After the disappointment of last season, big changes have taken place at Millerntor this summer. Big names have gone out, other younger ones have come in and the Kiez-Kickers will be looking to improve on the disappointing 10th place that they achieved last season, although they spent much of the season lower down the table, although they did slightly improve when Michael Frontzeck replaced Andre Schubert on the bench in late September, although the turnaround took a while. This time last season, promotion was the goal for St Pauli, but after last season’s disappointment and with stronger teams in the league this year, perhaps their goal is a more modest one.
Ins and Outs
There have been many departures at Millerntor this summer and most of them of great importance, whether it was historic or performance-wise. Perhaps the one that St Pauli will feel the most is the absence of Daniel Ginczek, last season’s top scorer and second in the league overall (18 goals), as he joined 1.FC Nürnberg this summer. On top of that, two of the club’s most notorious names also didn’t have their contracts renewed, striker Marius Ebbers and midfielder Florian Bruns, with only the latter finding a new club in Werder Bremen’s II side. However, their Millerntor farewell was a dream one, beating promoted side Eintracht Braunschweig 5-1 with both players getting on the scoresheet. Another important absence will be Patrick Funk, who returns to VfB Stutgart after a two-year loan, with his form in the second season being a huge disappointment after an encouraging first season. The loan spells of Christopher Avevor, Akaki Gogia and Joe Gyau also ended, with them returning to Hannover, Wolfsburg (now Hallescher) and Hoffenheim respectively.
The club, however, have replaced these departures with young and hungry blood, and some of the names arriving should excite the St Pauli faithful. Christopher Nöthe and Bernd Nehrig both arrived on free transfers from Greuther Fürth, both with Bundesliga experience; Marcel Halstenberg will fight for the left-back spot with Sebastian Schachten after his arrival from Borussia Dortmund, whilst Sebastian Maier will try to fulfill his potential coming in from 1860 München. Whilst all of these players so far have come in on free transfers, St Pauli spent 300,000€ on Stade Rennes’ powerful Dutch striker John Verhoek, who scored 10 goals last season on loan at FSV Frankfurt, and 100,000€ on right-back Philipp Ziereis from Jahn Regensburg. Attacking midfielder Marc Rzatkowski arrived on a free from Bochum and 6ft 4″ Austrian striker Michael Gregoritsch is on loan from Hoffenheim until the end of the season.
The Goal Problem
The most important question mark hovering over Millerntor before the start of the season will be whether Ginczek’s goals will be replaced. Verhoek already has 2. Bundesliga experience and goals will be expected from him. Christopher Nöthe’s 13 goals in the last season he was in the second tier will also be a highly encouraging point, while Lennart Thy will also be expected to improve on last season’s form and stay injury-free. With these three players and Gregoritsch as potential backup, St Pauli will be looking to fix their Ginczek dependency from last season, as they did not win a single game when the new Der Club striker wasn’t on the scoresheet. Goals were a main problem last season for St Pauli, an issue which they more or less solved in the Rückrunde, scoring 26 goals as opposed to the 18 they scored in the opening 17 matches, which translated into an overall poor performance in the Hinrunde and which, as a consequence, ended their season before the Winterpause. However, as mentioned, dependency on one striker is a dangerous game to play and with two proven 2. Bundesliga scorers in the squad, that problem should be addressed, at least in theory.
The preseason has been kind to St Pauli and 9 matches in the space of a month have produced plenty of goals and excellent results. After two resounding victories against FC Killa Kiel (4-0) and Husumer SV (12-0), new Regionalliga Nordost team SV Babelsberg provided sterner opposition (4-2) before the mauling of TSV Heiligenstedten (22-0).
The second part of pre-season brought harder opposition. The next team St Pauli faced was FC Pasching, Austria’s current ÖFB Pokal champion despite being in the third tier, a club bankrolled by Red Bull with high aspirations and players of a quality way beyond their current league stats . The match ended in a 0-0 draw and was followed by a 2-1 victory against 3.Liga Wacker Burghausen. Austrian Bundesliga’s newly-promoted side SV Grödig also proved to be a tough opponent, with the Kiez-Kickers only coming away with a late 2-1 victory. The final pre-season match was the big one, the presentation of the new squad in front of their own fans and the opposition was first-class. Beşiktaş had come to Millerntor. St Pauli weren’t fazed by them and came out with flying colours, defeating the Turkish side 1-0 with a goal just before half-time from Fabian Boll in front of 18,000 fans.
Conclusion and Prediction
All in all, St Pauli should be happy with their preseason, coming away from it undefeated and enjoying wins against decent sides as well as a flurry of goals (47) and only 4 conceded. With Soren Gönther back from long-term injury after only playing 7 minutes in 2 matches last season, St Pauli should enjoy a larger defender pool to pick from as opposed to the fix four players who played most of the matches last season (Avevor, Thorandt, Schachten, Kalla).
With a rejuvenated and hungry squad, St Pauli are expected to improve on last year’s performances, especially those in the Hinrunde and before the Winterpause, which included embarrassing defeats to VfR Aalen (0-1), Jahn Regensburg (3-0) and Erzgebirge Aue (0-3). These performances and others saw a team that was deflated, second to every ball and made to look second-rate by clearly inferior teams. With shrewd signings who combine 2. Bundesliga experience and hunger to prove themselves, St Pauli should be comfortably in the upper part of the table although promotion might be a step too far away, especially with teams like 1.FC Köln, Fortuna Düsseldorf and 1.FC Kaiserslautern in the mix. Perhaps another winger would complete the squad as they only have Fin Bartels and Kevin Schindler as naturals in that position. If Frontzeck can bring one in on loan, the squad should be complete and a top 6 position could very well be on the cards, a position which should please St Pauli fans and with which they couldn’t ask for more… except for perhaps another goal by Philipp Tschauner.