Bundesliga season preview II: The surprise teams

Augsburg and Bremen: What's next?

The Bundesliga is back! On the 24th of August FC Bayern München and TSG Hoffenheim open the new season. We will introduce you to all the teams in a three-part introduction and clarify the various expectations with 18 experts. Today we’re talking about six teams that are capable of almost anything. Author: Justin • Translator: Dennis

In the Bundesliga, things sometimes really get going. Two defeats and you’re at the bottom. Two victories and Europe is an option. Teams like Borussia Mönchengladbach can tell a thing or two about this.

The first part dealt with the fight against relegation. In the second part we will deal with Borussia, FC Augsburg, Werder Bremen, Hertha BSC, Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt. Where are all these teams headed? All of them have the potential for sensations, but they can all slip into the relegation battle very quickly.

The Bundesliga is full of surprises. Let’s see which club will be a positive one.

FC Augsburg

Continue climbing the table

In December 2016 FC Augsburg decided to dismiss coach Dirk Schuster. It was a short pleasure that the club and the ex-Darmstadt coach shared. Instead, a name unknown in many places took over. A teacher who himself did not make it to the professional level, but since then has been striving for a coaching career.

Manuel Baum has been a coach in the FCA’s youth team since 2014. Then came the great opportunity to make his dream come true. But the first six months were rather mixed. Augsburg could only just save themselves.

While the public assumed for the 2017/18 season that Baum’s Augsburgers would be among the safe relegation candidates, the coach always enjoyed complete confidence internally. They stayed calm and let the coach work.

It paid off. It became clear early on that Augsburg would have nothing to do with the relegation. There was rather some upside. In the end, the team and coach were not dissatisfied with 12th place.

If one pays attention to the choice of words of those responsible and players in interviews, however, one will quickly notice a balance of slight self-praise and the striving for more.

The past season has aroused self-confidence that can be beneficial. Except for Marwin Hitz, there was no key player who left the club. Baum can therefore fall back on at least the same quality with which he was already successful last season.

Strategically, a high degree of flexibility is to be expected again. Whether three, four or five at the back – Baum always made his decision at short notice. He changed the basic formations, but also the amount of pressing and the way of starting. The 38-year-old attaches great importance to organised work against the ball, paying meticulous attention to the details.

He also spends a lot of time studying his opponents. Where could there be gaps? How can the strengths of your own players be used to play on your opponent’s weaknesses? Manuel Baum has many thoughts.

In just one year, the public’s opinion has therefore changed dramatically. Augsburg is no longer one of the relegation candidates. But that is also where the danger lies. After a successful year, there is always the threat of stagnation. Even if the players have shown their awareness in the interviews, they still have to bring it to the pitch.

FC Augsburg are striving for more, but must not forget the basics: Staying in the league.

Our prediction: Augsburg will play as solid a season as last year, even improve a little: 11th place.

Manuel Baum is already working on the recipe for a successful season.
(Image: Sebastian Widmann / Getty Images)

Expert Interview

To get an even better assessment, we invited Felix.

Last year FCA was considered the relegation candidate par excellence. An outstanding first half of the season and a less good second half followed. What does that do with your expectations for the new season?

Absolutely. The season’s target in Augsburg is always staying in the league. Should it become apparent that this will be achieved at a time when the goals are being revised upwards, then the sporting management is certainly self-confident enough to articulate this, e.g. single-digit ranking. The outstanding first round of last season had much to do with consistency, which in turn went hand in hand with an almost injury-free squad. If Alfred Finnbogason is missing over a longer period of time, as in the second half of the season, the offensive statics and efficiency will change considerably. But that’s why Julian Schieber was hired. One can only hope that both injury-prone centre forwarders will not be absent at the same time.

How satisfied are you with the transfer phase of your club and who could present himself in the preparation so far particularly positively?

The new arrivals are a good mix of experience and potential. Julian Schieber and André Hahn were hired for experience, both players who would not be available to FC Augsburg if their careers had been optimal, but who represent a low risk. The young midfielder Frederik Jensen, a Finnish international after all, and double derby winner Felix Götze from the Bayern amateurs got the potential. Felix Götze is probably directly in an open fight with Raphael Framberger for the regular position as a right-back. So far, FC Augsburg have not had to give up any top players except Marwin Hitz, despite all the rumours Philipp Max, Michael Gregoritsch and Alfred Finnbogason seem to continue to play in Augsburg. Nevertheless, the squad is still a bit bloated, as many loan players have returned and have not yet been loaned or transferred again despite a lack of perspective. After all, we were able to sell Moritz Leitner. Compared to the Augsburg possibilities I am satisfied with the summer transfers.

It’s hard to tell if there is a clear winner in the preparation, but one loser is Caiuby, who was an important performer last year. But if you extend your holiday unauthorized by one week and miss the first training camp, it’s your own fault. At least he appears with a clean head after his return and works hard to find the connection again.

What will the playing system look like and where must the team improve compared to last season?

FC Augsburg will continue to operate from a compact defensive and want to attack their opponents with a quick and rehearsed transition game. Improvements are needed above all in consistency and in games, in which the opponent leaves the initiative to the FCA, which happens more and more often, especially at home games. However, I regard this as a compliment and an indication that FCA has established itself in the Bundesliga. Moreover, a higher efficiency in front of the opponent’s goal could not hurt.

