The 3. Liga is back this weekend and it’s the first of the German professional leagues to kick off the 2014/2015 campaign. Last season saw 1. FC Heidenheim and RB Leipzig earn promotion with the top two spots while SV Darmstadt managed to secure a fantastic comeback against Arminia Bielefeld in the relegation playoff to also earn promotion to the second tier. At the other end of the table, 1. FC Saarbrücken, Wacker Burghausen and SV Elversberg were all relegated to the Regionalliga. This season sees a much stronger league due to the stature of the teams who have come down from the 2. Bundesliga and the return of a historical side in German football history.
The new boys
Who has come down
Rock bottom of last season’s 2. Bundesliga was Energie Cottbus. After getting through three coaches throughout the season, Cottbus have appointed former Arminia Bielefeld boss Stefan Krämer as their new boss, who will be looking to replicate his former club’s success in gaining promotion from this league. Cottbus’ main problem last season was how unstable the club was, particularly with all the managers coming and going. After losing top scorer Boubacar Sanogo, who has signed for FC Enyimba in the Nigerian league, and Marco Stiepermann to Greuther Fürth, Cottbus have rebuilt with experienced Czech striker Zdeněk Pospíchal from Dukla Praha, Manuel Zeitz from SC Paderborn and Anton Makarenko from Chemnitzer FC among others. Promotion is still to soon for them to achieve but an upper mid-table spot should be enough for Cottbus to build on.
Another East German team has joined the 3. Liga now making the total up to 7. Dynamo Dresden were unable to work a miracle and ended up being relegated. They have got rid of all the dead wood and made over 500.000€ with the sales of Robert Koch (Nürnberg) and Thorsten Schulz (Aue), which should give them enough to start rebuilding the squad slowly but surely and aiming for a promotion but this time to stay. With most signings arriving from U23 Bundesliga sides, Dresden’s rejuvenation should mean that promotion is out of reach this season. The last of the three teams to come down is most definitely the one with the best chance of bouncing straight back up.
After the heartbreaking finale of the relegation playoff against Darmstadt, Arminia Bielefeld have thrown the kitchen sink at the 3. Liga to try and get straight back up. Impressive signings such as Florian Dick (Kaiserslautern), Chris Hemlein (NEC Nijmegen) and the return of Pascal Testroet (Osnabrück), mean that alongside star striker Fabian Klos Bielefeld have a fearsome attack. With Norbert Meier at the helm and the quality of his squad, Bielefeld are in line to bounce straight back up.
Who has come up
Late, late drama in their crucial playoff match against Bayern Munich II saw former Bundesliga team Fortuna Köln return to the third tier of German football after a 13-year absence. Despite them being the biggest name of the promoted sides, Köln do not have much 3. Liga experience in their squad and will rely on team spirit to avoid the drop, Manager Uwe Koschinat already stated that they only have to” put three teams behind them” so the relegation fight is very much on at this stage already.
Another team to beat the U23 side of a big Bundesliga side was Sonnenhof Großaspach, who beat Wolfsburg II to earn their place in the 3. Liga. While on paper they are the smallest of the promoted sides, they have managed to make a couple of additions to their squad that stand out, such as former Stuttgarter Kickers centre-back Julian Leist and ex-Chemnitz and Darmstadt midfielder Josip Landeka. If striker Tobias Rühle can maintain his goalscoring form from last season, Großaspach might just stay out of the dreaded bottom three.
Last but not least, one of the Bundesliga U23 teams made it past the playoffs, as Mainz II beat TSG Neustrelitz to make up the final team promoted from the Regionalliga. As expected and parallel to Borussia Dortmund II and Stuttgart II, Mainz’s team will be mostly made up of young promising players and having a team in the third tier will do wonders for the first team, who will be able to develop their younger players at a better level. Petar Slišković overcame the 20-goal mark last season so if he can maintain his form going into the new season, we might be able to witness the emergence of a new Antonio Rüdiger or Marvin Ducksch.
For the top
As mentioned previously, Arminia Bielefeld are favourites for promotion but they are not the only ones. Wehen Wiesbaden missed out on the top 3 positions last season but have now seemed to have adapted to the style of coach Marc Kienle and have also made some shrewd signings this transfer window. Patrick Funk, if he can stay injury-free, should be an excellent addition at this level, as can be Soufiane Benyamina (Dynamo Dresden) in attack and Alexander Riemann (Stuttgart II). With strong players like captain Nico Herzig, left-sided player Alf Mintzel, midfielder Tobias Jänicke and striker José-Pierre Vunguidica, Wehen have everything they need to push for promotion.
Another favourite who has done well in the transfer window is MSV Duisburg, not just in signing players but also in keeping the good ones they had. Top scorer Kingsley Onuegbu ended up staying at the Schauinsland-Reisen-Arena, as did attacking midfielder Kevin Wolze. To add to the firepower, Preußen Münster’s Marcus Grote signed on a free transfer and he, arguably player of the season last season at his club, can make the difference in Duisburg’s side to push for promotion, as the new squad assembled quickly last season will have established itself by now.
Outsiders for the promotion spots should be the perennial VfL Osnabrück, despite losing their star player Adriano Grimaldi to Heidenheim; Stuttgarter Kickers, if they can replicate their Rückrunde form throughout the season; and Preußen Münster, although they will have to cope without the aforementioned Grote, striker Matthew Taylor (Saarbrücken) and Soufiane Benyamina (loan end). With only Abdenour Amachaibou from Jahn Regensburg as a reputable signing, Münster might struggle and therefore bring in other outsiders into the battle, such as Rot-Weiß Erfurt or Hansa Rostock.
For the drop
The 3. Liga is always a tricky league to predict at either end, especially with relegations, since teams at the bottom can show huge signs of improvements after the winter break and teams in a comfortable position get dragged into the relegation mud. Fortuna Köln‘s inexperience in this league might be a handicap for them and seem to already be focused on a relegation battle. Stuttgart II saved themselves from the drop with a late-season run but will struggle against the higher quality this year, while Borussia Dortmund II without Marvin Ducksch, Unterhaching without Janik Haberer, Maximilian Welzmüller and Quirin Moll; and Holstein Kiel will all most likely be lurking around the bottom three spots. Chemnitz and Jahn Regensburg should be yo-yoing between the top half and the bottom half of the league but the latter have a serious problem after losing influential players Jim-Patrick Müller (Sandhausen), Abdenour Amachaibou (Münster) and Jonatan Kotzke (Wehen) and not having signed any decent replacements for them, which may see them staring at relegation closer than they would want to.
Fabian Klos (Arminia Bielefeld)