Rudderless ⋆ An Old International

Rudderless

After more than 10 games have been played this season, the international break offers a moment to take stock of FC Magdeburg’s season so far after being relegated at the end of last season.

Waiting for some thin’ to break

This is the feeling many Magdeburg supporters have these days: they are waiting for something to happen, a breakthrough that their beloved club will convince them. At the time however, they appear rudderless, a song by Lemonheads from which the above quote originates.

The finale of the song goes

Ship without a rudder’s like a ship without a rudder’s like a
ship without a rudder

(©Evan Dando/Lemonheads, 1992)

New Coach, New Season

Let’s start with the new signings and coach. Stefan Krämer is well known in Germany and has some vital experience in this division. It is exactly this, that made Mario Kallnik and Maik Franz decide to approach him. It seemed not a long process to find a decision. He has worked at Rot-Weiß Erfurt, Bielefeld and at Uerdingen where he was sacked only in January this year. After that Uerdingen’s season faltered and it turned out to be a mistake by the club’s direction to let Krämer go. One club’s misfortune is the other one’s luck. Krämer immediately seemed to convince the Magdeburg public with his openness and by carrying his heart on his sleeve. For the moment the statistics for Magdeburg say that he has only earned 1.45 points per game with his new club, on a par with his tenure at Erfurt where he achieved that same figure in 77 games in charge. This is however some way off the 2.28 ppg Krämer has achieved with Uerdingen between March 2018 and January this year. There is still room for improvement here.

The season was just over and the by mid-June the new coach was unveiled. A few weeks later a host of players were presented as new signings for the current season. An almost new team emerged but it is a team that has experience and the quality to play an important role in this division this season. Sören Bertram has played at HSV, Augsburg, Aue and Darmstadt and brings with him a strong left foot in attack. Also from Aue comes Mario Kvesic whose brief is to spark some creativity in midfield. The river Elbe seems to connect Hamburg and Magdeburg well as back-up keeper Morten Behrens has found its way up the river. A key player for the defence is Jürgen Gjasula who has represented his country of birth, Albania, twice. This is enhanced by Sirlord Conteh, Manfred Kwadwo, Anthony Roczen while a group of young players matured from the academy and have signed their first professional contract. In all, this should give hope and spread optimism for the season ahead.

The Going Ain’t Easy

Alas, eleven games into the campaign and there is some headache. The major issue most supporters have is the inconsistency. Yes, the club has only lost once but also drawn already seven times in only 11(!!!) matches this season. The opening day could not have been worse. Braunschweig and Magdeburg are twin cities and both set of fans have what is called a Fanfreundschaft, a concept that many in England or elsewhere may find strange. This derby, the A2-derby as it may be called is not to be compared with the one against Halle when verbal exchanges are followed by physical encounters and the police have some extra hours to fill in their time sheets. This cosy derby ended with a heavy 4-2 defeat for Magdeburg and left many looking for words. Disconnected was maybe the main impression of this first match. Unfortunately, this development was not reversed but continued well into autumn. The pattern of most games was as follows: a bright start, about 15 minutes into the first half there was only one team playing: Magdeburg. Then came a period of retreat during which the opponent had more of the ball, before Magdeburg took the initiative again just before half-time. The second halves were often not worth mentioning, except those games against 1860 München, SV Meppen and Würzburg. Those three games were the only victories this year. Two at home and one away. This is not enough. What particularly astonishes supporters are those draws and the manner in which they were played. Lacklustre is the word fitting best. Some would say the players refuse to work. The last match before the international break in October was against KFC Uerdingen, Krämer’s last station as coach before being hired by Magdeburg. It was a tiresome 0-0 draw. Magdeburg had overall 47% possession, eight shots in total. Similarly, away at Kaiserslautern, Magdeburg had more of the game in terms of shots (10 vs. 4) yet did not turn out as winners at the final whistle and instead could only equalise after 78 minutes. The same against Duisburg: Magdeburg dominant but no goal for either side. The games aginst Chemnitz and Jena were similar. The latter recorded their one and only point against Magdeburg after losing their first six matches; they have not won a point since, Magdeburg have been generous to Jena.

This season Magdeburg resemble Kinder Surprise as it is never clear what will happen on the pitch: will the team perform and grind their opponents down or will they sit back and let things happen only to rush when really forced to act, i.e. when they fell behind. This lethargy appears to be the key point to address during training.

Another point seems formation, the tactical match plan applied for each match. The standard formation is a 4-2-3-1 where Christian Beck is the only striker while Bertram, Costly, Kwadwo, Chahed and Conteh being used in a supporting role in midfield. Of those, only Bertram has really convinced, while Kwadwo, Chahed and Costly are too inconsistent to claim a spot in the starting XI. Conteh is completely out of his depth, it has to be said. The defence on the other side is the crown jewel as it proves incredibly hard to score against Magdeburg. Magdeburg and Halle have conceded 10 goals each this season which is the lowest in this division, even leader Unterhaching have conceded 14 already but scored 19 and recorded six wins and only four draws.

This is not written in an alarming voice but meant to highlight the problems of Magdeburg this season so far. The positive point to be made is that they are in ninth position in the table but are only four points adrift from third place which qualifies for the relegation-promotion play-off at the end of the season against the team third from bottom in Bundesliga 2. One more point (21) and Magdeburg would be second and save passage to the next level would be automatically secured. At the same time the relegation places are just five points away. It is a sign that the league is very much a level playing field; there are no run away favourites for going up or going down, perhaps with the exception of Jena with just one point from eleven outings. The winter break in January will possibly be more insightful with 20 games played.

Where does it go from here? It could go quick either way and if the trajectory takes a downward turn, things could get nasty very quickly with the media and fans not adequately convinced. The team are not rudderless more likely they are on a steady ship where the communication needs to be fine tuned.

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