This Saturday afternoon, 2. Bundesliga-leaders Greuther Fürth visit an Aue side who still need a few points to make certain of their place in Germany’s second division for the 2012/13 campaign. With seven games of this season remaining, Mike Büskens’ side are sitting pretty at the top of the league, six points ahead of third-placed Fortuna Düsseldorf (note: only the top two go up automatically). Spurred on by the acquisition of free-agent Gerald Asamoah in January, Fürth have won seven of their last eight 2. Bundesliga games, including key victories over fellow promotion challengers 1860 Munich and Paderborn. The only time the Franconians have suffered defeat since February 3 was against Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal semi-finals (and even the 1. Bundesliga-leaders needed 120 minutes to put Büskens’ side to the sword).
Victory in East Germany this weekend won’t be a formality, however, as under new coach Karsten Baumann (who succeeded Rico Schmitt earlier this year), Aue look as though they have turned a corner. The club – who rank fourth-oldest in this season’s average-age table at 26.13 – have taken ten points from the last 15 available, now sit nine points clear of the relegation zone, and have won just as many games as they have lost at the Erzgebirgsstadion. The club’s key players this season have been the versatile Jan Hochscheidt, goalkeeper Martin Männel and defender Thomas Paulus, although most of the squad who performed so heroically last season – in which the club were chasing promotion to the top-flight – are still at Aue. Baumann received a boost this week too with the news that 25-year-old former Bayern Munich left-back Fabian Müller has extended his contract at the club until 2014. Tickets sales for this Saturday’s game, meanwhile, are going well, with the feel-good factor in Aue growing even more following the vital win FCE secured away at all-but-relegated Hansa Rostock last weekend.
However, this year, only three teams have scored less than Aue’s 26 goals (eight of which have been scored by Ronny König, who has been inconsistent), and Fürth have won six and drawn five of their 13 away 2. Bundesliga games. Their compact, well-drilled 4-4-2 makes them a hard team to break down, and when the sides met earlier on this season back in October, Fürth won 2-0, ending Aue’s run of two successive wins (which came on the back of six matches without a win in the league). Last season, meanwhile, Aue and Fürth – who finished fifth and fourth, respectively – drew 0-0 in Saxony, while Aue won 2-1 in Franconia.
Although it was announced on Wednesday that wideman Stephan Schröck will be leaving Fürth for Hoffenheim during the summer, Thursday brought better news, with key 2011/12 substitute Tayfun Pektürk signing a contract extension, and progress being made on a deal for key – but combative, with ten yellow cards and counting so far this season – midfielder Bernd Nehrig. Last week, however, saw a more important story regarding the club, with confirmation that work will begin next year to build Fürth a new 20,000-seater stadium (to replace the 102-year-old, 15,000-fan-holding Trolli Arena). Büskens, meanwhile, has been left smiling nigh-on permanently since July thanks primarily to his strikers, with Christopher Nöthe having bagged 11, Oliver Occean 15, and winter-break buy Asamoah four. Defender Thomas Kleine, goalkeeper Max Grün and several of the club’s multi-talented midfielders have also been essential to Fürth’s cause this campaign, as the Franconian side look to end their 13th successive season in the second-tier with an historic promotion to 1. Bundesliga.
Baumann will have to make do without three suspended players this weekend: Tunisian defender Adli Lachheb, and midfielders Tobias Kempe and Marc Hensel. Paulus, meanwhile, looks set to miss out for FCE with a hamstring injury. Büskens, meanwhile, looks set to be without three Fürth players through injury: peripheral Nigerian striker Kingsley Onuegbu, midfielder Robert Zilner, and the aforementioned Hoffenheim-bound Schröck.
Erzgebirge Aue against Greuther Fürth kicks off at noon (UK time) on Saturday, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. Manuel Gräfe will be the referee, taking charge of his seventh 2. Bundesliga game of the 2011/12 season.