Back in August I predicted that St Pauli would finish second in the 2.Bundesliga come the end of the season. The basis behind this prediction was last season’s narrow miss on promotion and the assumption that a second season under coach André Schubert should provide more stability and success. Wrong.
Five months on, St Pauli are 13th in the league, six points from the relegation spots and 10 off promotion. Whilst still not technically impossible, it’s highly unlikely that St Pauli will be challenging for a place to play Bundesliga football next year. So what has gone wrong?
First of all, the most important change at the club in these last five months has been the replacement of André Schubert by Michael Frontzeck in early October. Schubert, it has to be said, never filled in the gap left by club legend Holger Stanislawski and his style of play never really convinced at the Millerntor. After a run of one league win in six matches to open the season, St Pauli faced VfR Aalen at home and produced one of the worst displays in memory, losing 0-1.
The patience of the crowd, and Sporting Director Rachid Azzouzi, ran out and Schubert was promptly sacked just one and a half months into the season. Barely a week later his replacement was announced: former Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Michael Frontzeck. Frontzeck took over after another poor display, a 3-0 managerless loss at Jahn Regensburg, but then went on a five match unbeaten run ended by an unlucky and spirited 85’ loss at high-flying Hertha in Berlin, followed by another two victories in the next three matches.
Unmet expectations and a dearth of goals
St Pauli’s fortunes seemed to have turned with the new manager in place and without Schubert’s strange decisions, but also some changes in the playing department.
Frontzeck prefers going with on-loan striker Daniel Ginczek instead of Marius Ebbers for the lone striker spot, with the young Dortmunder responding with 7 goals in 18 appearances, compared to Ebbers’ 1 in 15, perhaps an indicative figure regarding St Pauli’s change in fortunes. However, Lennart Thy has not performed to expectations following his arrival from Werder Bremen and whilst the defence hasn’t been a disaster (22 goals conceded in 19 games, one less than Energie Cottbus in 4th place), the lack of finishing has been (18 goals in 19 games, the lowest tally in the league and an average of less than a goal per match) the key to their season’s (mis)fortunes.
The midfield has contributed only 2 goals this year, both thanks to Fabian Boll, but his injury in the 0-2 win against 1860 München in early November has left the team without an obvious leader in the centre of the park, a role which Boll is suited to perfection and for which he cannot be replaced. Fin Bartels has notched 4 goals from the wing this season but it’s obvious that the loss of Max Kruse to SC Freiburg (13 goals last season and a constant goalscoring threat) has proved costly to St Pauli. Akaki Gogia was expected to fill Kruse’s boots on the wing but the former Augsburg man is still to find the net in 13 appearances.
Mahir Saglik has also struggled to find the net with only a goal in 12 and all of these stats spell it out very clearly for Frontzeck: the team needs goals.
New faces have also arrived at Millerntor since the season began. Christopher Avevor arrived on a season-long loan from Hannover 96 and has made the right-back spot his own and Joe Gyau also joined St. Pauli on a season-long loan from Hoffenheim to increase competition in midfield, although his impact has been substantially less than that of Avevor. Christopher Buchtmann also arrived from 1. FC Köln to play on the wing, but despite starting 9 out of 10 games under Frontzeck, his impact has also been limited.
As mentioned in the season preview, new arrivals had come galore to replace the departures, and whilst there was hope in them being able to replace them properly, the result (until now) has been disappointing. Florian Kringe was expected to bring a bit of experience and stability as well as versatility to the squad but his performances haven’t been that of a player that you would expect making a step down from the Bundesliga. Patrick Funk still hasn’t fulfilled the expectations that he had when arriving on a two-season loan from Stuttgart. If his performances don’t improve in the Rückrunde, perhaps judgement made upon him in the past will have proven to be wrong.
Outlook for the rest of the season
So where do they go from here? The answer is, as mentioned above, that they need more goals. Whilst the 4-2-3-1 formation only allows for one striker and Ginczek seems to be doing okay, more goals from the wings and from attacking midfield are needed. Bringing in people who can do that during the Winterpause should be a priority for Frontzeck but whilst St Pauli is an attractive place to come for many players, the current situation might not allow them to bring the quality that they need at the moment to even dream about challenging for the top 3. Whilst not bad enough to go down, it seems like a season of mid-table obscurity looms for the fans at Millerntor, with the hope that next season, Frontzeck can start from scratch and drive a push for promotion once again.
Header courtesy of DPA