Cologne - Amidst all the hubbub surrounding Borussia Dortmund's domestic plight, modest FC Augsburg's unforeseen march up the league ladder has been somewhat overlooked.
Few, if any, expected the provincial Bavarian outfit to get anywhere near last season's eighth-in-the table finish, yet 13 games into 2014/15, the unassuming southern minnows find themselves in fourth place and firmly in the mix for the European places.
It's a rise to Bundesliga prominence no one saw coming, least of all when the Augsburg hierarchy turned to third division outfit SSV Jahn Regensburg head coach Markus Weinzierl following Jos Luhukay's resignation at the end of 2011/12. The club had just negotiated their maiden top-flight campaign, securing their status with a game to spare. All the new man at the helm had to do was repeat the trick.
At the halfway stage of the ensuing campaign, with just nine points from 17 games, Augsburg's prospects were looking decidedly bleak. Walther Seinsch, president at the time, nevertheless stood by his chosen leader, who repaid him tenfold. Victory over relegated SpVgg Greuther Fürth on the final day ensured FCA's place in the Bundesliga for a third successive term - as it later transpired, the most successful in their history.
Weinzierl working his magic
Augsburg's 39-year-old strategist was voted head coach of the season for 2013/14 by his fellow professionals, but finishing eighth - only missing out on a shot at UEFA Europa League qualifying by a point no less - came at a cost. Andre Hahn, Matthias Ostrzolek and Kevin Vogt moved on to pastures new, leaving the south-west Bavarians without three of their standout performers of the foregoing campaign. Did anyone at the SGL Arena panic? Of course not.
Once again, Weinzierl's sincere and methodical approach has everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, with Augsburg currently trailing second-placed VfL Wolfsburg by just five points having won five straight matches at home, most recently against top-flight ever-presents Hamburger SV.
Werner with feet on the ground
Tobias Werner, at the club since 2008, has been one of the side's leading lights this term and recently became their record Bundesliga scorer, but even he is refusing to look beyond the immediate goal of survival, despite Augsburg having five more points in 2014/15 (21) than at this stage of last season. "Obviously our position in the table is brilliant - the last time we were fourth was in Bundesliga 2," said the 29-year-old. "But the table is so tight and taking things step by step is sensible for us. First we need 20 points to make sure we're safe."
They might not have the megastar individuals typically associated with the traditional top four, but die Fuggerstädter more than make up for it with a combination of top-down pragmatism and meticulous application that should serve as the paragon for all aspiring Bundesliga clubs.