TWO moments of class from Bundesliga and Düsseldorf debutant Dani Schahin allowed Norbert Meier’s side to win their first 1. Bundesliga game in 15 years. Augsburg had looked much the better team until the 23-year-old grabbed his first goal midway through the second half, before the same player sealed the win with another memorable strike with 12 minutes left to play. One might argue the Lebanese-German striker’s brace merely papered over the cracks of a shaky performance by the side promoted from 2. Bundesliga in May, but Meier included seven summer signings in this afternoon’s game – the first of the 2012/13 league season – at the SGL-Arena, highlighting the fact Düsseldorf are still a work in progress.
Augsburg, meanwhile, only have themselves to blame for failing to get anything from this match. They could have been 2-0 up themselves before Schahin – signed for free from fellow promoted club Greuther Fürth over the summer – grabbed his side’s first, and ultimately paid for their profligacy in front of goal. Nevertheless, new coach Markus Weinzierl will take some positives from defeat: on the whole, his defence – unchanged from last season, when the club confounded critics to stay in the top-flight with some ease – looked reasonably solid, some of his side’s passing was crisp and fluid, and Augsburg were able to get in behind a team looking to sit back and not concede. The Bavarian outfit travel to Schalke next weekend looking to make amends, while North Rhine-Westphalian side Fortuna host Mönchengladbach in a half empty stadium (restrictions being put on attendance at the Esprit Arena due to the trouble which occurred during the victorious play-off match against Hertha Berlin in May).
Augsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Simon Jentzsch; Paul Verhaegh, Gibril Sankoh, Sebastian Langkamp, Matthias Ostrzolek; Daniel Baier, Andreas Ottl; Knowledge Musona, Ja-Cheol Koo, Jan Morávek; Aristide Bancé
Fortuna Düsseldorf (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Fabian Giefer; Tobias Levels, Stelios Malezas, Jens Langeneke, Johannes van den Bergh; Robbie Kruse, Adam Bodzek, Oliver Fink, Axel Bellinghausen; Andriy Voronin; Nando Rafael
Augsburg started the match brightly, making promising ground by knocking the ball about swiftly and sharply; one-touch or two-touch stuff. Langkamp had a headed chance in the second minute from a crossed Musona free-kick, but the centre-back sent his effort sailing over the bar. Morávek then soured the positive start a minute later by getting a yellow card for diving in the box. Nevertheless, it was still the home side doing all the running in the opening stages, with the visitors looking nervous both in and 0ut of possession. Meier’s side could barely string two passes together, and were forced this way and that whenever Augsburg were passing in the visitors’ half. Even on the few occasions Düsseldorf did get into the final third of the pitch during the opening ten minutes, the hosts looked solid defensively; both well-organised and strong, and frustrating former Augsburg attacker Rafael, who looked isolated and frustrated.
As we approached the quarter-hour mark, the away side began to see a lot more of the ball. Their approach was more direct than Augsburg’s, and didn’t really get them anywhere – the hosts, extremely doughty, continued to defend with discipline, keeping their guests at bay. Even when Düsseldorf did manage to get passing moves going, they failed to splice the white-shirted backline because of poor off-the-ball movement, and a lack of finesse, quality and same-wavelength-understanding when it came to making penetrating passes. With the game being played in the afternoon sun, the pace of proceedings had abated a little by the time we had gone past the 20-minute mark, resulting in something of a stalemate. Added to this, Düsseldorf were improving defensively, primarily because they pressed the man on the ball in packs in their own half, limiting the influence playmaker Koo could have on the game, and also not giving Bancé the room he craved.
As we neared the half-hour mark, Düsseldorf were passing the ball on the ground a bit more, and making a better job of it. However, this was only because Giefer always kicked short or rolled out, and the defence and defensive-midfielders were playing keep-ball. Augsburg stayed spead out and didn’t really press until the ball got near the halfway line, unwilling to give Bellinghausen and Kruse the chance to go at them down the flanks, or Voronin an opportunity to pull the strings in the centre. Although the home side were seeing less of the ball, they still looked the more dangerous of the two teams going forward due to the players’ better movement off the ball, and crisper, more inventive passing.
