Relegated: A Season in Review ⋆ An Old International

Relegated: A Season in Review

Last year a brief post stated that 1. FC Magdeburg had achieved something historical by reaching Bundesliga 2. This year, just over a year later, the club have been relegated. Time to draw some conclusions.

Where to begin such a season review? There are a number of factors to be added into the calculation that saw Magdeburg finish second from bottom. A look at the statistics should be necessary at the start.

This season just finished, Magdeburg have played 34 games in this division (four less than in division three) and have 31 points, that equates to less than a point per game. There were only six wins in total, 13 draws and fifteen matches were lost. Only Duisburg fared worse, amassing 28 points. Magdeburg have scored 35 goals and conceded 53. Again the ratio of goals for and goals against is clear and allow only one conclusion: Magdeburg just weren’t good enough. How did this happen? Was the squad not assembled rightly? How do you build a strong squad on the back of a record breaking promotion season?

A football squad is an organism that depends on many different factors, internal and external: on the management level there are the coaching staff and the sporting directors, the squad itself is changing throughout the seasons. Some players are there for some years, some have recently arrived and successfully settled others haven’t.

The mantra never change a winning team is as old as the game itself but in the case of Magdeburg it has not stood the test of time. Here it was an over-reliance on many players who were good or very good at division three level but could not make the step up. The example of Nils Butzen should suffice.

Elected captain at the start of the season, he was dropped immediately once the most successful coach of the recent years, Jens Härtel, had to leave in early November. At this time Butzen had been at the club for more than nine years and had progressed through the youth teams to lead the team out onto the pitch for league games. It was a natural progression and a fitting one it seemed. Since autumn however, he has not played regularly and often found himself a spectator in the stands. Others are Christopher Handke and Richard Weil; both just did not cut it at that level. Nils Butzen has since joined Hansa Rostock where he will work again with Jens Härtel.

For the new season 2018/19 the squad was strengthened with several players who seemed adept at playing at this level. Yet, the biggest failure was the new keeper, Jasmin Fezic. Signed as a stopper with experience in this division he was a liability, destabilising the defense and the team with shaky performances that surely have cost a few points at the start of the season. After five games Härtel had to act and replace him with Alexander Brunst. Now at least the keeper was up for the game at this level.

In total there were 13 signings in the summer and winter transfer windows. Of these 13 only four were complete failures: Mergim Berisha and said Jasmin Fezic; both have left the club in January. Berisha seems to have found his mettle in Austria where he scored six for Altach. His case highlights that some players only work at specific places whereas others could turn up on a proverbial rainy Tuesday night in Stoke and perform. Example: Marius Bülter. Signed from fourth division club Rödlingshausen, he immediately made an iompact, played 32 games, scored four and has four assists. Steven Lewerenz could not make any impact at all – he was injured for most of the time since January and never made it beyond the role of a sub. Kwadwo only made three appearances all season.

Alexander Ignjovski missed the first half of the season with a difficult injury, Jan Kirchhoff, signed in January is injury prone unfortunately. Because when he played, he often lifted the game. Though he alone was no game changer to the positive for Magdeburg and he often found no recipient for his passes. The season wasn’t lost since January but before. Until Christmas there were only 11 points for Magdeburg from 17 matches. This is not enough. In the second half until May the team have won five times, drawn five and lost seven games. With such a performance 40 points would have been possible. This would equate to 14. place.

Another factor that certainly has cost them dearly is the lack of concentration during the final minutes of a number of matches. This has been a thread in this season’s story from the very first match in August. At home against St. Pauli they conceded a late free kick, which Pauli happily converted. The following is an overview of the number of points dropped and at which time the last goal was scored by the respective opponent.

OpponentTime of GoalPoints dropped
St. Pauli81.1
Holstein Kiel87.1
Duisburg88.1
Regensburg81. & 90.2
Fürth88. & 90.2
Duisburg90.+22
Dresden86.2
Darmstadt87.1
Total: 12

Concentration to avoid conceding is one thing, being focused to score at the other end of the pitch is another. Whether it was a lack of mental awareness or simply lack of quality is not the issue here. It is clear that Magdeburg were too harmless in front of goal. This despite the pairing of height (Beck) and speed (Lohkemper) and grit (Türpitz). Ever so often during the last season, Magdeburg were playing superbly, were on top of their opponents but could not translate this apparent dominance into goals. The failure of Berisha making an impact weighs heavily.

Then there were standards and the lack of nicking a goal or two from corners and free kicks. Instead, Magdeburg were prone to concede from these too easily.

One thing has often been cited: refereeing decisions. There were some that clearly put Magdeburg at a disadvantage, particularly red cards not given or goals that were scored from an offside position or where the goal keeper was distracted by two opposition players. To speak of a systematic discrimination would be too much, yet in some cases they cost a point or even the match and therefore must be added to this review.

Conclusions and Lessons to be learned

The lessons are clear: never rely too much on a team that has broken the points record in division three the previous season; Bundesliga 2 is a different animal where such things don’t count. The learning curve for Magdeburg was steep and at time it seemed it was too much for them to take on board.

The positive: This is not the end of the world. The fans have celebrated this team and have made their mark in some of Germany’s biggest grounds: Köln and Hamburg where the home crowds were silenced. The fans’ performances have won them admirers throughout the country.

There is a new coach, Stefan Krämer and he has worked miracles at Bielefeld, Erfurt and Uerdingen. All in much worse circumstances than he will find at Magdeburg. There is money available, the home support is class, the city is behind the club, all is quiet: this provides a working environment others look at jealously. Being relegated provides a moment to reflect and to come back better.

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    • Dan Williamson

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