Winning promotion is one thing, sustaining the level in the new division another. Last season FC Magdeburg surprised many and probably themselves and finished fourth. The second season is something entirely different.
At this stage last season Magdeburg had managed to win their first three home games and had drawn their two away games. With 11 points they were sitting in second place behind Dynamo Dresden and would finish a superb fourth place which also meant direct qualification for the DFB-Cup.
The term second season syndrome is used to describe the fate of a football team that has been promoted, has subsequently overcome the odds and managed to stay up. To tip it all off they finished strong in the new division. Yet, life in the second season proves to be a lot harder. This very much applies to Magdeburg in 2016/17.
Last season saw Magdeburg continue their ride on a wave of euphoria that almost got them promoted again. Winning promotion in 2015 was the biggest achievement in the club’s recent history and it happened at the right time. Last season they have played with vigour and made it difficult for the opposition in almost every game of the season. The reward was a fantastic fourth place finish. Euphoria was one key factor. It kept the club going through tougher times. Finishing fourth is another reason to fuel euphoric feelings, though after two years of great achievement and a lot of emotion this is unlikely to happen again. To a certain degree it is therefore understandable that mental fatigue among players and coaches could be diagnosed. Last season everything was new, the simplest fact was that all players were now officially professionals and the publicity that came with it added something to the mix that made it all the more exciting. The club weren’t anxious of treading new paths into what was until then uncharted territory for them and they did so walking unafraid. The effect of the new has worn off and by now it has been replaced by routine. This however, should not be accepted as an excuse.
Another reason why they did so well surely was luck. You have to be lucky in order to finish in the top four of this division in your first season in professional football. Magdeburg played decent football and occasionally it was great to watch; live as well as on telly. Though, technically and tactically there were teams far more mature and ahead of them. Other teams also had the advantage of having at least two players scoring goals and reaching double figures in their tally. Magdeburg relied too much on Christian Beck and too often their game plan was obviously tailored to suit the man in front of goal. It nonetheless reaped rewards as Beck scored 19 goals, which accounts for almost half of his team’s goals. There was no other player in the team who has scored ten or more; Marius Sowislo the captain is second with 7. In between them they scored 26 goals last season. No doubt, 19 is a fantastic achievement but having one or two more players reaching double figures would be even better as it remains to be seen whether Beck can repeat this feat. Moreover, it would mean that FC Magdeburg playing in a fluid formation. Many opponents have easily found out how to stifle Magdeburg last season; even more so there is a requirement to be flexible on the pitch and in the head in order to reach the 40-45 points needed to avoid the drop this season. Last season after 6 games Magdeburg already had 11 points in the bank or 25 per cent of that 40-45 points benchmark. They have beaten Erfurt, Halle and Chemnitz at home and managed to draw the away games in Mainz and Bremen while losing away at Cologne; both times they were one goal up when they conceded the equalizer late in both games away. So far this season this figure stands at 4 points with six matches played. In other words the going has gotten a lot tougher for them and it is here that their resolve will be tested comprehensively. While they still play decent football, luck seems to be missing. As long as it is only luck that is missing, surely hard work will help getting their season on track.
While luck and euphoria are rather psychological phenomena, the sheer hard work put in by Andreas Petersen, Mario Kallnik and Jens Härtel as well as the team is the main factor for the development of Magdeburg in the last four years. A lot of credit has to go to Petersen who took over when the club was rock bottom in 2012 and only avoided relegation due to the league being restructured. Since then, the club has been on an upward trajectory, finishing 7 in 2013, second a year later, winning promotion 2015 and finishing fourth last season. What the club and the fans currently experience is the first serious dip after a relatively steep incline and it is a normal occurrence. That is not to say that sitting in a relegation spot is something to be content with, far from it. It is now the task of Jens Härtel and his coaching staff to address this situation and most importantly stay calm. The same applies to the management; calm is the demand of the hour. Jens Härtel is one of the best coaches in the club has ever signed and holds all the necessary qualifications to work in the Bundesliga. That of course, is no guarantee that he can get the club out of the danger zone and lead them to a mid-table finish. Likewise, the fans and media have to pace themselves.
If this current situation leads to a mental downward spiral, it is almost impossible to get them out of the relegation zone, something that has to be avoided. As a matter of fact, the team are actually playing a lot better than last season, having signed players that give them more variety in almost every section of the team. It is not at all the end of the world the current situation. The season is not yet long enough to write off Magdeburg, yet the trajectory could become even more negative than it already is currently. It will be a battle this season.