When the draw for the knockout stages of the Europa League were initially made, many Liverpool fans would have been very wary of FC Augsburg, a team whose high finish in the Bundesliga last season catapulted them into the second tier of European club football.
Many fans will be unfamiliar with them and rightly so, this is the first meeting ever between the two sides, but Liverpool should not take for granted the threat that they pose.
On paper, it looks an ideal draw for Jurgen Klopp’s side given his knowledge of them having managed Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, but journalists in Germany have remarked that they are a team who enjoy playing against the big sides and were widely regarded as the surprise package of the Bundesliga last season. They've beaten Bayern Munich twice in the last three years, which admittedly is no easy feat against a side who have monopolised football in Germany for long periods.
A consortium led by local businessman Walter Seinsch helped get the club back on its feet in the 2000's. Crowds numbered in the hundreds when they took over, but a steady rise culminated in promotion to the Bundesliga in 2010/11 and the club has not looked back since.
Domestically, FC Augsburg are in very poor form this season, currently sitting 14th in the Bundesliga table but this may be because of fixture congestion resulting from a debut season in European competition. They have already suffered big defeats to Dortmund, Hoffenheim and Borussia Monchengladbach, but there is a big contrast in their European form finishing second in Group L just behind Athletic Bilbao and securing a knockout place with a dramatic last minute goal against Partizan Belgrade.
Who’s the manager?
Markus Weinzierl is the man in charge of this Augsburg side. Highly regarded as one of the most promising young managers in the world at the moment, he has done a lot in the game in a short amount of time. In his last three seasons in charge they have finished 15th, 8th and then 5th and this emphasises the progress they have made under his watchful eye.
After his side drew Liverpool in the Round of 32 draw he was quoted as saying “We will do everything in that we can. This game is something special. We will be underdogs against Liverpool but this is a role we like to assume.” This tag will suit Augsburg down to the ground, they can just go out and really take the game to the English side with no pressure at all and as Weinzierl also mentioned, his team have “courage and confidence.”
Weinzierl took over from Dutch coach Jos Luohkay at the end of the 2011/2012 campaign and was not immediately popular with the fans. His only past managerial experience was with Regensburg who he had got promotion from 3. Liga, Germany’s third tier. Weinzierl's influence on Regensburg is very clear because as soon as he left, their fortunes changed and they have not hit the heights without him at the helm and now reside back in Germany’s fourth tier.
Another piece of history for Weinzierl was beating German superpowers Bayern Munich in 2014, spoiling their 53 game unbeaten record and claiming an historic first ever win for the club over the Bavarian’s.
How do they play?
At Augsburg, Weinzierl typically utilises a 4-2-3-1 formation, similar to that used by Klopp at Dortmund, exploiting the pace of his wide players and the physicality of his centre-forwards.
Augsburg are a side who like to create lots of goal scoring chances and they have the man to finish these in Raul Bobadilla, who scored against the Reds for BSC Young Boys in 2012. He was Augsburg’s top scorer last season and is this year’s Europa League joint top scorer with six goals. He is a reagular international for Paraguay and utilises his strength, power and agility to great effect. He will spearhead the attack and look to exploit any defensive errors.
Right attacking midfielder Alexander Esswein has also been a regular for Augsburg this season. He has a great footballing brain which enables to link up with Bobadilla and his immense pace will cause Liverpool problems. He still isn’t capped at senior international level, but will no doubt provide the threat needed to unlock the Liverpool defence.
Marwin Hitz, the Augsburg number one goalkeeper has really made a name for himself over the last few seasons. Since joining from Wolfsburg he has really made the position his own with great shot stopping and reflexes. He made headlines when he became only the third goalkeeper to score a goal in the Bundesliga, netting a dramatic last minute winner in a 2-2 draw against Leverkusen last season.