The time is almost upon us once more.
The 2020-21 2. Bundesliga season kicks off on Friday September 18.
Season kickoff is nearly two months later than usual due to the COVID-19 enforced pause that occurred last Spring. As a consequence, and assuming there is not another pandemic related shutdown during the upcoming season, this campaign will not feature German football’s traditional “winter break” in December and January.
Both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga seasons will more closely resemble an English or Italian season, with almost non-stop league action from mid-September all the way to late-May.
Arminia Bielefeld and VfB Stuttgart, last season’s champions and runners-up, are now in the top flight and have been replaced by 2019-20’s Bundesliga relegation squads, Fortuna Düsseldorf and SC Paderborn.
At the other end of the table, Eintracht Braunschweig and Würzburger Kickers make the jump from the 3. Liga, at the expense of Wehen Wiesbaden and Dynamo Dresden.
An unusual season may very well lead to an unusual or unexpected outcome when it comes to the promotion and relegation fights. Some sides have ambitions of playing in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, whereas others will likely be just trying to survive and stick in the 2. Bundesliga for another season.
So once again, we’re tasked with the following questions for this season’s preview:
Who stands a good chance at the league title and promotion?
Who will be in danger of relegation?
Who will the surprise squads be?
In Part I of our season preview, we’ll take a look at this season’s new squads.
Let’s begin with the recently relegated Bundesliga sides, Düsseldorf and Paderborn.
In 8 of the last 11 2. Bundesliga seasons, a relegated side has immediately bounced back to the Bundesliga after just 1 season in the second division. Stuttgart did it last season, albeit not without a struggle, and Köln did the same two years ago.
Düsseldorf seems to have the best chance of 2019-20’s two relegated sides to get back into the top flight.
They did lose some key contributors from last season: some like goalkeeper Zach Steffen and midfielder Erik Thommy returned to their parent clubs, while defenders Kaan Ayhan and Niko Gießelmann moved elsewhere.
In their stead, Düsseldorf brought in some intriguing talent from both the first and second division. Midfielder Edgar Prib joined from Hannover and defender Florian Hartherz came over from league champions Bielefeld. Last season’s leading scorer Rouwen Hennings stuck around as well.
Add in defender Kevin Danso, who joins on loan from Augsburg after featuring minimally for Southampton last season, and attacker Emmanuel Iyoha, who had a good season on loan at Kiel, and Düsseldorf’s squads looks pretty competitive.
Manager Uwe Rösler might be Düsseldorf’s biggest question mark going into the season, as he couldn’t keep the side in the Bundesliga a few months ago.
However, the same could’ve been said for his predecessor Friedhelm Funkel, and he not only got Düsseldorf promoted in 2017-18, but he kept them in the Bundesliga the following season with a relatively meh squad. It’s certainly possible that Rösler could get them back up.
Paderborn meanwhile seem destined for an uphill battle to get back into the Bundesliga. Their promotion to the top flight two years ago looks pretty flukish. Their squad was easily the weakest in the top flight last season, and the fact remains that they were likely only able to get into the top flight because Hamburg and Union Berlin had dire Rückrunde’s in 2018-19.
The squad hasn’t necessarily improved or worsened, but there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of the overall quality that a promoted side needs. Manager Steffen Baumgart is still in charge, which will help, but on paper, Paderborn look more like a mid-table side than a promotion candidate.
3. Liga Newbies*
At the other end of the spectrum, we have this season’s two newly promoted sides: Braunschweig and Würzburger.
Braunschweig make their return the second division after suffering relegation in 2017-18. The club’s fall from grace was rather abrupt; they lost the promotion playoff to Wolfsburg the season before they fell to the 3. Liga. They then barely avoided a catastrophic second consecutive relegation in 2018-19, when they managed to finish 16th in the 3. Liga on goal difference.
Manager Marco Antwerpen was able to stabilize things last season and guide the club back into the second division in his first season at the helm.
Striker Martin Kobylański is the squad’s leading goal-scorer from last season. Summer additions include Toni Kroos’s kid brother Felix, former Nürnberg keeper Felix Dornebusch, and former Erzgebirge center-back Dominik Wydra.
Things have started pretty well for Braunschweig, as they knocked off Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin in the opening match of the DfB-Pokal on Friday. However, whether that had more to due with Braunschweig’s strength or Hertha’s incompetence, largely remains to be seen.
Würzburger meanwhile return to the 2. Bundesliga after a solitary season in the second division in 2016-17. The Bavarian side were playing in the 6th division of Germany football just a decade ago, so their rise to the second division has been impressive.
Michael Schiele returns for his third full season as manager, as does last season’s leading goal-scorer Luca Pfeiffer.
Now, if you were paying attention earlier, you probably noticed the * in the subtitle for this segment. The reason that’s there is that neither of these sides actually won the 3. Liga last season.
Bayern Munich’s reserve squad were the champions of the 3. Liga, but because of a rule stating that reserve teams cannot play higher than the third division, the two squads immediately behind them were automatically promoted in their stead.
Whether that result has more to due with the strength of Bayern’s reserve side, or the weakness of Braunschweig and Würzburger remains to be seen, but considering the current makeup of the squads, it’s likely that both of these clubs will be very happy to finish out of the relegation zone this season.
A back-to-back promotion like Paderborn got recently doesn’t seem to be in the cards.