The Bundesliga has so often been about Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, or clubs with special fans or star players, but from time to time there are ordinary clubs who do extraordinary things. Step forward, Augsburg.
Hoffenheim 2-4 Augsburg, PreZero Arena
(Skov 14', Locadia 80' - Max 11', 51', Jensen 56', Iago 85')
The opening game of the 15th round of fixtures in the Bundesliga was, on paper, the kind of game that requires little more than a check of the score before bed on a Friday night. But as this season has proven many times before, this is not the year to miss any Bundesliga football, whether it's Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich or even Augsburg.
Augsburg scored four goals from six shots. "Our efficiency decided the game," Martin Schmidt told DAZN afterwards. The Swiss has got the side playing some ruthless counterattacking football full of sprints and positive passes. Augsburg's final goal of the night, the one that broke Hoffenheim's attempted comeback, was, as Schmidt himself described, what sets the club apart at the moment.
In truth, there is much that sets them apart — just not at the headline end of the table. This is a club regularly stuck in midtable mediocrity, which, for obvious reasons, receives little recognition outside of its fanbase and local media. Yet it is Augsburg's consistent ability to play to their strengths that has kept them apart from the sides fighting relegation from the Bundesliga over the last eight years, and is also the reason they have four wins in their last five league games.
Following a similar approach to Freiburg, the club have kepit it simple across the board, and have never really got ahead of themselves (unlike other Bundesliga sides). Even after former coach Markus Weinzierl steered Augsburg to that famous and first-time ever Europa League run, staying in the league was the priority.
Simple but smart
They have, more often than not, struck gold with player arrivals and departures, with former World Cup and Champions League winner Stefan Reuter (the club's sporting director) deserving of much praise for keeping the squad fresh.
Philipp Max, who scored a neat tap-in and a powerful penalty on the night, is perhaps the best example. The 26-year-old, who not too long ago notched 13 assists and was pushing for a Germany call-up that never came, has continued to deliver for Augsburg despite being open about wanting a move to a bigger club.
Florian Niederlechner, who joined from Freiburg this summer, has turned from solid into thrilling at Augsburg. He finished the night with a club first hat-trick of assists, including one delicious ball to set up Finn Fredrik Jensen for his first of the season. "It's so much fun to play with this team at the moment," Niederlechner told DAZN afterwards. On this viewing, that much is clear.
Few would have thought Schmidt, a man of Christmas jumpers and charming smiles, would have brought strength and stability to Augsburg, but like the club itself he has proven many wrong. Against a club backed by local billionaire Dietmar Hopp, a co-founder of software giant SAP, the difference couldn't have been more startingly. And yet it was the visitors who were plugged in.
Augsburg don't make many international headlines, but for a team whose squad is in the bottom six squad values in the Bundesliga, their ability to consistently just keep their head above water deserves recognition. With Düsseldorf and RB Leipzig the club's last two opponents of the year, Augsburg won't be high on the viewing list for many football fans — but they should be.