2016-17 Season Preview: FC St. Pauli Looks to Continue Prior Season Success

FC St. Pauli took many by surprise last season when they competed for a finish in the top three and promotion to the top flight just one season after a league campaign in which the club barely avoided relegation. Only one win in the final four games resulted in the club being unable to snatch a promotion or playoff position, but fans had plenty to take pride in anyway. St. Paul was the only club in the second division last season to defeat big-spenders RB Leipzig at home as well as away, and their fourth-place finish was their best positioning in the 2. Bundesliga since 2012.

Who Departed?

Pauli trainer Ewald Lienen from his playing days.
Pauli trainer Ewald Lienen from his playing days.

Ewald Lienen is beginning to shape his own FC St. Pauli squad after having to make-do with a team put together mostly by other coaches during his first year-and-a-half in Hamburg. The 62-year-old has seen a couple of high-profile players depart the Millerntor Stadium this summer and will have a slightly different lineup to work with during the 2016/17 season.

Creative midfielder Marc Rzatkowski has been an integral part of St. Pauli’s midfield since 2013, but his relationship with the club has come to an end. The 26-year-old has signed a contract with RB Salzburg and will try to help his new club fight their way into the Europa League group stage this summer. Rzatkowski scored six goals in 28 games during his final season in Hamburg.

Center-forward Ante Budimir has also waved goodbye to the Millerntor-Stadion this transfer window and will try to get his career back on track at Italian side Sampdoria next season, after an unsuccessful spell at St. Pauli. The 25-year-old was only able to score one goal wearing the brown shirt and had to spend last season in Serie B and FC Crotone.

Another center-forward departing is Lennart Thy. The 24-year-old former U20 Germany international made a big impression in Hamburg during his five year stay with the club, and will now show his worth in the top flight at Werder Bremen. John Verhoek, Enis Alushi, and Sebastian Maier all are also leaving St. Pauli, but will remain in the 2. Bundesliga having signed deals with 1. FC Heidenheim, 1. FC Nürnberg, and Hannover 96 respectively.

Davison Eden, Andrej Startsev, and Hamburg-native Okan Kurt have also played their final games for St. Pauli. Kurt will try to cement a place in the Fortuna Sittard lineup in the Netherlands next season, while Eden and Startsev are still on the lookout for new clubs.

Who Arrived?

Plenty! St. Pauli has had, more or less, one player coming in for every player leaving the club this summer, and it’s an exciting mix of young talent and older players inking deals with the club.

Waldemar Sobota spent last season (and half the season before that) on loan at St. Pauli and will represent the club on a permanent basis for the next league campaign. The right-winger scored three goals last season in 31 games and spent 2,346 minutes on the field.

Dortmund-native Marvin Ducksch has tried over the years to win a place in the Borussia Dortmund lineup, but his efforts have rarely paid off. He will now show his worth at FC St. Pauli next season. The 22-year-old scored 15 goals in 28 games with Dortmund’s reserves in the Regionalliga last season and represented SC Paderborn nine times in the Bundesliga before that. This might be the man Ewald Lienen wants to replace Sebastian Maier.

Vegar Eggen Hedenstad, Christopher Avevor, and Aziz Bouhaddouz represented different 2. Bundesliga sides last season, but have all switched alliance and will wear the St. Pauli shirt in August. Hedenstad had his 2015/16 campaign in SC Freiburg ruined due to injuries, but had a productive season at Eintracht Braunschweig two years ago. Avevor already spent a year at St. Pauli back in 2013 and will now be hoping he can find that form again, as the 2012/13 season was the most-successful in his Germany career to date. Bouhaddouz has been the most-productive goal-scorer in SV Sandhausen the last two years and might turn out to be the center forward that St. Pauli has been looking for the last couple of years.

St. Pauli has also captured prolific talent Cenk Sahin from Turkish side Medipol Başakşehir. The offensive winger has been an important part of the U17 all the way up to the U21 national teams in Turkey and will initially arrive in Hamburg on a year-long loan. St. Pauli has the option to make the move permanent if Sahin impresses enough.

