2. Bundesliga is back this weekend for the 2017-18 campaign, and after a season full of slips, spills, skills and surprises, it promises to deliver that and more this weekend. With the playing field arguably more level than it ever has been — even though this gets repeated year-on-year — this year has the feel that 10 or 12 clubs have a very real chance of making the leap back to Bundesliga.
It won’t just be at the right end of the table that there will be a battle for the top three spots, but the dogfight at the bottom could also take a similar look. With the three promoted sides largely keeping their teams together, they are hoping that the players and tactics that reaped rewards last year can do it once again. Whatever the make-up of the table after Matchday 1 or Matchday 34, it’s going to be another memorable season. This time, we start off in the Ruhrgebiet.
VfL Bochum – FC St. Pauli (Friday, 19:30BST)
Now under Ismail Atalan’s tutelage after Gertjan Verbeek’s departure, Bochum have jumped up in many people’s estimations and are among the favourites for promotion. Atalan’s attacking style seems to have rubbed the fans up the right way and a seemingly more solid defence have made his 3-4-1-2 variation on Verbeek’s established formation a real hit.
The former Sportfreunde Lotte coach has spoken very highly of Alexander Merkel’s work in pre-season and he could well partner Anthony Losilla in midfield. Dimitrios Diamantakos has added the ability to run the channels like Simon Terodde, and that will greatly benefit the team’s play as they try to get back to the attractive, destructive football of 2015-16.
Another stalwart of the league, St. Pauli will be very hopeful of yet another positive result against Bochum. They ended the season by leapfrogging VfL with a 3-1 win in the Ruhrstadion on the final day, a result that takes their unbeaten run to six against Friday’s opponents. They will also have a new head coach on the bench for the league opener, with Olaf Janßen takes over as Ewald Lienen moves to board level.
It hasn’t been a massively busy summer for FCSP, although the moves they have made are important. Clemens Schoppenhauer offers an experienced and useful option in defence, much like Sami Allagui in attack. Allagui will look to lift the burden off Aziz Bouhaddouz, while also converting Enver Cenk Sahin’s crosses after he signed on a permanent deal. If St. Pauli pick up where they left off last season, this should be a fantastic game to open up the 2017-18 term.
FC Ingolstadt 04 – 1. FC Union Berlin (Saturday, 12:00)
Saturday doesn’t do a bad job of picking up where Friday leaves off, as Ingolstadt get their bid for an immediate Bundesliga return up and running. They’ve gone through a summer full of change but, as much as key players have departed, they’ve managed to hold onto the likes of Marvin Matip, Alfredo Morales and Dario Lezcano. Three members of the squad who will form a vital part of the spine.
However, with Pascal Groß, Markus Suttner and Mathew Leckie gone there has been the need to find replacements. Thomas Pledl, Marcel Gaus and Stefan Kutschke will all be key in playing their part in a new look system that looks to get the best out of both Lezcano and Kutschke. Pledl is vital in feeding the front two from midfield, as Ingolstadt look to live up to their promotion favourites tag.
Jens Keller and Union come into the campaign hoping to continue their good work from last season. It’s been an interesting summer, not least because of the constant speculation surrounding Toni Leistner, but the capital club have made some really impressive moves. Akaki Gogia has arrived from Brentford by way of Dynamo, as their front-line looks jam-packed with quality from starters to the bench.
They have an exciting squad across the board and the loss of Roberto Puncec has been dealt with well, leading many to believe that Keller can lead his charges to yet another promotion push. They are perhaps the best placed of the sides that were in last year’s race, given that they’ve only strengthened their squad and they have a steely determination to push the club into the Bundesliga as the stadium expansion gets ever closer.
Arminia Bielefeld – Jahn Regensburg (Saturday, 14:30)
Arminia managed to avoid the drop in the final minutes of the previous season, but now the goal will be heading in the right direction under Jeff Saibene. He replaced Jürgen Kramny as permanent head coach, and saw his side produce the most unbelievable result when it mattered most as they thumped Eintracht Braunschweig 6-0. Ultimately, this proved the difference between Bielefeld staying up and Braunschweig ending up in the play-offs.
Andreas Voglsammer and Fabian Klos should form a very strong and successful partnership up front, and this is probably where Bielefeld will build a successful campaign on. With Kevin Staude and Christoph Hemlein feeding from midfield and Konstantin Kerschbaumer play-making from the 8, it could be a pretty promising season going forward. However, they will need their defence to be much more solid to keep pushing on with the Luxembourgish head coach.
Very few sides have lost out, in terms of quality, during the summer break but one of those is certainly Jahn Regensburg. They were unable to bring Erik Thommy back to the club after his successful loan last term, Kolja Pusch was snapped up by 1. FC Heidenheim on a free transfer and Heiko Herrlich has left the club to pursue Bundesliga management with Bayer Leverkusen.
That said, Regensburg have a little bit of the Darmstadt spirit about them. After falling to Regionalliga, they’ve now earned back-to-back promotions to end up back in 2. Bundesliga after a five-year absence. After just two one-season stays in the league since the millennium, Marvin Knoll and the defence will have their work cut out. A lot of pressure will also fall on Marco Grüttner’s shoulders to provide the necessary firepower up front. Can Achim Beierlorzer keep them in the division?
