The promotion race in the 2. Bundesliga is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent seasons. After 19 matches, the entire top half of the table can be considered promotion challengers, with 9th place Nürnberg just 7 points from an automatic promotion place. Here is a look at the contenders:
VfB Stuttgart, Current Position: 1st
Despite an early managerial change, preseason favorites Stuttgart have spent most of the season near the top of the table. Already arguably the strongest squad in the league, Stuttgart strengthened further in January adding four players who should contribute immediately to the first team. Stuttgart is blessed with exciting talent all over the pitch including Timo Baumgartl, Berkay Özcan, Carlos Mané, Takuma Asano and Julian Green. These youngsters combine with experienced Bundesliga campaigners Christian Gentner, Hajime Hosogai, Alexandru Maxim, Daniel Ginczek and World Cup winner Kevin Grosskreutz together with 2nd division scoring dynamo Simon Terodde to create one of the most formidable squads the 2. Bundesliga has seen, meaning that an immediate return to the top flight is expected.
Hannover 96, Current Position: 2nd
If it’s any surprise that the two relegated clubs from the last Bundesliga season are challenging each other at the top, it shouldn’t be. Hannover and Stuttgart are two of the biggest teams to drop down in years. Despite relegation, Hannover managed to minimize the losses to their playing staff and their current squad contains many players with vast Bundesliga experience. Led by Martin Harnik’s goals, Hannover can be confident of that they will finish in the promotion places come the end of the campaign.
Eintracht Braunschweig, Current Position: 3rd
Led by long-time manager Torsten Lieberknecht, Braunschweig has a squad of solid 2. Bundesliga players. Braunschweig have been in and around the promotion places all season after exploding out of the gates with five straight league wins to start the campaign. Domi Kumbela has been sensational in his third spell at the club, but he will need to keep the goals coming if Braunschweig are to keep pace at the top as the season progresses. While few would claim that Braunschweig’s squad has the same individual quality as the teams above them, their desire to reach the Bundesliga, a league few of their players have experienced, may power them to the results they need as the season goes on.
Union Berlin, Current Position: 4th
Hipster favorite, Union Berlin are starting to become a fixture in mid-table in the 2. Bundesliga, finishing between 6th and 12th in the each of the last seven seasons. This season, under the leadership of former Schalke and Stuttgart headman Jens Keller, they sit just 3 points from 2nd. Whether this will finally be the year they crack the Bundesliga however, depends largely on how quickly new signing Sebastian Polter can settle after replacing the influential Colin Quaner. His debut goal against Bochum will no doubt have the fans dreaming of promotion.
1. FC Heidenheim, Current Position: 7th
Young and innovative coach Frank Schmidt is approaching a decade in charge at the club having masterminded Heidenheim’s rise from the fourth tier. Heidenheim are led on the pitch by inspirational captain Marc Schnatterer who has made over 300 appearances and contributed directly to over 170 goals since joining the club in 2008. One of the league’s stingiest defenses in the first half of the season, Heidenheim further strengthened this area by signing young Ingolstadt defender Hauke Wahl on loan. Despite the positives, no wins since the winter break mean an uptick in form will be necessary if Heidenheim are to gain promotion. (Ed. Note: Schmidt and Heidenheim are featured in the excellent documentary made a few years back on German football coaching, “Trainer!” which is available for viewing on Netflix).
The rest of the chasing pack: Dynamo Dresden, SV Sandhausen, Würzburger Kickers, 1. FC Nürnberg
Amazingly, two of the three promoted teams, Dynamo Dresden and Würzburger Kickers, are still challenging at the top at this stage in the season. Despite their strong seasons so far, both sides lack the goal scoring potential of most of the sides around them and a lack of January signings may see them drop down the table slightly as the campaign rolls on.
Sandhausen have not finished above 12th since winning promotion to the 2. Bundesliga in 2012. This season however, they are just five points below Hannover and promotion. New manager Kenan Kocak has Sandhausen looking solid at the back, while up front American striker Andrew Wooten is near the top of the goal scoring charts with 9 goals already. Sandhausen’s promotion hopes may come down to the final four matches of the season where the club faces an extremely difficult run of matches against four other promotion contenders.
Last season’s 3rd place side is also in the promotion hunt again, albeit just. Nürnberg are in 9th but only 7 points from 2nd. Unfortunately for Der Club, following a great hinrunde in which he scored a league leading 14 goals, star striker Guido Burgstaller signed for Schalke in January. His replacement Mikael Ishak, briefly of Köln, has been prolific in Denmark with Randers FC in recent years but will need to find his feet immediately in the 2. Bundesliga if Nürnberg are to make another push for promotion.
The unique combination of huge traditionsvereine and up and coming clubs involved in the promotion race make following the 2. Bundesliga this season extremely exciting. With so many quality teams, this might just be one of those years in which we see 3 new clubs joining the Bundesliga next season.