Preview: FC Augsburg – FC Bayern
Augsburg ahead, Anfield in mind? With this attitude, the Reds will have a hard time taking anything with them in Augsburg. In the first game, Manuel Baum’s team showed that they are capable of annoying the record champion – if the circumstances are right.
But that’s exactly where the problem lies: the circumstances no longer fit. After a good start to the season, there have been eight defeats, two draws and only one victory in the Bundesliga since mid-November. But because Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Hanover are three teams that are behind FCA after 21 match days, the relegation spot is still three points and many goals away.
In fact, the Augsburg team is the Bundesliga team this season, which at least from a gut feeling stands on a place in the table that does not really do justice to their performances. Especially in the initial phase of the results crisis, there were some games that were unfortunately lost. In the meantime, however, FCA are no longer 100% sure whether that will be enough in the end.
From a tactical perspective, coach Manuel Baum didn’t do so much wrong. The Augsburg team represents a courageous pressing with some man orientations and offensively oriented wing defenders. In midfield, Baum works with aggressive man-to-man coverage, as in the first leg against FC Bayern.
That is to tempt opponents to hit long balls in the build-up play or to use the full-backs, who are subsequently put under pressure. With 37 goals conceded, however, the Augsburg team now have the fifth worst defence of the league together with Freiburg.
In any case, these statistics need to be looked at in more detail. With 32.99 xGA (Expected Goals Against – a metric that gives a value to shots on goal and weighs them), the Augsburg team is at least 8th in the league. Also with the allowed shots on goal (14.6 per game, place 12), the interceptions (14.5 per game, league best value) and the duel quota (70.4% – only RBL and Dortmund have a scarcely better quota) the club stands in regions, which are partly far away from the lower third.
Often the clear weak points can then be proven in the other extreme. If a team stands defensively decent to good, in the Bundesliga this often happens at the expense of the offensive penetration power. But even in the offensive, there seem to be at least statistically no major anomalies.
With 33.71 xG (Expected Goals), the Augsburg team is also in 8th place. 14.4 shots on goal per 90 minutes are also the sixth highest value in the league. 0.9 shots per match in the five-yard area ( 8th place) and 8.1 in the remaining penalty area ( 6th place) also show that the quality of the scoring positions is not noticeably poor.
However, if you look at the club’s internal goal scorer list, you will come closer to the problem of the upcoming Bayern opponent. After Alfred Finnbogason (10 goals, 1 assist), there is hardly a player in the squad who can score goals. Michael Gregoritsch (3 goals), Jonathan Schmid (2 goals, 4 assists), Philipp Max (2 goals, 2 assists) and André Hahn (1 goal, 3 assists) follow the Icelander.
Now it can be argued that FCA has 12 different goal scorers. However, this is not a particularly unusual value for a Bundesliga team and there are often no alternatives if Finnbogason is not available or the opponent can take him out of the game, as Werder Bremen recently did.
The entire offensive concept of Augsburg is cut to the fact that Finnbogason will work. With 0.91 xG and 0.18 xA (Expected Assists) per 90 minutes, the attacker can even show unusually good values that are unparalleled in the Bundesliga. Only Lewandowski (0.98 xG and 0.36 xA) is more remarkable than Finnbogason among players with at least 500 minutes of action.
Therefore it is not only not reprehensible, but also imperative to make the Icelander the center of the attacking game. But in most cases the Bundesliga coaches are attentive and able to focus their defensive concept on this player just as Baum does with his game idea. The Augsburgers then lack alternative solutions to open up spaces for the striker. However, they also lack other players who constantly create scoring chances and thus complicate the focus of the opponent’s defense.
As strange as it may sound, against FC Bayern it will be easier for Manuel Baum to give his offensive players room and space. The reason for this is the way the Reds play, who will increasingly have the ball on Friday. Baum will hope that his team will be able to exploit the weaknesses in the reigning champions’ positional game and thus achieve interceptions and counter situations.
However, the coach’s worries lie in the personnel situation. With Daniel Baier, the heart of the midfield will be missing due some yellow cards. He would not only have been important for the aggressiveness, but also as the brain of the team to steer the pressing against the record champion and distribute the balls after possible interceptions. Even if Baier is not playing his strongest season, he is still important in pressure situations.
Finnbogason is also questionable. Against Bremen he had to be replaced early and sporting director Reuter didn’t show much hope at least after the match. For FCA, these are setbacks that weigh heavily in a game that already requires maximum performance and a bit of luck. Also because of the stories around Hinteregger and Caiuby, Manuel Baum runs out of alternatives for out of form or injured players. And so his own chair starts shaking more and more.
Nevertheless, the Reds should prepare themselves for committed and aggressive Augsburgers. Under Baum the team also pushes higher forward and tries to force the opponent to make mistakes in the build-up game. Niko Kovač comes now finally into a phase, in which he must decide for a midfield staffing for Liverpool. This could be a dilemma for him for the next two games.
If he chooses Martínez for Liverpool, he’d almost have to take him to Augsburg to guarantee him a rhythm. On the other hand, the Spaniard would not necessarily be the type of player who makes sense against man orientation and with a lot of ball possession. If James, Thiago and Goretzka play again, it’ll be interesting to see if Kovač will make another switch on Tuesday to a defensively more stable double six with Thiago and Martínez, or if he’ll trust continuity. The Müller question also remains exciting. Will the recently better attacker sit on the bench again because he is suspended in the Champions League?
Such questions currently determine the actions of the coaching team. It will therefore not be possible to tackle Augsburg without Liverpool in mind. For FCA this is an opportunity. For Bayern, on the other hand, it is their responsibility to balance both and to beat Augsburg confidently. It could only be problematic if Bayern allows it to happen. They have it in their own hands.