However, 30 minutes in, there had been a real paucity of efforts on goal since Langkamp’s attempt early on – and that only really qualified as a half-chance, and flew over (Fink also had a headed chance at the other end in the 31st minute, but it was easy for Jentzsch). It feels silly labelling a game a six-pointer on day one, but given how deep the side out of possession would sit when the other team had the ball in the final-third (along with the fact that all four wide-midfielders were busting a gut to get back and help, particularly Musona), it was apparent both Meier and Weinzierl were just as determined not to lose the first game of the 2012/13 season as they were to win it. Maybe this wasn’t surprising, though, given that both sides had unchanged rearguards from last year (save for the visitors including Giefer and Malezas), compared to attacks that comprised several new signings.
Bancé did well to win a free-kick in the 37th minute, as he was surrounded by red-shirted players just off the D. However, Ostrzolek blazed the set-piece over the bar – something Bodzek did at the other end a minute later with a speculative long-range strike. Augsburg started to look good again as we approached the interval, with Baier seeing more of the ball and starting to perform in the piano-carrier role, and the attackers becoming more interchangeable. This was because Weinzierl abandoned a tactical shift he had made for a ten-minute period, where Morávek and Koo switched positions. In my opinion, Koo was wasted on the wing, and Morávek had offered little through the centre (or anywhere else, for that matter). Thus, when the South Korean started to float inside again, find pockets of room and demand the ball, Augsburg’s attack suddenly looked more penetrating (especially with more room now than there had been at the start of the game, with Düsseldorf tiring after a first half of heavy pressing and increased attacking).
The half finished scoreless, but Augsburg would have gone into the dressing room knowing that if they kept plugging away and playing as they had done at the start and end of the first 45 minutes, a goal wouldn’t be too far away. Düsseldorf, on the other hand, were in need of a boost. Voronin was on the fringes of the match, although admittedly his colleagues could have done more to get him involved. Anything Meier could do to get to the talismanic Ukrainian to stamp his mark on the game would do in the second period.
Formations that started the second half
Augsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Jentzsch; Verhaegh, Sankoh, Langkamp, Ostrzolek; Baier, Ottl; Musona, Koo, Giovanni Sio; Bancé
Fortuna Düsseldorf (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Giefer; Levels, Malezas, Langeneke, van den Bergh; Kruse, Bodzek, Fink, Bellinghausen; Voronin; Rafael
Weinzierl made the only personnel change for the start of the second half, replacing the ineffectual and yellow-carded Morávek with Sio in a like-for-like substitution. Sio immediately set about showing why his coach had introduced him, sticking to the wing more than his Slovakian colleague had done, plus making overlap runs down the chalk and putting more balls into the box. The first chance of the new half fell to a full-back, though, as Verhaegh, like everyone else, blazed over the bar under no pressure from just outside the box.
As the first half had progressed, Augsburg seemed to inject more bite into every tackle they made. They continued with this tactic in the second half, leading to referee Knut Kircher telling the home side players to calm things down a touch. What didn’t need diminishing, though, was their zeal for going forward – with Sio making leggy and dangerous strides down the flank, Augsburg had a new, extremely penetrative weapon in their attacking arsenal, and once again had Düsseldorf on the ropes. But, it was all a bit déjà vu, because despite the players in front of him looking over-worked against impressive opponents, Giefer had nothing to do for the opening ten minutes of a half for the second time in the match.
Not that the visitors posed any sort of goal-threat themselves, though: Fortuna continued to plod along, slowing things down for far too long, thereby allowing Augsburg to get comfortable in their defensive formation. The visitors were crying out for a pace-changer in the midfield, because their play was far too predictable. They very nearly paid the price for being so casual in the 57th minute, when the best move of the match – at that point – saw the home side blow a sitter. Some wonderful one-touch passing concentrated in the centre of the final-third and involving the two wingers saw the away side ball-chase and ball-watch off the D. Thus, when possession was given to Ostrzolek on the flank, the former Bochum man had time to take a touch before floating a delightful cross into the six-yard box. Attacking it, virtually alone, were Sio and Musona. Alas, both players seemed to get in each other’s way, resulting in Musona sending a tame header wide when it was far easier to get the ball on target. A close shave for the visitors, who nigh-on immediately replaced Rafael with Schahin.
