It has been, in the words of Manuel Baum, an “extraordinary” week for Augsburg. It all started after their 2-0 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach last weekend. Having gone three months without tasting victory that was to be expected against the high-flying Foals. But for one, it was the final straw.
“The whole year 2018 shows the curve down, I do not see much improvement, the development goes down for a year,” said Martin Hinteregger, Augsburg’s outspoken but steady rock at the heart of their defence. At least he was. One week later, he was wearing the unfamiliar black of Eintracht Frankfurt, helping the Eagles to a point against leaders Borussia Dortmund.
His Augsburg career was as good as over by the time he finished that interview with local media. Not many players can come back from speaking out publically against their coach. “I cannot say anything positive about him and will say nothing negative,” he said of Baum, a choice of words that left little doubt about what he really wanted to say.
The club moved to issue a fine and ban him from training with the rest of the team, and with the transfer window still open, it was never likely they would reject any offers that came their way. Frankfurt made their move, and although it is for now only a loan move, it is safe to say Hinteregger won’t play for Augsburg again.
There have been suggestions that the defender’s comments were designed to force a move. Whatever the intentions, it was clear he was no longer wanted. “Right now we need players who live the values and rules of the club, who fully identify with the club, people who are with us with their hearts,” said Baum ahead of their game against Mainz. Although he didn’t say so, that was obviously a swipe at Hinteregger, and perhaps also Caiuby too.
The Brazilian, much like Hinteregger a key figure for die Fuggerstädterin recent years, also appears to have no future. For the second time in less than a year, he has gone AWOL, having done so in the summer as well. There may be legitimate personal reasons for his decision to remain in Brazil rather than return as he should have done with Augsburg, but as far as the club is concerned, enough was enough. He too has been banished and told to find a new club.
As they took the field in the snow at the WWK-Arena on Sunday, their situation was definitely precarious. No wins in ten and three defeats in a row left them just a point above the bottom three, they were in the thick of the relegation battle. And now they had to fight without two of their previously most important players.
Baum has been publically backed by the club, not in least in their handling of Hinteregger, and he had reinforcements for this game. The high-profile employment of Jens Lehmann as an assistant coach has almost been a sideshow to the other goings on, ostensibly to reinforce his authority. Also on the bench was Reece Oxford, back in the Bundesliga having failed again to break into the West Ham United side after his previous spell on loan with Gladbach, whilst Ji Dong-won, in the starting line-up, and Koo Ja-Cheol were back from the Asian Cup.
Baum and Augsburg also had luck on their side. Mainz, without the suspended Stefan Bell, did not look up for the game. Daniel Brosinski was very unlucky to concede a penalty when a Ji Dong-won cross bounced off his chest into his arm, but Moussa Niakhaté only had himself to blame when a VAR check confirmed his out-stretched hand made contact with the ball. Two penalties for Augsburg, two goals for Alfreð Finnbogason.
Others leaders were rising out of the snow. Ji showed few signs of fatigue as he helped to run the show. Finnbogason completed his hat-trick too, combining superbly with Michael Gregoritsch and Jan Morávek in the build-up. After that, they could just coast their way through the second half, Mainz offering very little threat. After the week they’ve had, they could not have asked for an easier assignment.
“We said before the game that it is a great opportunity for us to show the team’s character and you have seen that today,” a pleased, and perhaps slightly relieved, Baum said after the match. “’Augsburg sticks together’ is not just a saying, but is impressively lived.”
His players had presented a united front, both on and off the pitch. “It was very important that we played as a team,” said hat-trick hero Finnbogason. “Behind us is a hectic week, everyone has been waiting for our answer on the pitch.” Daniel Baier and Gregoritsch also said there were happy to have done the talking pitch.
There is still an awfully long way for them to go. It remains to be seen if this is a freak result – they had already beaten Mainz in the DFB-Pokal since their last league victory at Hannover in October – or if the galvanising experience of the “most turbulent week in their Bundesliga history” (Kicker) can lead Baum’s men back up the German top tree.
1 | Borussia Dortmund extended their lead at the top of the Bundesliga to seven points despite picking up just a draw at Eintracht Frankfurt. Marco Reus & Co. could well have seen themselves 11 points clear of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayern Munich had they taken their chances. Reus on another day would have had a hat-trick within five minutes but the main thing for Lucien Favre’s side is their performance didn’t drop – Eintracht Frankfurt just matched them. Morale in Dortmund at the minute is certainly high, especially after the Bayer Leverkusen score popped up on the big screen at the Commerzbank Arena, of which cameras panned to Axel Witsel, who couldn’t keep a straight face.
2 | With Bayern Munich’s 3-1 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach had the chance to leapfrog Niko Kovač’s side into second. And that they did. Perhaps not their most convincing win but three points nonetheless. They matched Schalke on Saturday evening and finally took their chances with late goals from Christoph Kramer and Florian Neahaus. This season we do truly have a title race on our hands and it’s important to remember that Gladbach has just a big of a chance as Bayern do to clinch a Bundesliga title. Dieter Hecking has got them playing some impressive, free-flowing, attacking football.
3 | Hosting RB Leipzig on Friday night, Thomas Doll couldn’t have asked for a worse start. Although they started off defensively sound, RB Leipzig soon picked them apart which sees them still rooted to the foot of the Bundesliga. Already seven points behind guaranteed safety, it’s going to be a huge task for Die Roten, especially with the injury to last season’s top scorer, Niclas Füllkrug.
By James Rees with Daniel Pinder.