Augsburg-Freiburg preview

The 2011/12 Bundesliga season is up and running at last, Dortmund comfortably beating Hamburg by three goals to one last night. Twelve more of the division’s sides get their campaigns under way today, including two lesser lights who could find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle as the season progresses.

Augsburg may have been knocking on the promotion door for the last few second division seasons, but this is the first time they’ve ever actually graced Germany’s top-flight, and the side who finished as runners-up to Hertha BSC last season have barely strengthened their squad since achieving Bundesliga status in May. Players like Axel Bellinghausen and Gibril Sankoh were solid enough in the 2. Bundesliga, the latter in particular putting in an heroic season-long effort to give Jos Luhukay’s Augsburg a league-best defensive record, but the players brought in to top up the squad include the likes of Sascha Mölders and Lorenzo Davids – decent players, a duo I’ve seen on a few occasions, but hardly the kind of signings needed to shake off the favourites for the drop tag.

And with Michael Thurk gone and Nando Rafael’s goal record decent if not spectacular (14 last year), you wonder if the aforementioned Mölders is going to score the goals that keep Augsburg up (something that’ll be vital even if they persevere successfully with their impressive defensive tactics): especially as two of the side’s key assist makers from last season, Moritz Leitner (on loan from BVB) and Ibrahima Traoré (Stuttgart), have now left for bigger and better things.

Along with Torsten Oehrl, Rafael and Sankoh were expected to be out with injury for this game anyway, all three players missing out on last weekend’s 2-1 cup victory away at Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. Marcus Sorg’s Freiburg had no such luck in the Pokal, however, losing 3-2 away at SpVgg Unterhaching. Yet unlike their hosts for this game at the SGL arena (sic), thanks to Papiss Cissé, Freiburg have no real goal scoring worries. Nevertheless, it was left to new €2.2million Malian signing Garra Dembélé to lead the line last week, and although the goal-getting former Levski Sofia man might not be guaranteed a starting berth given that Sorg looks set to play a 4-1-4-1 like his predecessor, Robin Dutt (who left for Bayer Leverkusen), he definitely gives Freiburg the strength in striking depth that they lacked last season, even though they finished in the top half of the table.

But with a new coach at the helm, you’ve got to wonder if the man in question, an untested rookie, will get the best out of his two heavyweight African strikers and the team as a whole. Robin Dutt undoubtedly had the side punching above their weight last season, and if Sorg can’t generate a similar response from his players, they could be in for a struggle. Although transfer activity has been thin on the ground, the only other player of note coming in being Swiss centre-back Beg Ferati, the loss of experienced midfielder Jonathan Jäger (released) – admittedly only used sparingly last season – and talented centre-back Ömer Toprak (Leverkusen) will be felt. For this game, at least, Sorg had a nigh-on fully fit squad to choose from –  Cissé and Felix Bastians back in the fold after injuries, and Jan Rosenthal the only player expected to miss out.

The game kicks off at 2.30pm in the UK, and can be watched on Bet365.com.

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