepped Markus Weinzierl, a relatively unknown coach in Germany but nevertheless fresh from getting SSV Jahn Regensburg promoted to the second division.
And for a second season running, the first half of a Bundesliga season proved tricky for Augsburg. Weinzierl’s squad was not too different to Luhukay’s. Still, the newcomer was failing to produce the same results with injuries to key players such as skipper Paul Verhaegh not helping his cause. Just nine points were gained in the Hinrunde including a solitary win against Werder Bremen.
But crucially, things looked to have changed for the better at half way for a second consecutive year. In fact, after Saturday’s victory at Werder Bremen, Augsburg would be fourth, based solely on their performance in the second half of the season. And whilst every win for Augsburg could be described as significant, success at Werder really was a fillip for the Bavarians. Tobias Werner, who scored in the reverse fixture earlier this season, was the hero for Augsburg, heading in the game’s only goal just before the half hour mark.
Even more remarkably, Augsburg played out the remaining hour without conceding thanks to a mixture of astute defending, toothless finishing from Werder and goalkeeping heroics from Mohammed Amsif. This performance though formed just another part of the spring recovery by Augsburg.
And like their win on Saturday, this recovery has come about for a couple of reasons. Since the winter break, Markus Weinzierl has played a 4-1-4-1 formation in all but one game, which interestingly enough brought about their only loss in 2013 so far (against Bayer Leverkusen). By chance, that man Jos Luhukay had some success using the formation in the second half of last season too.
On a technical note though, as Cristian Nyari said in January: “The formation adds greater variety to Augsburg’s attacks and puts them in a better position to play a proactive game as opposed to reacting to opponents” – something that cannot be underestimated, considering only Greuther Fürth had scored less goals than Augsburg at Christmas.
Add to this the appointment of Stefan Reuter as Sporting Director in December; which has been followed by a few shrewd signings in January such as forward Ji Dong-Won on a loan deal from Sunderland and American defender Michael Parkhurst from Danish Champions Nordsjaelland and you have the crux of Augsburg’s ascent in 2013.
The club are still some way from complete safety with the Bavarians currently occupying the relegation/promotion playoff spot. Were Augsburg to survive, it would be arguably be an even bigger achievement for the club than last season and indeed a great endorsement for the coaching ability of Markus Weinzierl.
This weekend’s win over Werder Bremen meant Weinzierl did something Luhukay never did in winning back-to-back Bundesliga games. With Nuremberg visiting the SGL-Arena on Friday night, you wouldn’t bet against Augsburg extending that run either.
But the question is, even without Jos Luhukay as coach, can Augsburg achieve survival?
Well, Jos they can.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga:
Matchday 24 Results
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-1 Gladbach
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Hannover
Hamburg 1-1 Fürth
Nuremberg 1-1 Freiburg
Werder Bremen 0-1 Augsburg
Wolfsburg 1-4 Schalke
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Stuttgart
Hoffenheim 0-1 Bayern Munich
Fortuna Düsseldorf 1-1 Mainz
|1||FC Bayern Munich||24||20||3||1||64:8||+56||63||CL*|
|3||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||24||13||6||5||45:31||+14||45||CL*|
|4||Eintracht Frankfurt||24||11||5||8||38:35||+3||38||CL* Qual.|
|5||SC Freiburg||24||9||9||6||30:23||+7||36||EL* Qual.|
|6||FC Schalke 04||24||10||6||8||41:39||+2||36||EL* Qual.|
|8||1. FSV Mainz 05||24||9||7||8||32:29||+3||34|
|13||1. FC Nuremberg||24||6||10||8||24:31||-7||28|
|14||SV Werder Bremen||24||8||4||12||39:48||-9||28|
Table thanks to official Bundesliga website