Like the player he replaced, Sio was soon in the book – guilty of one too many tactical fouls when his side had lost possession. Despite his enthusiasm being just the sort fans want to see from players representing their team, the French winger’s runs with the ball were perhaps a little too insouciant, resulting in him running down too many dead-ends. Still, at least he was gaining ground for his team – something neither of Fortuna’s wide players were doing (Bellinghausen was having a particularly rough time of it, as Musona tracked him every step of the way up the wing; Paul Verhaegh, meanwhile, had been playing against him every weekday on the training ground for the last few seasons until a few months ago). In the 65th minute, Augsburg again got in behind Levels and got a ball into the box, but this time, Sio blew the finish with a weak volley. The hosts’ issues in front of goal must have been extremely frustrating for coach Weinzierl – getting chances in the box was all that had been missing from his side’s play in the first half, but now they were having the opportunities to test Giefer, they were blowing them.
To rub salt into the wound, Düsseldorf took the lead in the 67th minute. A direct ball and flick-on by Kruse set Schahin on a run down the right flank against a high backline. Showing pace, poise and power, the young striker powered towards the joint of the box with the ball bouncing chest-high in front of him. Barely breaking stride, the former Fürth – and Hamburg II and Dynamo Dresden – man scooped an outrageous right-footed volley over a helpless Jentzsch, giving the away side a shock 1-0 lead! Full credit to Meier for making the change – Schahin is a more mobile player and physical presence than Rafael, and this made all the difference, because the diminutive Angolan – who left Augsburg during the summer – would never have scored such a goal.
However, Düsseldorf were still having trouble defending their right flank, and two minutes after the goal, Sio whipped in a cross that Bancé – practically in the six-yard box – headed straight at Giefer. Soon after, Weinzierl made another substitution, replacing Koo – who was being increasingly bypassed with the home side attacking down the flanks – with Torsten Oehrl. It was becoming one-way traffic, with Meier instructing his defence and midfield to hang back as deep as was feasible. The deleterious effect this was bound to have on Düsseldorf as an attacking threat was encapsulated in the 76th minute when Voronin was forced to hold the ball up and pass to no-one because Bellinghausen took an age to get up in support of the former Liverpool striker. From that very ‘attack’, Verhaegh broke. The right-back showed great determination and acceleration to get up the pitch, setting up a one-two with Bancé, and zooming into the box to receive the ‘two’. However, the former Mainz striker’s return ball was ridiculously heavy, ruining the space Verhaegh had found, not to mention the chance the 28-year-old Dutchman had created single-handedly.
Two minutes later, Schahin grabbed his second goal of the match. A speculative up and under from the wing by Kruse – who had nowhere else to go or nothing else to do – saw Schahin prepare to hold the ball with his back to goal. His eventual first touch – which was sumptuous – allowed him to feign this hold-up, though, and spin 180 degrees in a flash – leaving Langkamp static and looking quite the fool. Despite still having a bit of work to do, the 23-year-old Lebanese-German player got the requisite power and precision in the strike, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead! Kruse – now with two assists to his name – was replaced in a like-for-like switch by Ronny Garbuschewski soon after the goal, the Australian getting a well-earned rest.
Milan Petržela took Musona’s place on the wing for the closing stages – the Czech Republic international making both his Augsburg and Bundesliga debut. Weinzierl went 4-4-2, moving Oehrl up front alongside Bancé. Meier, meanwhile, decided to waste some time and give his engine room some more fuel to see out the game by replacing Bodzek with Juanan (even though it had been the impressive Fink who had probably covered the most ground on the pitch, Düsseldorf’s #7 having never stopped running). However, the substitute had barely 30 seconds of play to savour before Kircher blew his whistle, allowing Düsseldorf to enjoy a famous win!
Formations that finished the match
Augsburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Jentzsch; Verhaegh, Sankoh, Langkamp, Ostrzolek; Petržela, Baier, Ottl, Sio; Bancé, Oehrl
Fortuna Düsseldorf (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Giefer; Levels, Malezas, Langeneke, van den Bergh; Garbuschewski, Juanan, Fink, Bellinghausen; Voronin; Schahin