While this website has made its name focusing on the lesser known youth of this beautiful sport, and combined it with a tinge of tactical flavour meant for the football enthusiast, we found a large gap to be exploited in terms of combining the two. This mini-series thus focuses on young managers (below the age of 45) and their tactical philosophies, deriving what got them here and where they could go. Andrew Thompson talks about the miracle worker, Markus Weinzierl.
During his playing days as a deeper midfielder and a defender for smaller clubs in Germany, Markus Weinzierl ‘s tactical philosophy would take shape through his playing experiences long before he would take position on the touchline.
While the Straubing native never had an illustrious playing career, the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho are proof positive that you don’t have to star on the pitch to create something special from along side it. What Weinzierl’s Augsburg side achieved in the 2014-2015 Bundesliga campaign was nothing short of magical, finishing 5th in the table ahead of perennial yet struggling giants Schalke and Borussia Dortmund, and sealing their place in the Europa League for the 2015-2016 season.
Hailing from a small Bavarian town with a career that never reached dizzying heights, perhaps it was fate that Weinzierl was destined to achieve something incredible with one of the smallest clubs in the German top flight, despite his first year at the helm at the WWK Arena nearly ending in relegation. His success this past season cannot only be attributed to his tactical philosophy, but also his willingness to rely on players who perhaps others lost faith in.
As the saying goes, “offense gets the glory, but defense wins the game.” Augsburg are certainly not blessed with the gift of goal scoring, finding the back of the net on just 43 occasions in 34 matches last term. But Die Fuggerstädter achieved such success last season on the back of that very same number, only surrendering 43 goals in the same amount of matches.
In a league that is blessed with brilliant attacking players at sides like Bayern Münich, Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach, Augsburg proved that a strong defensive structure containing the right pieces would be more than enough.
Weinzierl’s defensive approach could perhaps best be summed up by a term that I personally dislike intensely, “parking the bus.” While such a simple term for a very effective defensive system often doesn’t do it enough justice, the defensive structure deployed by Weinzierl accentuates the players he has under his command and their attributes.
Anchoring the back four are veterans Ragnar Klavan and Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, with the well established Paul Verhaegh on the right, and gifted youngster Abdul Rahman Baba on the left. Patrolling the passing lanes ahead of the defense is the preferred combination of Daniel Baier and youngster Dominik Kohr.
Not blessed with huge amounts of pace in the center of defense, Weinzierl’s deployment at the back revolves around the intelligence and positioning of Klavan and Callsen-Bracker, while Baier and Kohr sniff out any potential passing lane created either in the final third or just outside of it. The same instructions are tasked to Baba and Verhaegh on either flank, with the wingbacks being aggressive in their attempts to patrol the passing lanes.
Augsburg’s system is a very effective way to sit deeper and bunker in with numbers as to not expose them for pace through central areas, while looking for the opportunity to regain possession and spring on the counter attack via long balls from any area of the defense or deeper areas of the midfield.
Stout in defense they are indeed, but Augsburg have a good bit in their locker when it comes to their ability to attack. Able to adapt and either hit you on the counter or build up play via possession, the lynch pin of their entire system rest on wingbacks Baba and Verhaegh, and their ability to get forward and influence proceedings in the opposition’s final third.
While the pair of wingbacks only registered a combined five assists last domestic campaign, their wide runs into the final third create space for others even if they’ve not gotten a chance to provide service into the box – this is what makes them the tactical lynchpin of Weinzierl’s attack.
When you look at the attacking numbers, Augsburg’s top two goal scorers were “wingers” Raul Bobadilla and Tobias Werner. When taking tactics into account, a great deal of their goal scoring success can be related to the wide runs by the wing backs, overlapping past the wingers who have tucked in centrally to make diagonal runs into the box. Even when the wingbacks are not the target of a pass, the space created for the wingers in central areas allows them to play off the shoulder of striker Sascha Mölders and playmaker Halil Altintop.
Another key attribute that perhaps is not discussed enough is how consistent Weinzierl is in regards to selecting his XI – unless a change is absolutely necessary, his faith remains in his preferred starting players. This ensures that the team is on the same tactical wavelength over the course of the entire campaign. When successful, the team can take the plaudits, but when unsuccessful, they learn their lessons and adapt as a tactical unit and those lessons are then taken into the bloodstream far more easily.
