Hi everyone, it’s been a while. Thanks to all for being so patient for the last month whilst I’ve been away but as promised, I’m back and ready for the start of the 2.Bundesliga season on Friday. Here we go…
It’s the 13th July. In just two days time, before the extremely successful Women’s World Cup has drawn to a close, Germany’s unified second division will kick off for a 20th time. It seems a bizarre time to be starting a season – in the height of summer – but when voted on, only tiny FSV Frankfurt opposed the motion. (Although Bochum gaffer Friedhelm Funkel didn’t mince his words when more recently slating the ‘shit’ decision.)
Of course then, FSV would be one of the four teams to get the ball rolling. The other three – East German outfits.
Last season was something of a renaissance for former DDR-Oberliga sides. Although 2011/12 will be the third year running that all eighteen sides in the top tier are from the former West, both Hansa Rostock and Dynamo Dresden were promoted from the 3.Liga. With Union Berlin, Energie Cottbus and Erzgebirge Aue also there, the 2.Bundesliga will have five representatives from the former East – the most since the league was unified in 1992/1993.
So what can we expect from this season, save for some feisty games between these Eastern sides and culture-club St. Pauli? It could be the most competitive promotion race in years. Assuming Eintracht live up to their billing – you can only get around 2/1 on them ending up champions – the fight for second and third could involve any two from around 10 teams.
The relegation battle could be equally as tense. The promoted clubs will be looking to get to around 37 points as quick as possible, and the teams that narrowly avoided the drop last season – Ingolstadt, Paderborn, Karlsruhe and the likes – are all likely to struggle again whilst teams like Union, FSV and even a side like Aachen could be dragged in.
So what do we think will happen? I’ll start with my expectations but please feel free to add to the debate below! It’s always a good laugh come May when we’ve accurately predicted nothing but our own idiocy.
UP: Eintracht Frankfurt and VfL Bochum
I should immediately point out that making predictions isn’t my strong suit. At Christmas I thought Eintracht may sneak Europe. Now I’m predicting they’ll win the league and return to the top flight – if they can relocate the net that is. Central to that is Theofanis Gekas staying. He’ll want to better his 16 goal haul from an ultimately sad year, whilst hoping he gets some reasonable support from his team mates this time round. The Greek scored over half the Eagles’ goals last season.
Armin Veh’s side have nabbed perhaps the best of also-relegated St. Pauli’s players last season – Matthias Lehmann, whilst adding a number of other key players. Thomas Kessler, who spent the year on loan at Pauli, is borrowed from Köln, Florian Fromlowitz joins from Hannover 96 and Karim Matmour has dropped a division after leaving ‘Gladbach. The main concern for once Meistertrainer Veh is that his defence has been stripped of its best assets – Maik Franz (Hertha) and Patrick Ochs (Wolfsburg).
Bochum, now moaning about the early start, will need to get over any lingering play-off hangover they might still be harbouring following Marco Reus’ late goal that killed hopes of an immediate return to the Bundesliga. This year, Funkel’s side will hope to go one better and get an automatic spot – a more than realistic ambition for VfL.
Bochum have put together a perfect pre-season, including a 3-0 mauling of SPL Champions Rangers. They also appear to have dealt shrewdly in the transfer market, picking up young Daniel Ginczek from BVB on a season-long loan. The tall (6 foot 3) striker has already made an impact for 1848, and will look to form a strong partnership with Mirkan Aydin or a fit-again Chong Tese. Funkel will hope his defence remain as sound as last year – only three teams conceded fewer goals than Bochum.
PROMOTION PLAY-OFF: Fortuna Düsseldorf
Fortuna’s home form last season after a terribly slow start was quite simply magic. Led by captain Andreas Lambertz and then the effervescent Dane Ken Ilsø – now signed permanently – Norbert Meier’s side strung eight home wins on the trot on their way to the best home record (13 wins) in the league. They haven’t lost a home game since September and only Bayern Munich picked up more home points (41 to 40) in the top two divisions. If they can start quickly this term and toughen up on the road, Fortuna have an excellent chance on bettering last season and their 4th place finish of 2010.
SURPRISE PACKAGE: Dynamo Dresden
On paper, Dresden shouldn’t be a threat: they only finished 3rd in the 3.Liga and their best player –Alexander Esswein – has joined Nürnberg.
So why have I chosen them? Well, a) I’m bad at predictions, b) history is littered with teams riding the crest of a wave following promotion and c) their partisan –bordering on lunatic – home crowd should give them a platform to succeed. No-one will like visiting the Rudolf-Harbig this year.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: SpVgg Greuther Fürth
A lot are tipping perennial bridesmaids Fürth to finally make it to the top tier. What Leverkusen are to the Bundesliga title, Greuther Fürth are to promotion: 4th last year, 5th in seven of the ten previous seasons. Get your money on an increasingly depressing 5th again.
RELEGATION PLAY-OFF: FSV Frankfurt
15th in 2009. 15th in 2010. 13th in 2011. In all three seasons, Eintracht’s tiny neighbours FSV have spluttered their way to 38 points and safety. Credit has to go to the smallest club in the top two tiers. Perhaps the top three tiers. They’ve fought off relegation, against the odds, each year since their promotion in 2008 but perhaps it won’t be fourth time lucky in 2012. With minimalistic and uncompetitive crowds, the side that for a long time lived in the shadows of its now disbanded women’s department are pretty much everyone’s favourites to slide this season.
RELEGATED: Ingolstadt and Paderborn
I know you probably shouldn’t judge a team on their pre-season performance but Ingolstadt’s last two testspielen haven’t particularly gone to plan. If four shipped to an improving HSV wasn’t disastrous, getting tonked 6-1 by Wehen Wiesbaden at home certainly was. Without a particularly proficient goalscorer – although Stefan Leitl netted 13 times from midfield last season – a defence like that spells only trouble.
If Paderborn are to survive, they’ll need goals from Matt Taylor, the American signed after scoring 15 goals in the third tier for Ahlen. They netted the lowest total of goals in the division last season – narrowly avoiding relegation – and have lost their top-scorer Kapllani (returning to Augsburg) and somewhat more surprisingly their manager to Pauli.