We are officially one week away from the start of the new 2. Bundesliga season.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The German second division kicks off its 2019-20 season on Friday July 26. The opening match features last season’s 16th and 17th place Bundesliga squads, when Hannover face Stuttgart at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Unlike the Bundesliga, in which each season features typically the same clubs at or near the top of the table, the 2. Bundesliga isn’t always as predictable.
Sometimes the heavyweights do dominate. Reigning champions Koln fit that description last season, as did Hannover and Stuttgart respectively in 2016-17, each returning to the top flight after relegation the previous season. In fact, 7 out of the last 10 seasons have seen a freshly relegated Bundesliga club finish in the Top 3.
Other times however, a smaller club will put together a fantastic season and surprise observers by making a push for promotion. Ingolstadt stunned everybody in 2014-15 by winning the league after finishing 9th the previous year, and last season Union Berlin fought their way to 3rd, and eventually the Bundesliga, after finishing 8th in 2017-18.
Even more startling results are possible, with newly promoted 3 Liga clubs smashing their way into the promotion fight in their first season in the second division. Paderborn pulled it off last season, as did Darmstadt in the aforementioned 2014-15 season. The chances of newly promoted sides being involved in the promotion fight can never be completely discounted.
So what’s most likely to happen this season? To do this, let’s look at the clubs that will take part in the 2. Bundesliga in 2019-20.
There are 4 second division clubs that we can describe as heavyweights: the aforementioned Hannover and Stuttgart, along with last year’s Bundesliga bottom club Nurnberg, and finally, Hamburg, once the Bundesliga’s longest continuously tenured club.
These are arguably the four clubs with the best chances of finishing in the top 3 and getting into the 2020-21 Bundesliga. Typically, recently relegated clubs are still able to keep a solid of number their players from the top flight, and they also have the financial clout leftover from their stay in the top flight to reinforce and make a quick run back at the Bundesliga.
Sometimes it pans out, like for Koln last season. Other times it doesn’t.
Of the 3 clubs relegated to the second division after last season, Stuttgart seems to be in the best position to challenge for promotion back to the Bundesliga.
The squad still features some solid Bundesliga players, including Daniel Didavi, Mario Gomez, and Gonzalo Castro. Still, the club has shed some of its aging veterans, such as Dennis Aogo and former captain Christian Gentner, and also sold some of its younger players like Benjamin Pavard and Ozan Kabak for nice fees. In their stead, Stuttgart has brought in players such as defender Pascal Stenzel from Freiburg, and midfielder Philipp Klement, who was a big part of Paderborn’s promotion campaign last season.
Helmed by former Bayern Munich II coach Tim Walter, Stuttgart looks to have the players to make a quick return to the top flight.
In contrast to Stuttgart, fellow relegation clubs Hannover and Nurnberg haven’t been as active in the transfer market up to this point. Given that the two clubs were easily the worst in the Bundesliga last season, by quite a distance, one would think that they’d need to significantly reinforce their squad in order to make an effective push for promotion, but so far that hasn’t happened.
That leaves us with HSV. After failing to secure promotion last season with arguably one of the division’s best squads, Der Dino, like Stuttgart, really needed to inject some fresh blood into not only their squad, but also their management, to stem what has been a sad spiral down into the second division for one of Germany’s most revered clubs.
Hamburg has brought in some new young players this summer, but it remains to be seen if they can tap into their potential and bring Der Dino back to the top flight. New manager Dieter Hecking will face high expectations from management and supporters, however. Despite a sour end to his tenure at Monchengladbach, and questions regarding his ability to manage a top side continuing to dog him, Hecking is an upgrade over previous manager Hannes Wolf.
If he can’t get Hamburger back to the Bundesliga, they might need to brace themselves for an extended stay in the second division.
This is the category in which most of the clubs in the second division fall.
Perhaps calling them lightweights is a bit unfair, but there’s a noticeable size gap between these clubs and the four that were mentioned previously.
Some of these clubs have previously made the top flight, but now find themselves seemingly stuck perpetually in the second division. These include clubs like Arminia Bielefeld, St Pauli, VfL Bochum, and Greuther Furth. Others are second division veteran clubs looking to break into the Bundesliga for the first time, such as Heidenheim, Holstein Kiel, and Jahn Regensburg.
So which of these clubs are likely to crash the promotion party this season?
It can be hard to say at this point. Performance from year to year among these clubs can vary.
Take Bochum for example. Since their relegation to the second division in 2010, they’ve finished as high as 3rd and as low as 15th. Or St Pauli, who’ve endured 8 consecutive seasons of roller coaster results in the 2. Bundesliga.
A club that finished mid-table the year before can suddenly come from nowhere and be in the thick of the promotion fight, and that makes predicting which of these clubs will do well from year to year difficult.
On paper, a team like St Pauli might fit the bill. Kiezkicker spent most of last season in the top 6 before fading at the end, so they could be primed for another run toward the top of the table. Manager Jos Luhukay has had success in the division in stints with 3 different clubs, achieving promotion with Gladbach, Augsburg, and Hertha, and the Millerntor-Stadion is one of the more intimidating home atmospheres in the league.
Another club to potentially watch for is Heidenheim. One of the smallest clubs in the division in terms of stadium capacity, the club from the eastern part of Baden-Wurttemberg is coming off of its best ever season in the division. Manager Frank Schmidt guided Heidenheim to a 5th place finish in the league and the squad came perilously close to upsetting a double winning Bayern Munich squad in the quarterfinals of the DfB-Pokal, in Munich. Can they take the next step and break into the Bundesliga for the first time?
Perhaps it’ll be a dark horse that nobody sees coming, like Dresden or Aue, who will be East Germany’s two representatives in the league this season.
And speaking of dark horses.
The New Boys
It’s not unheard of for a newly promoted second division side to crash the promotion fight in their first season. 3 out of the last 5 seasons have seen a newly promoted side finish in the Top 3.
The 3 newly promoted clubs this season are Osnabruck, Karlsruher, and Wiesbaden.
Of the three, KSC might be the most likely. They’re easily the biggest club of the three and they’re the only club of the three to have previous top flight experience.
Club size doesn’t mean everything however, so it’s entirely possible Osnabruck, or even Wiesbaden, whose stadium is the league’s smallest, with a capacity of just over 12,000, can stun everybody and end up in the promotion fight.
Ultimately, the 2. Bundesliga isn’t as predictable as the Bundesliga is.
There’s typically no giant club that will obviously dominate, and even the biggest clubs in the division can end up finishing behind minnows less than half their size.
Of the 18 clubs in the league this 2019-20 season, here’s how I see the Top 3 ending up:
Stuttgart will win the league because they’ve got arguably the best squad.
Hamburg will finish second for a similar reason and they’ve got arguably the best manager in the league.
Heidenheim will piggyback off of last season’s success and up in the relegation/promotion playoff.
As for a hot take, for the benefit of those who want to see Martin Kind suffer, Hannover will finish 17th and suffer a second consecutive relegation.