2. Bundesliga – Matchday 21 Preview: Mid-table tussles take centre stage

With the transfer madness finally dying down until the summer, 2. Bundesliga clubs are now faced with the crucial stretch until the end of the season. Some clubs were especially busy, while others opted for little to no action whatsoever. It’s a chance to see those new faces on an important Matchday 21.

Fortuna Düsseldorf – SV Sandhausen (Friday 17:30)

The league’s top two defences meet on Friday night to kick-start the weekend. Fortuna showed their dogged determination to overcome Kaiserslautern, largely thanks to the individual brilliance of Genki Haraguchi and Benito Raman, as they ran out 1-3 winners. After a really poor run to end the Hinrunde, Friedhelm Funkel’s men have bounced back in style to claim three straight wins and a place at the top of the table. There are no new injury concerns for Funkel, who might have to rely on Raman and Haaraguchi to break down the stubborn Sandhausen back-line.

Only Bayern Munich have a better defensive record than Sandhausen this season, which speaks volumes for what Kenan Kocak has achieved. A new deal with just reward for what his organisation, tactical nous and remarkable work when it comes to bringing in players for the lower leagues and making it work. The right blend of youth and experience has worked well across the squad and it’s clear that Kocak has the club heading in the right direction. An incredibly tough 1-0 win over Dynamo was evidence of the determination and drive that Fortuna will have to find a way past on Friday.

1. FC Nürnberg – Erzgebirge Aue (Friday 17:30)

Nürnberg are ready and waiting to take advantage of any possible slip up from Fortuna, as they continue to hunt down a Bundesliga return. Despite Edgar Salli’s sending off in Berlin, it was a very positive outcome nevertheless as the Franconian outfit managed a 0-1 win. Michael Köllner’s recruitment during the Winter window was solid and will mean that Salli’s absence is not a major blow. Mikael Ishak is looking to get back amongst the goals in 2018 after a remarkable end to 2017, and this is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

 

Aue join Dynamo and Bochum as the only sides yet to take a point from their two games following the Winter Break, something that will be of concern to Hannes Drews. With five points from a possible 18, the pressure is starting to mount on the young coach. A combination of missed chances and defensive lapses have proved frustrating and fatal in matches. Although Aue are in a better position than last year, a run of results this weekend could see them drop into the automatic relegation places. It’s a big ask, though any result in Nürnberg would give a hefty and necessary confidence boost.

FC Ingolstadt 04 – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday 12:00)

In a period where Ingolstadt could have seriously cut the gap to the top three, Stefan Leitl’s men have failed to do so. It looked like they would do just that, however, when they went 2-0 up away to Jahn. They then fell to a late comeback and made the short trip home with nothing to show for their efforts. Sonny Kittel’s drop off in form has been somewhat worrying. Having managed 14 goals and assists in his first 14 outings, Kittel hasn’t managed to tee up a team-mate or find the net himself in the last six games. This is an excellent opportunity for everyone at the club to get back on track, and to keep their promotion push on track.

Fürth’s bloody-mindedness to keep on fighting at the wrong end of the table continues to provide dividends. The Shamrocks looked down and out with Kaiserslautern at one stage, yet a never say die attitude has done wonders for their morale. The gap to safety has been clawed in at a steady rate and a clean sheet against Kiel further emphasised that they are here to battle for survival. Such is the nature of 2. Bundesliga, Fürth are only nine points from sixth. Four clean sheets in six represents a huge improvement in defence, it’s just a case of finding something else from the attack.

1. FC Heidenheim – FC St. Pauli (Saturday 12:00)

Heidenheim’s recent record is much more like the side many expected to see at the start of the year, given their exploits last season. Now that the ship is steadied, it was a surprise to see Frank Schmidt’s side give up 1-0 and 3-1 leads against Duisburg last weekend. In what was a hugely entertaining 3-3 draw, Schmidt will be keen to see his side calm matters and tighten up in defence. A win against one of the teams close to them in the table would further ease any possible relegation fears, and also push them further towards solidifying their superb campaign that went before.

St. Pauli, on the other hand, were brought back down to earth with a hard-fought defeat against Darmstadt. Markus Kauczinski’s side were the better team but failed to make chances pay, in what has been a fairly accurate summary of their season to date. The addition of one of Kauczinski’s favourite players, Dimitrios Diamantakos seems to have shaken up the front-line and his positive impact off the bench will force him into the thoughts of a starting berth. Christopher Avevor also seems set to return in central defence beside Lasse Sobiech, which is a further boost to the Hamburg-based outfit.

Holstein Kiel – Jahn Regensburg (Saturday 12:00)

After their incredible and almost unbelievable start to their first 2. Bundesliga season in a generation, Markus Anfang’s Holstein Kiel have somewhat slowed down in recent weeks. Despite still being hard to beat, just one win in six has seen them slip off the top and they now sit five points behind Fortuna. That task has not been made any easier with Dominick Drexler unavailable due to suspension. Facing one of the league’s most in-form teams without their talisman will be a real test of whether or not this Kiel side can keep pushing towards the latter stages of the campaign.