A summary of Augsburg attacking approach can be simply put forth as adaptable and consistent, whose key attribute is the influence of its wide players on both flanks in both making wide overlapping runs, and also creating space for penetrating diagonal runs into the box. It is a Simple, clean cut approach that is effective enough to garner sufficient results for a side that no one expected to perform as well as they did – what more could you ask for.
Three career defining matches
2-1 v Borussia Mönchengladbach: A very credible result against a Gladbach side that would go on to finish third and qualify for this seasons Champions League. The win saw them rebound from back to back losses and finish the first half of the Bundesliga campaign on a strong note, remaining in the top six going into the winter break.
3-1 v Hoffenheim: Augsburg’s strong run of form continued where it left off when they dispatched Roberto Firmino’s Hoffenheim in the first league fixture after the winter break. The result saw the Bavarian minnows register their seventh win out of their last nine league fixtures. Their league results would regress significantly in the weeks ahead, but these three points collected would help Augsburg stave off late season pressure from both Schalke and Dortmund.
1-0 v Wolfsburg: After failing to take the full three points for four matches running after their result against Hoffenhim, Weinzierl’s troops would only need a single goal to secure a vital three points in a match where Wolfsburg’s profilgacy would cost them a result. Should Augsburg have lost on the day, it’s entirely conceivable that they would have missed out on a European appearance all together, as they finished the season in patchy form, winning only three of their remaining ten matches.
Three key players developed
Abdul Rahman Baba: None of this save the best for last nonsense, this is the player that everyone thinks about when they think about Augsburg. The 21-year old Ghanaian international has been sensational for the club since his move from Greuther Fürth in August of 2014, and a key cog in the tactical wheel of Weinzierl. Blessed with a wonderful blend of pace, technical proficiency and a strong physical presence both in the air and on his feet, Baba is undoubtedly one of the best left-backs in Germany along with David Alaba and Ricardo Rodriguez. Recent reports of an £18million bid from Premier League champions Chelsea could very well end his successful spell in Bavaria, but Baba certainly owes a great deal of credit to Weinzierl for developing him into a valuable asset to a club that invested in his development the correct way.
Paul Verhaegh: It comes as no surprise that another key player developed under Weinzierl is the other half of Augsburg’s influential wing back presence. Verhaegh may already be 31-years old, but his rise to becoming one of the most reliable players in his position did not truly transpire until Weinzierl took the reigns at the club. Assured as any one deployed on the defensive right flank, Verhaegh was given more and more freedom to get forward and influence the attack once Weinzierl took over, and his stock continues to remain constant. He will never become a household name in the grand scheme of things, but Verhaegh certainly pushes on into the latter years of his career with plenty of faith from his manager and the supporters alike.
Raul Bobadilla: The Argentinian-born Paraguayan international was not developed at the club, but his career was certainly resurrected and given a new lease on life by Weinzierl. After finding success early in his career at Concordia and Grasshopper, Bobadilla struggled at Gladbach to the tune of only eight goals in fifty-nine appearances in three seasons. A return to Switzerland saw him net twelve times in twenty-four matches for Young Boys, but then fail to cut the mustard at rival club Basel a year later. A move to Augsburg got off to a less than decent start, but ten goals in thirty-two appearances this season and many quality displays sees Bobadilla as the biggest goal threat at a club who struggles to score at a consistent rate. Credit must be given to the player, but also the manager for putting faith in a journeyman who most would not have touched with a fifty-foot pole.
Strong preseason results aside, this coming campaign will certainly go one of two ways for Weinzierl; another credible domestic campaign where they finish unexpectedly in the top-ten, or a less than stellar showing that could potentially see them flirt with relegation.
Having only spent a shade under £1million this summer on transfers, Weinzierl yet again is tasked with keeping his Augsburg first-team competitive on less than a shoe-string budget. The permanent deal for Dominik Kohr (who was on loan last year from Bayer Leverkusen) and the free transfer of veteran German attacking-midfielder Piotr Trochowski signal decent business by the club. The large sum bid for Baba by Chelsea could be too big to reject however, and the loss of such a key player and the potential inability to properly replace him could be a bad omen should any deal move through.
Additionally, the added congestion to the fixture list with the Europa League could be too stern a test for an Augsburg first-team that is not blessed with much quality in depth. Still and yet however, Markus Weinzierl certainly does have his finger on the pulse of his players, and with a lack of big changes to the first-team and motivation to prove that last seasons success was far from a fluke, the little club from Bavaria should be primed for action once the curtain is raised.