Cologne - If seeing VfL Wolfsburg second in the Bundesliga table behind runaway leaders FC Bayern München comes as a surprise, it's nothing compared to FC Augsburg being being hot on their heels in third.

Working on a budget dwarfed by that of the two clubs ahead of them, the Bavarians have arguably been the standout side in the 2014/14 campaign so far. With eight wins, including five on the trot up to and including Matchday 14, this is the highest position in the standings they've occupied in their 107-year history, and in only their fourth season in Germany's top division. traces the qualities that have led to them sitting in one of the automatic qualification spots for the UEFA Champions League....

Kevin Vogt, Matthias Ostrzolek and especially Andre Hahn were high-profile departures in the summer, but sporting director Stefan Reuter has done an excellent job in replacing quality with quality. Abdul Rahman Baba is fast becoming one of the league's most promising players with statistics to rival the best left-backs in the division - Augsburg will no doubt miss him when he competes at the Africa Nations Cup in January - while Bayer 04 Leverkusen loanee Dominik Kohr has shown great potential in central midfield and experience has been added with the acquisition of Markus Feulner from 1. FC Nürnberg. Forwards Tim Matavz and Shawn Parker have suffered with injuries, but striker Nikola Djurdjic is now off and running in the league after scoring in the recent win at Köln.

Weinzierl proved he was a gifted tactician when he changed to a 4-1-4-1 formation in the middle of the 2012/13 season and guided Augsburg to Bundesliga survival having looked doomed at the halfway stage of that campaign. This season he has continued to tweak his side's tactics and shape in line with their opposition. In 2013/14, much of the team's attacking thrust came through the middle with Daniel Baier and Halil Altintop. This season, however, width has been a more noticeable element of their play, with full-backs Paul Verhaegh and Baba (four assists) proving key attacking outlets and Tobias Werner (four goals, two assists) flitting from one wing to another during matches. Captain Verhaegh, incidentally, is their top scorer with five goals - all from the penalty spot - a number that accounts for 28 per cent of the side's goals.

Not only do the Fuggerstädter play attractive football, they also know what is required to compete in the Bundesliga. Markus Weinzierl's men have attempted more challenges - 3,001 - in the current season, winning 56 per cent of them. Not even league leaders FC Bayern München (2,950 challenges with a success rate of 54 per cent) can rival Augsburg's battling qualities. Additionally, it's often the case that the team that works the hardest - or runs the most - comes out on top, but Augsburg do things differently. They have run an average of 114 km per game in 2014/15, which is in fact the lowest of any team in the league. Crucially Augsburg's players know when to run and when to conserve their energy, which no doubt helps leave them more mentally conditioned to edge and see out close games.

The numbers show that Weinzierl's side rarely lose focus in encounters. In the five matches in which they have opened the scoring this season, they are yet to drop a single point. Moreover, 15 of their 20 goals have been scored in the second half of games, with 11 (55 per cent) coming in the last 30 minutes. They may be a relatively young Bundesliga club, but this team knows how to see out matches, and their recent results suggest they have the mental resolve to turn games around as well. On Matchdays 12 and 13 they ran out winners after being in losing positions at the interval having never before managed the feat in their previous three Bundesliga campaigns. Up next they entertain the champions, whom they beat last season to end a 53-game unbeaten run for Guardiola's men. There'll be no shortage of confidence among the players for that one.

In 2013/14, Augsburg finished a point outside the final Europa League spot; this term they are in third, in the automatic places for the Champions League. Despite that progression, however, you won't find anyone connected with the team talking up a European charge. Instead, the focus remains on surviving in the top flight, even if the media, fans and other clubs now take the view that survival is no longer the annual lot of a club like Augsburg, only in the top flight since 2011. Back in February, Reuter told Germany football magazine 11Freunde, "We’re eighth in the table now. In Cologne, people would be saying, "Europa League? That's not enough - we want the Champions League", but it's not like that here. Here we know how to assess our situation properly. We have to extract the maximum from what we have, and that should always be enough to keep us in the Bundesliga."

Bernie Reeves