Our next opponents: A new identity under Maaßen

The Werkself secured two clear victories over FC Augsburg last season (4-1 and 5-1). And the Bavarian team are still waiting for their first win against Bayer 04 in the Bundesliga. FCA visit the BayArena to make the next attempt under new coach Enrico Maaßen on Saturday 13 August (kick-off 15.30 CEST). Find out their prospects in the lowdown on our next opponents.


The analysis after the unsuccessful start to the Bundesliga campaign against SC Freiburg is almost unanimous from an Augsburg perspective. "We started the game really well" (Ermedin Demirovic), "the first half was okay" (André Hahn), but "the two quick goals conceded after the break pulled the rug from under us" (Felix Uduokhai). Enrico Maaßen takes a similar view. The new head coach at Augsburg, who previously coached the Borussia Dortmund second team in the third division, was however already focused on the next challenge in Leverkusen after the 4-0 defeat against the Europa League team from Freiburg. "We'll pick ourselves up and prepare for the match. We have to improve our game on the ball and be more thorough in defence." The 30-year-old marks a new start at FC Augsburg. As in recent years, the club managed to stay up last term finishing the season in fourteenth place. President Klaus Hofmann resigned as did coach Markus Weinzierl who took Augsburg into the Europa League in 2015 in his first period at the helm. Now it is the turn of Enrico Maaßen. "We have to create an identity, a style of football that FCA can stand for. And we have to enthuse our lads with that idea of playing," said the coach. His active approach to the game has gone down well in the team. "It's much more fun wanting to have the ball," said captain Jeffrey Gouweleeuw. His central defensive colleague Felix Uduokhai takes the same view: "I want us to play attractive football. The fans want that and so do we. So that we can enjoy our football again." There were signs of that for Augsburg in the 4-0 win in the first round of the DFB Cup. Although the opponents were BW Lohne who had just been promoted to the Regional League.


The season has hardly begun and FCA have had to deal with three major problems. Midfielder Ruben Vargas (muscle injury) and central defender Reece Oxford (knee operation) missed the whole preseason. Both were key players last term as was Niklas Dorsch. The U21 European Champion suffered a metatarsal injury in the friendly against Stade Rennes (2-3) and will be out of action for a long time. FCA responded by signing Elvis Rexhbecaj who had been on loan from VfL Wolfsburg at VfL Bochum. The 24-year-old has the experience of 104 Bundesliga matches under his belt. The Augsburg sporting managing director Stefan Reuter describes him as a "determined and hard-running player. "His style of play fits in well with us." The midfielder was in the starting eleven for the first two matches of the season. As were the new signings Ermedin Demirovic (24) from SC Freiburg and Maximilian Bauer (22) from SpVgg Greuther Fürth. The fact that Michael Gregoritsch – who was the top scorer for Augsburg last season with nine goals – scored the opening goal against his old club in the first match of his new employers, somehow fits in with the picture of the current situation of personnel at FCA. It's no surprise that the club is still keeping an eye out for further new signings in midfield and attack. "But it must be somebody who makes us better and is affordable," said Maaßen. Up to then, the coach has limited options. Winter newcomer and record signing Ricardo Pepi has yet to fulfil his potential up front. It is possible that stalwart Florian Niederlechner will get a start in Leverkusen on Saturday. And the Finn Fredrik Jensen, who impressed in the preseason, could come into the starting eleven. Maaßen’s preferred back three at the BayArena could well be made up of Felix Uduokhai, set to make his 100th Bundesliga appearance, captain Jeffrey Gouweleeuw and Maximilian Bauer. The Ecuadorian Carlos Gruezo has recently been the first choice in holding midfield. The Brazilian Iago (25) and Daniel Caligiuri (34) could again play on the wings.


After the turbulent end to last season, Enrico Maaßen placed great value on a new team spirit in the preseason. The young coach took his team with him in a wind of change. "He's dynamic and hungry," said striker André Hahn (32) who was the second highest scorer last season with five goals. FCA want to be more active rather than reactive under Maaßen. Be braver, play out from the back three, quickly transition after winning the ball. That only worked out well in the first half against Freiburg. It will take time and feeling for the style until we get into a rhythm," said central defender Uduokhai.   


Players and the coach were equally annoyed about the way goals were conceded against SC Freiburg. There was an absence of organisation and focus in the penalty area for three of the goals. "We just have to be more aggressive and defend man-to-man in the box," was the analysis of Elvis Rexhbecaj.  "We were too careless in defending particularly at set pieces," complained Maaßen. Augsburg posed little threat in attack with the exception of two chances for Daniel Caligiuri in the opening stages of the game. FCA did create a lot of chances in pre-season friendlies but there was room for improvement in terms of conversion.


In their twelfth Bundesliga in succession since promotion in 2011, Augsburg’s primary target is to stay up. Their almost traditional poor start to the league campaign (nine defeats in opening matches with only two wins and one draw) has not dampened the good atmosphere in the team (as yet). Hopes are high for the return as soon as possible of injured key players like Reece Oxford and Reuben Vargas who would give the team more stability. Whether FCA really have "mega quality in the squad", as Niklas Dorsch is convinced, has yet to be proved. New signing Elvis Rexhbecaj is in combative mood for the duel against the Werkself on Saturday, a team Augsburg have yet to beat. "We want to go full steam ahead and pick up points."


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