Upon securing Sahin’s signature, head coach Linen said: “Cenk is a fast and technically strong winger who fits our requirements completely. We are glad that we can add another player to our offense,” according to Mopo.

A pair of 19-year-olds, Jacob Rasmussen (Schalke 04 U19) and Richard Neudecker (1860 München), have also signed deals with St. Pauli, but it’s not clear whether the two will represent the first team or reserve side the most. Neudecker represented 1860 six times in the 2. Bundesliga last season, while his Danish counterpart scored three goals from his center back position in 26 games in the A-Junioren Bundesliga West.

The Coach, Players, and Formation

The 2016/17 league campaign will be Ewald Linen’s second full season as St. Pauli’s head coach, but his first with a team that consist of players of his own choice. The 62-year-old has more or less built a completely new St. Pauli side since taking over at the helm of the club in winter of 2014, when Thomas Meggle stepped down from the head coach position to take on the role as the club’s sporting director.

Linen has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation since taking the job, and it would be a surprise to see St. Pauli use another formation in August. Bouaddouz will probably be the club’s number one choice at the front, with Kyoung-Rok Choi playing behind him, and Ducksch and Ryo Miyaichi running riot on the wings.

Key Players

Lasse Sobiech has been the most important St. Pauli player since arriving at the club from local rival Hamburg SV ahead of the 2014/15 season and will continue to be an important part of the club’s defense going forward. The center-back was awarded for his fine performances with the captain’s armband last season and lived up to everybody’s expectations as he scored four goals in 32 games.

Another player to look out for is Miyaichi who, like Sobiech, will have high expectations on him going into the new season. The 23-year-old arrived a year ago from Arsenal, but got his entire first season at the club ruined due to a cruciate-ligament rupture. Miyaichi wasn’t able to show his worth in Germany until the spring of 2016, when he was subbed on to the field of play at five occasions. The Japan-international ended the season on a high note, however, as he got to play for 70 minutes in the final game of the season against 1. FC Kaiserslautern and scored twice.

The Schedule

St. Pauli will start the new season with a trip to the capital of Baden-Württemberg as they lock horns with VfB Stuttgart on August the 8th in what appears to be the toughest game of the year. The season premiere at the Millerntor-Stadion won’t be a piece of cake either, as the Hamburg-side face Eintracht Braunschweig in their first home game. The schedule is a bit more forgiving until October, when a trip to Hannover awaits to face a club that has spent the last 14 years in the Bundesliga. St. Pauli will lock horns with Regionalliga Nord side Vfb Lübeck in the DFB-Pokal in mid-August.

The season concludes with away trips to Nürnberg, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Kaiserslautern, and Vfl Bochum, and home games against SV Sandhausen, newcomers Würzburger Kickers, 1. FC Heidenheim, and Greuther Fürth; all are clubs St. Pauli should be able to compete with, but the 2. Bundesliga is, more often than not, filled with surprises, so no result is obvious in advance.

It’s always a gamble to switch big parts of a club’s lineup in one transfer window, so the brown-and-white faithful might be in for a slow start this upcoming campaign. The squad that Ewald Linen and Thomas Meggle has put together looks interesting on the paper, though, and should be able to compete well with any team, with VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 being the exceptions since they have filled their squads with talent during the summer and spent more money than their league rivals.

Some fans will have the 2014/15 season in fresh memory going into this league campaign, when then head coach Roland Vrabec and sporting director Rachid Azzouzi had put together an exciting squad during the summer transfer window, but both men had to leave their posts before Christmas due to a rubbish start to the season. What followed was the appointment of Ewald Linen as head coach and Thomas Meggle as sporting director. Now is the time to see if that duo is more capable of achieving success on the field than Vrabec and Azzouzi was.

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Linus Vedmar

Linus is a 20-year-old Swede who follows all Bundesliga clubs but have a soft spot for FC St. Pauli. You can follow Linus on Twitter @LinusVedmar.