Titztastisch II: Promotion Boogaloo

About a year ago, I wrote about Christian Titz’s incredible achievement of successfully keeping FC Magdeburg in the German third division despite the side looking dead and buried when he took over on February 12, 2021. They had picked up just 21 points from their first 25 games and were hopelessly plummeting towards semi-professional football. Titz, however, didn’t merely manage to turn things around, he transformed them into an unstoppable machine.

Having evaded relegation, Magdeburg went on to qualify for this season’s DFB-Pokal by beating Saxony-Anhalt rivals Halle, thereby officially turning a campaign that looked to be one of the club’s worst-ever into a triumphant one in the space of just a couple of months. Heading into the new season, there was an air of expectation around the 1974 Cup Winners’ Cup winners. Sporting director Otmar Schork went out and massively strengthened an already solid side; players like Amara Condé, Dominik Reimann, and Jason Ceka would go on to play instrumental roles in the campaign to follow. Most important of all, however, was that both Titz and “the visual manifestation of Titz’s ideas,” Baris Atik, stayed on.

Attacking midfielder Atik had joined Magdeburg shortly before Titz’s arrival and became the focal point of his side almost instantaneously. Tricky, intelligent, and prolific in the final third, Atik took the three-time DDR-Oberliga champions to an entirely new level. His floating around the half-spaces and incredible technical ability make the 27-year-old an absolute nightmare to deal with at 3. Liga level. With all of these promising components in place, Magdeburg kicked off the 2021/22 campaign as one of the favourites for promotion.

Baris Atik up against Zwickau’s Davy Frick (Ronny Hartmann/Getty Images)

To say that they lived up to the hype would be an understatement. By matchday seven, Magdeburg had entrenched themselves at the top of the table, a spot they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the season. Starting off with six wins from their first eight fixtures set the tone for the rest of the year. After a brief two-game slump that saw them surprisingly lose to lowly Würzburg and Halle, Titz’s men would taste defeat just once more in the subsequent 19 outings (not counting the annulled results against bankrupt Türkgücü). Another brief slump – as is natural for any side – followed, but they would emphatically bounce back from that as well, finding the back of the net 11 times over the course of the next three matches. At the point of writing this, i.e. with three matches to play, Magdeburg have scored 73 goals, 15 more than second-deadliest side 1860 München.

Despite some not insignificant player turnover, Titz’s system hasn’t changed that much compared to last season. He still likes to go with a variation of either a 4-3-3 or a 4-3-2-1 with two nominal tens. With players like Atik and Jason Ceka, the nominal wingers (or tens), often dropping deep to create or tucking inside, width and attacking impetus is provided by the full-backs. Raphael Obermair has been the standout, notching seven assists from right-back, but his counterpart Leon Bell Bell has also enjoyed a very solid campaign. Former Schalke player Luca Schuler has been the club’s most prolific out-and-out striker with 12 goals. Magdeburg are a relatively diminutive side, so Schuler’s physicality, willingness to run, and ability to combine with the creators around him makes him an excellent center forward for Titz’s system.

Magdeburg clinched the 3. Liga title with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Zwickau last weekend. A well-deserved achievement for a side that has played some of the most scintillating football in all of Germany this season. It’s also a fitting tribute to Joachim Streich, the club’s record goalscorer, who passed away a day before their crazy 5-4 win over SC Verl. As fate would have it, during that game, the club’s crown jewel, Baris Atik, would himself establish a new record: with 18 goals and 18 assists, he became the 3. Liga’s record holder for most goal involvements in a single season – he has already picked up another two assists since.

Even though a couple of big names will likely depart the 2. Bundesliga this season, Magdeburg’s return is great news for Germany’s second division. Few clubs can boast a fanbase as rabid as Magdeburg’s, and even fewer have the same historical significance. The 2. Bundesliga is better for having another East German powerhouse within its ranks – and if Dynamo Dresden manage to survive, we’ll even get to witness some Elb-Clásicos again! If Magdeburg can carry their outrageous form over into the second tier, they’ll undoubtedly cause some trouble next season.

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