SV Darmstadt 98 – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday, 14:30)
Unless you’re a supporter of a rival, it’s pretty hard not to feel something towards SV Darmstadt. They’ve been through the mill in recent years, with promotion highs and some of the most incredible moments in recent German football history. However, after their relegation last season, attentions have now turned to making that negative a positive and beginnings their rise to the Bundesliga once again.
As far as transfers go, it’s been an interesting window. One of the standouts in pre-season was a young American, McKinze Gaines. Recently arrived from VfL Wolfsburg, he has made a real impression on the wings. The big arrivals, one more of a return, are Tobias Kempe and Jamie MacLaren. Both will be looking to nail down a starting spot and show their worth, especially MacLaren after making the move from Brisbane Roar and his 19-goal season.
The Shamrocks improved massively on their previous campaign in 2016-17, and finally finished above eternal rivals, 1. FC Nürnberg. However, that said, their goal is now to continue that good work and keep pushing forward under Janos Radoki. Unlike most teams that finished in the top half this season, it looks like a change in formation and quite a large turnover in personnel as they aim to build upon a very interesting year for all with the Kleeblatt.
Philipp Hofmann, formerly of Kaiserslautern, will get a second chance to crack the division after arriving from Brentford. Sadly for him, injury has ruled him out of the early weeks of the season. Nik Omladic, Manuel Torres, Maxi Wittek and Mario Maloca are the other big name arrivals, in what has been an impressive window for sporting director, Ramazan Yıldırım. Those players will have to step up, though, especially after Marcel Franke and Robert Zulj’s departures.
1. FC Nürnberg – 1. FC Kaiserslautern (Sunday, 12:30)
This game has all the hallmarks of a massive Bundesliga clash, yet will be the opening second tier fixture for both. Michael Köllner is hoping to capture some of the bright sparks and moments from last season and turn that into some consistent excellence. He has a young and hungry team that could well grow up to form a spine of an FCN team that could be remembered for years. Yet, despite the promise, Abdelhamid Sabiri seems set to leave the clubs amid interest from Huddersfield Town.
Adam Zrelak, Mikael Ishak and Cedric Teuchert are the men who need to find the net on a more regular basis next season, and the return of Sebastian Kerk has delighted the home fans. Tim Leibold is back from injury and, along with Hanno Behrens, looks to be close to signing new long-term deals with der Club. This and, for their sake, an injury-free season for some of their stars should see the Max-Morlock-Stadion side right amongst the top teams come May.
In the case of Kaiserslautern, they’ve also seen a high turnover of players. Moving from a strong defensive unit into attack was a real issue, and so the new recruits in attack should aid that. Yet the big question is if Norbert Meier can help change his own philosophy in order to get things moving in the right direction for the coming weeks and months. A good away result to start the campaign would be a real boost to any hopes they have of challenging for promotion.
With the club now adamant that Robin Koch will remain for the coming term and the 11 new signings that have been brought in, momentum is going the right way in terms of squad planning. Guiliano Modica and Marcel Correia are two fantastic defensive additions, and Marius Müller has been confirmed as the new number one after Julian Pollersbeck’s departure. A raft of attacking arrivals have been led by Lukas Spalvis, who is hoping he can get back on track after injury halted his progress at Sporting CP.
1. FC Heidenheim – Erzgebirge Aue (Sunday, 14:30)
As is the case with Heidenheim most seasons, it’s pretty much the same old, same old. That’s definitely not a bad thing, however. With Frank Schmidt at the helm for almost 10 years, consistency has been key to getting where they are today. Another strong summer window has been accompanied by an equally impressive pre-season, where they head into 2017-18 with the wind in their sails. Of course, having Marc Schnatterer in your side is a massive plus for any club.
The main arrivals have been in forward areas, while Kevin Lankford and Ibrahim Hajtic have been promoted from the youth ranks, Maxi Thiel and Kolja Pusch add some exciting depth to the wide areas. Robert Glatzel and Nikola Dovedan will push John Verhoek for a starting spot up front, though the loss of Hauke Wahl is perhaps a concern if the centre-back injury crisis strikes once again. Should the squad stay relatively injury free throughout the year, they can expect another strong season.
After Domenico Tedesco’s incredible turnaround helped Aue to beat the drop on the final day, he has ventured to pastures new and Schalke 04 for a crack at the Bundesliga big time. Thomas Letsch is the new man in charge, and the former RB Salzburg coach has a largely similar squad to work with. However, he is missing Steve Breitkreuz and Louis Samson which could prove problematic in defence.
Between Nicolai Rapp and Malcolm Cacutalua, as natural centre-backs, Dennis Kempe and Dominik Wydra, they have found more than adequate cover. Michael Maria, Arianit Ferati and John-Patrick Strauß have added further depth in an attack which has, thankfully for Aue fans, been untouched in the summer. Pascal Köpke, Dimitrij Nazarov and Mario Kvesic are the key men that will, without doubt, trouble a strong Heidenheim rearguard on Sunday.