Achim Beierlorzer’s men are part of what has been the most successful season for a group of promoted sides in 2. Bundesliga history. Themselves, Kiel and Jahn are all within the top seven; a remarkable achievement. They are now looking to continue this good form and perhaps, just six points behind their opponents, put some pressure on the coveted third spot. Alexander Nandzik is absent through yellow card accumulation, although Marcel Hofrath will provide more than adequate cover at left-back.

SV Darmstadt 98 – MSV Duisburg (Sunday 12:30)

Dogged, dirty, Darmstadt. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t anything special to behold, but it was Darmstadt back to their best. Dirk Schuster should, on reflection, probably never left the Lilies and now that he is back, it’s as if the charismatic head coach had never left. Their win over Sankt Pauli last weekend was typical of the ground-out wins of his first spell, and that is exactly what they need to pull clear of the relegation zone. Joevin Jones’ first goal was one to remember and the winger is likely to be fit for this clash after coming off injured in Hamburg.

Duisburg will be no pushovers, however, and are coming to the Böllenfalltor aiming to close the gap to the promotion places. Their comeback against Heidenheim was another sign that Ilia Gruev has this team heading in the right direction, and that they can afford to leave players like Cauly Oliveira Souza on the bench. Unfortunately for Gruev, he will be without Fabian Schnellhardt due to suspension. It goes give the Zebras’ faithful a chance to see Christian Gartner in proper action, after his substitute appearance last weekend.

Eintracht Braunschweig – 1. FC Kaiserslautern (Sunday 12:30)

Things could have been so much different for Eintracht Braunschweig this week had they not secured a 3-1 win over Aue. Torsten Lieberknecht wouldn’t have been in charge, for one. The second longest-serving boss in German football admitted it was win or bust, and his players duly responded to his call. Suleiman Abdullahi was the star of the show with a brace, and the Nigerian has fully settled into his role as the main goal-getter with Totte Nyman still out injured. Aided by Domi Kumbela, the shift in formation has worked a treat and they now have a platform to build from.

For Kaiserslautern, it’s not been easy. Michael Frontzeck is now in charge due to Jeff Strasser’s heart problems, with the former Hannover boss given a deal through to 2019. A 3-1 loss against Fortuna was perhaps misleading given their efforts, although Marius Müller’s sending off hasn’t helped matters either. However, the arrival of Halil Altintop will certainly give everyone surrounding the club a much-needed morale boost. Things have got to change and fast for the Betzenberg club, in what has become a desperately sad situation regardless of what club you support.

Dynamo Dresden – VfL Bochum (Sunday 12:30)

Uwe Neuhaus has somewhat of a selection headache this weekend. He has four sure starters out for the game against Bochum with Florian Ballas and Haris Duljevic both getting suspended during the defeat in Sandhausen. Like Bochum, they’ve lost their last three games and are searching for any sort of result to stop the rot. One thing that the side can count on is religious support from their fanatical fans, and it could be that backing that gets them over the line when it matters most. A further injury blow to Marco Hartmann hasn’t helped their cause, either.

Dynamo need a win, but so do Bochum. Disjointed from top to bottom in every single way, the mood could hardly be worse at the Ruhrstadion. With the team on the verge of slipping into relegation, the old Unabsteigbar mantle is being threatened in a very real way. In terms of defence, Jens Rasiejewski’s men match up with the best in the division. Yet going forward, they’ve managed just 18 goals. Johannes Wurtz’s drought seems of little concern, and it could be up to Robbie Kruse and Kevin Stöger to spark a moment of magic.

Arminia Bielefeld – 1. FC Union Berlin (Monday 19:30)

The hosts are on a high after getting the better of Bochum on Monday evening, and are tasked with filling the slot no-one wants once more. It wasn’t a particularly entertaining game but nevertheless, it was a crucial win for Jeff Saibene’s men as they continue to keep their distance from the drop. That might have been the goal through the season but that win means Arminia lie just six points from third. They can beat anyone on their day and, as has been the case during the campaign, it has been consistency that has eluded them. However, this would be a big win to putting that record straight.

Things are not well at Union, something that has been said for a lot of the clubs to go before in this preview. The decision to sack Jens Keller has not paid off at all and now the capital club are facing a massive battle to get back into the promotion picture. Philipp Hosiner is suspended after his antics with Edgar Salli against Nürnberg, and Marvin Friedrich looks set for a debut as Toni Leistner sits out for his red card. The next few weeks could decide the shape of their season, and no-one below Kiel can say for sure that they’ll be in the league come the summer months.

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Jonathan Walsh

Jonny is a 2. Bundesliga fanatic who does little else with his time other than follow, watch, write about, think about, and promote his favorite league. When he isn't in university or trying to defend the Bundesliga's 50+1 rule, you'll most likely find him watching whatever football he can find on TV. Follow him @jonathanwalsh_

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