Augsburg - In more ways than one, Matchday 29’s victory over VfB Stuttgart could well be the result that goes down as the defining victory in FC Augsburg’s ultimately successful push for a maiden European finish this season.
Bobadilla in dreamland
The 2-1 win, their first success in five games, opened up a four-point gap over seventh place with five games to go, but less than the result itself was the anticipation the victory has encouraged, a sense of expectation that the players, so conscious to avoid talk of Europe for much of the season, could not help but share openly.
Coach Markus Weinzierl and sporting director Stefan Reuter have constantly preached the futility of talking up the UEFA Europa League as an objective this season, but the players’ reactions to beating VfB was the clearest indication yet that the ‘E-word’ may and indeed will be uttered at the SGL Arena as the campaign draws to a close.
Raul Bobadilla, whose eighth goal of the season proved to be the winner, began his post-match interview with bundesliga.com with a diplomatic “the win only helps us because we just want to stay up there”, but then admitted that the players were now “dreaming of Europe”, and this while the coach’s stated goal remains, as has been the case all season, to ensure Bundesliga safety.
Sign of a maturing side
Saturday’s game at the SGL Arena, whilst it may have come against a side struggling to stay in the division, reaffirmed the view that Augsburg are a maturing side capable of winning games when not at their best. Weinzierl’s side were under the cosh against VfB for long periods in either half, but succeeded in taking the sting out of the game once Bobadilla had restored their lead.
Throw in recent performances in which the die Fuggerstädter have held FC Schalke 04 to a goalless draw and beaten second-placed VfL Wolfsburg and the evidence points to this particular Augsburg side being a touch more clinical, sensible and better prepared to break into Europe than that which came so close last season.
Learning the lessons from 2014/15
It should be noted that seventh place will also be good enough for the Europa League if one of FC Bayern München or Wolfsburg win the DFB Cup, but after last term, Augsburg would do well not to rely on external events to determine their own fate. In 2013/14, the Bavarians amassed a stunning season tally of 52 points, but missed out on seventh by a single point, with 1. FSV Mainz 05 going into the Europa League on account of Bayern’s win over Dortmund in the DFB Cup final.
Matching that points record from their current count of 42 will be a tough ask, but Weinzierl’s team will neither dwell on disappointments nor dine out on former tales of glory. The thought of taking a club of Augsburg’s limited size and resources into Europe is motivation enough for the players to maintain their focus and unassuming self-belief for the remainder of the campaign.