When it comes down to competitiveness in football, there’s not many leagues that are better than the Bundesliga. Barring the obvious Bayern Munich who are once again leading the way, just four points separate Bayer Leverkusen in second and Hannover 96th in tenth.
One team in the mix is Augsburg. Just three points behind Borussia Dortmund and a place in Europe, many hadn’t expected the Bavarian club to be up there this season. A large part of that is not only down to head coach Manuel Baum, but also the emergence of full-back, Philipp Max.
Born in Viersen, on the outskirts of Dusseldorf, Max was snapped up as a youngster by Sport-Club Baldham-Vaterstetten e.V. before bring scouted by 1860 Munich. Impressing for the youth teams, he made the switch to neighbours Bayern before a move closer back to home, with Schalke 04. Max made his Bundesliga debut at the age of 20 coming on for Julian Draxler in none other than the Revierderby, against fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Composed and fearless at a young age, Max signed a three-year deal with 2. Bundesliga club Karlsruher SC before being snapped up by Augsburg as Baba Rahman’s left for Chelsea in 2015. Playing second fiddle to Konstantinos Stafylidis for much of his time, Max has finally emerged onto the scene as one of Germany’s most exciting prospects.
Now a key player under Baum, Max could be considered for Joachim Low’s Germany squad for the 2018 World Cup. But what could he offer the world champions?
Here, we will look at two of his key attributes: Movement & Passing; Defensive coverage.
Movement and Passing
Avoiding the relegation play-off last season by one point, many hadn’t predicted Augsburg to achieve what they have done this season. A team that doesn’t see too much of the ball, they must take advantage of possession when they have it. One of their key attacking outlets is left-back, Max. The understanding he has of the game and his relationship on the pitch with Caiuby is one to behold.
The left-side of Augsburg consists of the duo but the freedom to allow Caiuby to roam allows Max to shine, as seen below. Here we see the former tucking inside bringing the defender with him, allowing Max to exploit the space.
Just five seconds earlier, Max had been in his own half, but recognising that space and having the anticipation is just one reason why Max has excelled this season, putting him top of the assists chart in Germany. Already, the 24-year-old has seen both Alfred Finnbogason and Michael Gregoritsch making runs behind.
As seen in the next phase of play, Finnbogason has gotten in front of his marker, also bringing Gregoritsch’s marker with him. The timing of the cross and accuracy of the ball is equivalent to some of the best full-backs to ever grace the game.
Unluckily for Max, Augsburg were unable to capitalise. Gregoritsch hadn’t anticipated the dummy by Finnbogason, resulting in the former in firing his effort over the bar from six-yards. But that is just one instance where Augsburg hadn’t been able to take control of the situation.
Below we see Augsburg equalising against the then impressive Borussia Dortmund under Peter Bosz. Already we see Max looking at the danger area prior to receiving the ball. More often that not we’ve seen him cross to the far post as was the case in this move. Upon taking that first touch, Max realised that he had no pressure on the ball and could instead drive forward.
In the screenshot below, Caiuby has no right to win the header and score the equaliser for Augsburg.
As seen below, Finnbogason’s threat inside the area resulted in the defender goal side of Caiuby doubling up on the Iceland international, allowing the latter a free header. Jeremy Toljan was never going to out jump the Brazilian while had Max’s cross missed everyone, Augsburg had two men free at the far post.
Notching his third assist of the season, Max has proved himself to be a vital part of Augsburg’s attacks.
But as well as possessing pin-point accuracy on his crosses, the German also the ability to play the ball from deep, in behind a high line as seen in the following fixture against Hoffenheim.
Max had picked the ball up just outside his penalty area, being allowed to drive forward with no pressure on the ball from Hoffenheim, which is unlike a Julian Nagelsmann side. Once again, it’s the freedom given to Caiuby that creates this goal. Dropping deeper brought centre-back Kevin Vogt with him which allowed Gregoritsch goal side of Benjamin Hubner.
Max can see the move opening up ahead of him which allows him to play the ball in behind the Hoffenheim defence and unlike the chance against Freiburg, Gregoritsch made no mistake in finishing his one-on-one.
For the attacking threat that Max possesses, he also helps defensively. In his earlier years at Augsburg, prior to Stuttgart’s relegation in 2016, the left-back showed the awareness to see the danger and track Timo Werner’s run.
The ball is played out from defence into Daniel Didavi, but already Max recognises what Werner’s intentions are. Augsburg are back-tracking, which is seen below. Ragnar Klavan acts as a stopper which creates space in behind the Augsburg defence.
Max tracks the run of Werner all the way, remaining goal side, before winning the ball back on the edge of the Augsburg penalty area. This defensive coverage is something that we see from the 24-year-old on numerous occasions, proving that Max can be as effective defensively as he is going forward.
Max is fast becoming one of the best left-backs in the Bundesliga behind the likes of David Alaba and Jonas Hector. For a player yet to reach him prime, the 24-year-old has many successful years ahead of him. There’s no doubting that Max should remain at Augsburg in a World Cup year given that a move to Chelsea may not yield playing time.
And with Cologne and Germany left-back Jonas Hector recently returning from injury at the turn of the year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Max within Joachim Low’s Germany setup given Marvin Plattenhardt’s lack of form for Hertha Berlin. Max’s only appearances for Germany came at the 2016 Olympic Games, where they finished runners-up to hosts Brazil.
With one goal and nine assists in 19 Bundesliga games for Augsburg this season, Max has become an integral part of Baum’s squad while it’s clear to see why some of the top clubs in Europe are taking an interest in him.