FC Augsburg welcome 1. FC Nuremberg to the SGL Arena in Matchday 25’s Friday opener with both sides’ Asian stars expected to play a crucial role in the outcome.
South Korean spark
A positive result for either of the two Bavarian relegation battlers is likely to prove pivotal, but while Nuremberg have hit something of a plateau since the winter break, Augsburg have been on the ascent.
After 17 Matchdays, the outlook appeared bleak for FCA after they managed just nine points from a possible 51 prior to the winter break, leaving them tied with Greuther Fürth at the foot of the table.
However, only the Bundesliga’s top three have collected more points than Augsburg since, thanks to some sensible winter signings which included Dong-Won Ji, snapped up on loan from Premier League side Sunderland AFC. The striker turned attacking midfielder has settled in seamlessly, providing the perfect foil for fleet-footed compatriot Ja-Cheol Koo.
A first-time observer would be forgiven for thinking that Ji and Koo had been playing together for years. While Sascha Mölders' goals may have stolen the headlines, the South Korean duo have quietly impressed as Augsburg surpassed their points tally for the entire first half of the season in just seven games so far in 2013.
Ji, who has won close to 50 per cent of his aerial challenges, offers a powerful physical presence and an inspiring work ethic in the centre to complement Koo’s playmaking abilities in wide positions. The 24-year-old boasts a pass completion rate of 85.6 per cent and tops the Augsburg standings in shots (20) and chances created (24) in 2013, categories in which Ji also ranks well with 18 and 13 respectively.
However, invaluable industry isn’t just a feature of the Bundesliga’s South Korean representatives. Indeed, take away Japanese international Hiroshi Kiyotake’s goals and assists so far this term and Nuremberg would currently be sitting in the relegation play-off place, a point worse off than this Friday’s opponents. The 23-year-old has struck three times, setting up a further seven, and can regularly be seen sparking der Club into action whether it be with a mazy solo run or trademark set-piece.
While compatriot Mu Kanazaki is yet to grasp the opportunity to make an impact, Kiyotake has created a remarkable 103 goalscoring chances for his teammates this season, 63 more than his closest rival Tomas Pekhart. Nuremberg are currently enjoying a five game unbeaten run, most recently culminating in four consecutive draws, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest their survival this season hinges heavily on Kiyotake maintaining his current trajectory, starting this Friday against Augsburg.