Fans of FC Magdeburg can be forgiven to be over the moon this season. They have a reason for being chirpy: the blue and whites from the river Elbe are flying high again this season and look a lot improved compared to the previous two years.
The last two years have been nothing but wonderful for the supporters of Magdeburg. Their team took the third division by storm once they got promoted in 2015 and finished a splendid fourth in their maiden season in professional football. All was forgiven for not reaching third or even second as they were they new kids on the block and they surprised the league and themselves with their end of season finish. The 2016/17 saw them finish again in fourth and again no one spoke of deception. This is even more surprising considering that the team was one of the best until late February, early March. Suddenly the team lacked esprit and mental freshness which saw them dropping to fourth in April. At the end they missed the automatic promotion spots by six points. Once again there was no animosity among the media and crucially among the fans. Surely, this won’t be the same come May 2018.
The strength of Magdeburg is certainly the fact that the core of the team has been playing together for three years, therefore this is a squad that knows each other well and therefore finds its stride during matches with ease. The key players Sowislo, Beck, Butzen, Handke, Glinker, Niemeyer and Hamann are with the club for more than three years and they all have played a major role during the 2014/15 season when finally Magdeburg have reached the realm of professional football in the German football pyramide. Since then, coach Jens Härtel has added wisely to the squad with only one misfit, Maurice Exslager. To be fair to the player, he has had to struggle with injuries during his short spell at the banks of the river Elbe. This core of players convinces through their spirit and they are carried forward by the supporters who once more make the stadium a well of noise that is putting places like Wolfsburg to shame.
After ten matches so far there have been two defeats. On the opening day they were unfortunate as Großaspach beat them 4-1. This sounds like a hammering but Großaspach scored phenomenal goals which surely they will not be able to repeat. Indeed, Magdeburg have since improved their game and only conceded ten goals in total, three of them against Zwickau. Zwickau beat them with their own weapons: an utterly physical approach left Magdeburg without any space to breathe let alone play. Adding the four against Großaspach, they have only conceded one goal in three of the remaining eight games. In other words, their defence is solid against most opposition teams. Until the reverse at Zwickau they went six games unbeaten in the league. On top of that they kicked Augsburg out of the DFB Cup with a performance that left the Bundesliga team look bleak. Their unity and their confidence make Magdeburg a candidate to play a major role in the promotion race this season.
In previous seasons Magdeburg were described as a team of long ball merchants and there was some truth in this accusation. Their game relied heavily on pressing and a quick counter attacking game with a few touches. There was no need to change dramatically as the position in the table at the end of the last two seasons were better than expected. However, the aesthetic dimension was indeed missing. Any wise coach would not change his approach to the game, unless he is asking to be sacked sooner than later. Jens Härtel however, has signed Andreas Ludwig from Twente Enschede, the Dutch top division in order to introduce some playing flair. Additionally, with more striking options the game was to be made less dependent on Christian Beck, the top scorer in this division in the last two years. While Andreas Ludwig has had a quiet start, another signing has made a huge impact already: Philip Türpitz. Signed from Chemnitz before the season he has already four goals and has started in nine out of ten games so far. Officially a midfielder he mostly plays on the right side of a three man attacking line with Beck in the centre and Schwede on the left.
Defensively, Hamann, Weil and Handke has been the main formation and they do not allow too many opposition strikers get too close to goal. With Dennis Erdmann, Magdeburg have signed one of the alleged bad boys in this division. Erdmann convinces through a Roy Keanesque approach to defending, i.e. leaving opponents no space to pass the ball, let alone move into space to receive passes. Erdmann tackles hard and many feared the worst when it was announced that he would move from Rostock to Magdeburg. This signing underlined the stereotype that Magdeburg would work football instead of playing it. So far, he has collected six yellow cards, which supports his reputation as a tough player but he has not made a bad name for himself by being too hard.
Off the pitch things seem normal. The debate whether the fans use too much pyrotechnic during games will probably run forever. It is costly for the club. Ever since July 2015 the club have been fined €110000, which is a nice sum and equates an annual salary for a player. However, emotions are part of the football fabric and there have been no reports of firework related injuries, thankfully. Their noise makes the blue and white faithful a force. Magdeburg are topping the gate figures this season with an average of 17000 already reached. The situation with the north stand is soon to be solved with an extension planned. This also means that Magdeburg fans will soon be able to start jump again during home games, something that they are not allowed to since November last year. The north stand, once finished will then hold 10000 which increases the capacity to 30000. The highlight in this: this will be a standing area.
There has to be something negative. If there is one thing, it is the handling of the ticketing for the second round match against Borussia Dortmund in late October in the DFB Cup. Of course, demand is high and almost 100000 tickets could be sold, if the ground held that many people. The club, eager to extend their fan base have offered up to four tickets to their members. Provided membership applications are received by September 8, these new members will be considered for ticket allocation. This is not fair as it is feared that these new members may have only signed up for the short term to see Dortmund and then will not show up again. Season ticket holders will be able to get tickets, too. However, this leaves only a few tickets, if any at all, available freely. This situation leaves Magdeburg in a position where they can do as they wish as demand outstrips supply manifold. The club must tread carefully in order not to burn bridges. The Magdeburg crowd is critical and does not hold back once they can smell a rat. Should promotion become a reality, Magdeburg need more space in their ground as otherwise too many people will be left out too often.
Generally, things are looking good and suggest Magdeburg have improved once again. The mood has certainly changed as people and players openly speak about their aim for this season: promotion to Bundesliga 2. With the results so far and the manner in which they were achieved Magdeburg have shown that this season promotion looks realistic and no one in the squad should be afraid of the second tier of German football. The only ones to be afraid are the visiting teams as they will enter a lions den that they will not forget easily.
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