Where does FCA finish in the standings at the end of the season and will FC Bayern be champions again?

FC Augsburg will again find at least three other teams behind them. I think a position in the table in the 10 to 14 range is realistic. Let’s say it’s back to 12th place like last season. That is also the keyword, the FC Bayern will – yawn – become champion again, like in the last years.

Werder Bremen

Back to the old days

All hell is breaking loose at the airport in Bremen. Hundreds of Werder fans are frantic about a man who just came out of the gate in a purple suit. This man is called Claudio Pizarro – triple winner with Bayern, multiple German champion, currently still the most successful Bundesliga goal scorer from abroad.

Only a few players who have played for two such different clubs as Werder Bremen and Bayern München several times enjoy such a status in both fan camps.

These scenarios took place in 2015. Three years later – this summer – Pizarro comes to the Weser for the fifth time. This time there are rather divided opinions about the transfer. After all, the striker turns 40 in October.

But it will remain the only transfer that is controversially discussed by the fans in the summer. Pizarro will use his experience to help a young team that has developed considerably in recent months. Nobody in the club expects miracles from him.

Last season, coach Kohfeldt managed to form a unit from a headless team that often had to brace itself against relegation. Heart, passion, but also tactical-strategic ideas were behind the sudden success.

Werder has made great strides in the structure of the game and in the many phases of possession of the ball. This was also due to Delaney, who now moved to Borussia Dortmund. Max Kruse was and is without question the key player in the offensive. The striker is usually somewhat under the radar in such questions, but is one of the best offensive players in the league.

Thanks to his intelligent space usage, he offers his team more variability and safety in the final third. His runs are almost always accompanied by great added value.

Klaassen, who came from FC Everton for 13.5 million euros, is to fill the gap left by Delaney. Looking at his potential, this addition makes an incredible amount of sense. In general, it seems as if Werder finally has an idea of what the future should look like.

Kohfeldt got players who fit his game plan. Additons such as Harnik or Pizarro support him not only from a football perspective, but above all with their experience. This will make it easier for the coach to introduce young players to the first team.

But Werder is more than good players. Kohfeldt gave the Bremen team a unity that made them an unpleasant opponent.

The balance fits at the Weser. If the club continues this development continuously and with much patience, then one perhaps comes a few steps closer to the old, successful days again. But this path is still long and so Kohfeldt will first have to make sure to confirm last year’s performance and then possibly step up a gear. In any case, Bremen can be expected to do a lot.

Our prediction: Werder will play a sovereign season, hope for Europe for a long time, but will be satisfied with rank 8 in the end.

Almost surreal: Claudio Pizarro moved to Werder Bremen for the first time 19 years ago. It’s his fifth time there now.
(Image: Christof Koepsel / Getty Images)

Expert Interview

We can almost call him our Miasanrot expert for Werder Bremen: Joey gives us insights into his thoughts.

Werder Bremen has performed well in recent months. Would you agree with this thesis?

Definitively. Although I’m a little ambivalent: The progress under Kohfeldt was clearly visible, that is out of the question for me. The set-up was more structured, we were more flexible tactically and overall the focus was much more on ball possession phases and their design. At the same time, we remained heavily dependent on individual players in many of these areas. The build-up without Moisander, for example, was still only average and without Kruse there was a lack of verticality in the final third.

Where else is there a need for optimization and what has to happen so that the next steps can be taken?

The goal must be to continue the positive playful and tactical development and to become more independent of individual actors. In the final third Kohfeldt was also clearly lacking in penetrating power and, especially when Kruse was covered, also in constructiveness in passing. In terms of development, we were and are heavily dependent on Moisander, while there is a lack of strategic class in midfield. However, thanks to intensive preparation and personnel improvements, we should be able to make progress there.

How satisfied are you with these personnel improvements and what are your expectations for the season?

I am satisfied overall and this is an absolute rarity. For a long time, the club’s transfer activities were not as well thought-out, clearly structured and geared towards a game philosophy as they were this summer. On the offensive, many of the half-space players desired by Kohfeldt were able to commit themselves to a broader and more suitable playing style, while at the same time ensuring flexibility to make adjustments. Klaassen has also been a very promising replacement for Delaney, which will certainly help us offensively. His timing for offensive advances is, like his finish, even better than Delaney’s and he’s more creative when playing with the ball. This should help us to continue our positive playful development. I am dissatisfied with the fact that we, as things stand now, have neither signed a competitor for Bargfrede (preferably with strengths in the build-up), nor a central defender with strengths in the build-up game. So I see the danger that we will continue to be heavily dependent on Moisander.

Where will Werder finish at the end of the season and who will become champion?

I expect Werder to be placed in the upper half of the table. The precise position will be decided very narrowly in the end. But I will just lean out of the window and say: We will be in 6th place, the championship question could be just as exciting this season. The BVB has sensibly strengthened themselves, were able to hire an excellent coach in Favre and the mood seems to be better again. However, the lack of quality in the central attack could be their downfall. In view of the squad, Bayern should actually become champion, but I’m going to lean out of the window again and say: Dortmund does it.

The next page will be about Hertha and Gladbach.

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