Augsburg - The renaissance of FC Augsburg continues apace. Two goals from Dong-Won Ji and an impressive overall display in downing Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 at home last Sunday moved them another step closer to what, going into the winter break, would have been considered an unlikely Bundesliga survival act.
Top five for form
Back then, joint-bottom of the table with Greuther Fürth on a paltry nine points, three behind 1899 Hoffenheim in the relegation play-off place and already ten adrift of the safety zone, the southern Bavarian club's second season in the top flight gave every appearance of also being their last.
Fast-forward to the present day, however, and it is quite a different story. Going into Matchday 30, Augsburg are three points clear of Hoffenheim in 16th spot and just one win short of reeling in fourth-bottom Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Indeed, a look at the Bundesliga form table for 2013 reveals Augsburg to be right up in fifth place on the back of five wins and three draws from their 12 games to date.
Change of tactics
So what brought about this remarkable turnaround at the provincial outfit from Bavarian Swabia? For Markus Weinzierl, taken on as head coach last summer after guiding SSV Jahn Regensburg into Bundesliga 2, the key has been a radically more attack-oriented game plan since the league restart.
"We changed our tactics because we wanted to be more pro-active. I think we have the capability to do much more than just defend," the 38-year-old told the Süddeutsche Zeitung in a recent interview.
Double against Frankfurt
The latest evidence of that came in the form of Sunday's thoroughly merited success against Frankfurt, earned courtesy of a goal either side of the break from Ji. The 21-year-old South Korea international, signed during the winter break from English Premier League outfit Sunderland AFC on a half-season loan deal, has been integral to Weinzierl's aforementioned tactical revamp, starting all 12 of Augsburg's games this year and forming an increasingly productive frontline partnership with nine-goal top scorer Sascha Mölders.
"It's a perfect day for us," said Ji after the victory over Frankfurt, modestly focusing on the overall team effort rather than his own match-winning exploits. "We knew exactly how important this game was and battled for every ball. We worked hard and got our reward." That attitude reflects the maturity and focus of a player who at 16 swapped Gwangyang Jecheol High School in his homeland for a year with FC Reading in order to further his professional prospects.
Partnership with Koo
The move bore fruit as, after a breakthrough season with Gwangyang's Chunman Dragons in the South Korean top flight, Ji found himself back in England with AFC Sunderland. His international career was progressing swiftly as well: four goals to help South Korea to third place at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar, and the following year he was a regular starter as his country picked up their first medal in a major global tournament, with another third-place finish at the London Olympics.
Overall top scorer at the Qatar championships, incidentally, was Ja-Cheol Koo, Ji's compatriot and now clubmate at Augsburg. The two have struck up a great relationship on and off the pitch in Germany's deep south and, if Augsburg are to complete a remarkable turnaround by staying afloat in the Bundesliga - as seems increasingly plausible - their two South Korean stars are undoubtedly going to have a defining say in the matter.