Our next opponents: FCA with Gouweleeuw, without Finnbogason

The international break is over and the final run-in begins in the Bundesliga – and that means the race for a European finish for the Werkself. The start of the home straights in the league brings a home game against FC Augsburg on Saturday (31 March, 15.30 CET).


The words are clear. "I had the feeling we were going to end the season  with 35 points.. Everybody was saying that would be enough and that's how we've played," was the wake-up call from coach Manuel Baum after the disappointing home performance against Werder Bremen ahead of international break. On the one hand, understandable given just one victory out of the last six games but also proof of the comfortable position of his team in the league. Any club with 35 points from 27 matches can afford a 3-1 defeat against Werder Bremen if the target for the season is staying up – FCA are ten points ahead of the team lying sixteenth in the table. A sober assessment of the table does not, however, appear to be irrelevant. Augsburg, currently tenth in the table, are four points behind seventh place which could be enough to qualify for the Europa league.


The international break came at the right time for FCA – not just to work on getting back on track in the absence of only four international players, but it also provided time for injured players to return. The Dutchman Jeffrey Gouweleeuw could make his comeback against Bayer 04 after suffering a cruciate ligament injury in January against FC Köln. Before that, the defender had not missed a single second in the current campaign and his absence could well be a reason for the poorest run of results for FCA this term. "Given these ups and downs it's good to have players with plenty of experience able to have their influence in matches," said Baum recently in an interview with kicker. That was not just aimed at Gouweleeuw but also Marwin Hitz although it is not certain that he will play against the Werkself. The keeper had to leave the Switzerland squad early due to muscle problems – a purely preventive measure according to the Augsburg management. If Hitz, one of the most impressive players for Augsburg recently, does miss out, contrary to expectations, then he would be the second player after Gouweleeuw to end an unbroken run of appearances this season due to injury: The goalkeeper has played every minute for FCA so far this season.


Even if everybody in Augsburg wished for it after the game against Bremen: The international break was probably not long enough for Alfred Finnbogason. The Iceland international, sidelined for two months with calf problems, returned to full training this week but the game against the Werkself probably comes too early for the prolific scorer. That represents a major loss: In the seven games since Finnbogason's injury, Augsburg failed to score three times – in the whole of the season before that it only happened four times. Another sign for the outstanding quality that the Swabians are missing at the moment: In spite of being ruled out with injury for eight weeks, the Scandinavian is still fourth in the goalscorer rankings with eleven goals from 18 games. Team-mate Michael Gregoritsch has played up front in place of Finnbogason since his injury. That has seen FCA continue to provide a goal threat in attack but there has been a decline in attacking midfield, which the Austrian was responsible for. In addition, Gregoritsch is more used to playing behind the strikers than in the centre-forward role he is now having to fulfil.


FCA have established themselves in the Bundesliga in recent years. One reason for that: The calm internal politics at the club as well as the reputation of being able to bring through talented players at Augsburg: Werkself holding midfielder Dominik Kohr completed an important part of his career development  at FCA and André Hahn also progressed from an unknown there to an international player. A career progression that Philipp Max (pictured above with coach Manuel Baum) is about to make: The Augsburg left back has provided the most assists in the Bundesliga this term with thirteen to date and he could potentially make it into the Germany squad for the World Cup in Russia. Regardless of that,  the son of the one time top scorer in the Bundesliga Martin Max is one of the most sought after players in the whole Bundesliga at the moment and he could repay the trust shown in him by FCA if he attracts the attention of one of the bigger clubs – in the form of a considerable transfer fee. A development the club is counting on over the long term .


It is one of the biggest compliments you can pay Manuel Baum: FCA are set to complete a worry-free Bundesliga campaign.After going out of the DFB Cup in the first round away to third division Magdeburg  and suffering a 1-0 defeat at Hamburg SV in the opening Bundesliga fixture, Augsburg were considered to be one of the team is likely to go down back in August but they were determined not to play along. Even a surprise like qualifying for Europe, as achieved in  2015, is still on the cards for the Bavarian team if they finish seventh. That does not appear very likely given recent performances but the possibility may be revived with the return of Gouweleeuw and Finnbogason.

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