Augsburg have not made the best of starts to the new Bundesliga campaign, having conceded nine goals in their opening three matches. However, a young Englishman who stopped Mesut Özil in his prime, at just the age of 16, could be the key to keeping goals out.
Augsburg coach Martin Schmidt was appointed towards the end of last season and oversaw a transfer window full of departures and arrivals. One player the Swiss coach made sure to capture, and who could play a key role in making this season a success, is 20-year-old Englishman Reece Oxford.
At the beginning of 2019, Oxford moved from English Premier League club West Ham United to Augsburg on loan until the end of the season. Officially, once the 2018/2019 season had reached its conclusion, Oxford’s relationship with Augsburg was over and he was once again back on the books at West Ham. But Schmidt had other ideas.
"He has the potential to be a great player," said Schmidt, as Augsburg were examining their options regarding Oxford. "He's definitely got quality."
Coach and club got their prized possession in the end, and signed Oxford on a four-year deal ahead of the 2019/20 season.
Many of the changes made to Augusburg’s squad were in the centre of defence and midfield - exactly Oxford’s wheelhouse. At the back, young defenders Felix Uduokhai and Tin Jedvaj arrived from Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen respectively arrived to compete for the spot vacated by Kevin Danso, who left the club for Southampton. Ecuadorian Carlos Gruezo is another quality option further up the pitch, available to Schmidt at the base of midfield.
These new arrivals mean that competition for places will be fierce and Oxford will have to repay his coach's faith in him in order to establish himself in the first-team squad. However, Oxford has an advantage that the others do not: Having played in Augsburg for the last six months of last season, he is already familiar with the club, its personnel, and has positional flexibility that allows him to fit into several scenarios where his quality is required, rather than just one.
He could take responsibility for shoring up Augsburg’s defence and step into the breach at the heart of the back four. Oxford already has struck up something of a relationship with talismanic left-back Philipp Max and is in a prime position to forge a connection with the Germany international as Augsburg’s left-sided defensive pair.
Alternatively, Oxford return to the defensive midfield position from which he burst onto the scene back in his home country as a teenager. Oxford made his Premier League debut in the centre of the pitch for West Ham in August 2015. His opponent that day was none other than former Werder Bremen and Schalke star Mesut Özil, starring for Arsenal as his direct midfield adversary.
Oxford, aged only 16, stole the show as he kept Özil and Arsenal quiet and helped West Ham to a superb 2-0 victory away from home. With four years of football under his belt since then, there's no reason to think he couldn't do the same and act as a shield for Augsburg's still-forming defence.
Working under a coach who clearly believes in him and with youth on his side, this season should provide ample opportunity for the London-born man to show how good he really is. The fans in the Fuggerstadt will hail him as a hero if he can stem the tide of goals and help their team fight for Bundesliga glory.