Holstein Kiel – SV Sandhausen (Sunday, 14:30)
Perhaps the most exciting addition to 2. Bundesliga this season, Holstein Kiel are keen to impress. While their squad shouldn’t be vastly different to the one which won promotion, it has all the hallmarks of a side that should be able to keep their head above the water. Fast wingers, a powerful forward and a sturdy defence – the second best attack (59) and best defence (25) will be keen to carry that momentum forward.
With 2. Bundesliga experience being brought in with Ilir Azemi, David Kinsombi, Sebastian Heidinger and Lukas Kruse, while Atakan Karazor and Amara Condé (loan) are exciting youngsters from Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg. If Kiel are to have the season some are predicting, Markus Anfang will need big performances from Kingsley Schindler, Steven Lewerenz and Marvin Ducksch. Don’t discount the influence Utku Sen could have, if he manages to find his way into the squad.
The other side that are most capable of springing a shock or two this season is SV Sandhausen. Led by Kenan Kocak, the club have been keen to put faith in the boss and let him go after Regionalliga players who he feels can make a difference. Kocak, someone who made his name in the fourth tier, surprised a lot of people by leading a Bouhaddouz-less SVS to their best ever finish in club history. After seven wins in seven games in pre-season, they are certainly be looking for more.
Nejmeddin Daghfous needs no introduction to 2. Bundesliga fans after having impressive in the Hinrunde and falling away in the Rückrunde, much like his Würzburger Kickers side. Mirco Born and Robert Herrmann are both injured for the long term but, combined with Ali Ibrahimaj, they managed 16 goals and 48 assists last season. Aside from keeping together the key members of the squad, Lucas Höler scoring in six of their seven pre-season games can only bode well for the coming months.
Dynamo Dresden – MSV Duisburg (Sunday, 14:30)
After a superbly strong 2016-17, where they rose to fifth from promotion, there was still a sour taste in Dynamo mouths. Had it not been for Simon Terodde’s 93rd minute penalty to overturn Dynamo’s 3-0 lead in Stuttgart, the promotion race could have been entirely different. Had that not gone in, the top five would have been separated by six points. Instead Dynamo slipped eight points off the pace, yet still ended comfortably in fifth place.
Uwe Neuhaus has had time to regroup, but that was without Stefan Kutschke, Marvin Stefaniak and Akaki Gogia. Much like Bochum a year previous, it’s going to be a real challenge without their fearful front three. Yet with Pascal Testroet and Lukas Röser in attack, now assisted by Patrick Möschl and Sascha Horvath, things are looking up. Sören Gonther is another smart addition, in what could be a season of transition for the club. They will be without starlet Niklas Hauptmann this weekend, however.
With Peter Neururer having already written off MSV’s chances of survival with the bulk of the team that won 3. Liga in tact, some have already turned to doubting the Zebras. Yet Ilia Gruev’s men will surely relish the ability to prove the doubters wrong and despite not having the most startling transfer window, the core group of 3. Liga champions will still be together.
The fact that Fabian Schnellhardt has reportedly turned down Bundesliga clubs to stay is a huge boost, as is Lukas Fröde’s addition to partner him in midfield. It certainly softens the blow of Tim Albutat’s long-term injury. Gerrit Nauber adds a good option at the heart of defence, and Moritz Stoppelkamp’s return to Duisburg – coupled with Cauly Oliviera Souza’s arrival – has bolstered the attacking midfield. The question is, who leads the line? Kingsley Onuegbu, Simon Brandstetter, Stanislav Iljutcenko or Borys Tashchy?
Fortuna Düsseldorf – Eintracht Braunschweig (Monday, 19:30)
Fortuna are fresh and looking forward to an improved 2017-18 after a stagnant season prior. Things looked much brighter after a solid summer, but injuries and a severe lack of goals meant that they slipped back down the table and had another long wait to secure survival. Giving their home fans something to cheer after a turgid time at the ESPRIT arena last season is key to adding some real drive into their push up the table.
With Rouwen Hennings now permanently signed on, and the arrivals of Havard Nielsen, Emir Kujovic and Davor Lovren, their attack now looks to have livened up. Florian Neuhaus will add some creativity and competition in midfield, while Niko Gießelmann and the option to buy André Hoffmann have strengthened their defence. All in all, it should be a very much improved season for the Rhein club. Friedhelm Funkel, who holds the record for most promotions, is still tasked with making it happen.
Torsten Lieberknecht is one of the most highly thought-of coaches in German football. He’s never finished below eighth in 2. Bundesliga after he hauled the club up from Regionalliga. After the disappointment of play-off heartbreak still in their minds, he is now battling to avoid the “Relegation curse” as teams who lose the show-piece tie tend to have a poor season afterwards.
With Saulo Decarli’s future unclear after he was sent to the under-23s, following some attitude issues, there is some signs that the pressure is on. However, this is no real concern with Steve Breitkreuz and Louis Samson now available. It’s been a fairly quiet window all told, though the main addition could come from their own youth ranks and Eros Dacaj. The playmaker could well be the man to replace Nik Omladic.