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Arminia Bielefeld and VfB Stuttgart, last season’s champions and runners-up, are now in the top flight and have been replaced by 2019-20’s Bundesliga relegation squads, Fortuna Düsseldorf and SC Paderborn.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 II, we’ll take a look at the second division’s returning heavyweights.
The Dino in the Room
I know, I know, Hamburg fans.
The fact that your club is still featuring in this series is infuriating and downright silly in some aspects. But, after being in the top 3 continuously from Matchday 2 through Matchday 32 last season, HSV dropped their final two matches of 2019-20 in embarrassing fashion and consigned themselves to a second consecutive 4th place finish, and third season in the second division.
It sucks for the club and, in all honesty, it sucks for the Bundesliga in general because Hamburg remains one of the country’s biggest clubs in terms of size. Having them be perpetually stuck in the 2. Bundesliga is a kick in the gut.
So, what are their prospects for this season?
The squad still appears to be one of the second division’s better sides. Club captain Aaron Hunt leads the contingent of returning players, along with full-back Tim Leibold, midfielders Sonny Kittel and David Kinsombi, and keepers Daniel Heuer Fernandes and Julian Pollersbeck.
Each of the players listed ran hot and cold at times last season and that inconsistency cost the club in the run up to the end of the season. Hamburg will likely need all of them to be on form to have a chance at promotion, although it remains to be seen who will be the #1 option in goal after both keepers disappointed in the Rückrunde last Spring.
Veterans like Martin Harnik and Kyriakos Papadopoulos have moved on, but Hamburg’s biggest loss is undoubtedly Joel Pohjanpalo. The Finnish striker almost single-handedly kept HSV in the promotion fight last season, but he returned to Leverkusen after his loan ended in the summer.
However, HSV appear to have found a worthy replacement in veteran striker Simon Terodde.
Terodde, who joins from Köln, hasn’t done much in his two recent Bundesliga seasons with Stuttgart and Köln respectively, but he’s been an elite goal-scorer in the 2. Bundesliga in his 4 most recent seasons there.
His goal tallies in the second division are as follows:
2014-15 – 16 goals
2015-16 – 25 goals
2016-17 – 25 goals
2018-19 – 29 goals
If the pattern holds, Terodde should be on course to bag a boatload of goals for Hamburg.
The biggest question for HSV going to this season however is around their new manager.
Dieter Hecking’s failure to get the club promoted last season cost him his job, and perhaps much of his remaining coaching reputation, and Hamburg replaced him with Osnabrück manager Daniel Thioune.
Thioune became Germany’s first black professional football manager when he took over at Osnabrück in 2017 and as of the writing of this piece, he is the only black manager in either the Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga. Being given the keys to a club as big as Hamburg is nice to see for him and German football as a whole.
Thioune did very well to get a small club like Osnabrück into the 2. Bundesliga prior to last season and then keep them there, but the question now is whether he can get Hamburg into the promotion spots, which is the only goal the club has at this point.
After a fine Hinrunde in 2019, Osnabrück slumped in the Rückrunde and ended up finishing with the lowest points total in the second half of the season, taking just 2 wins over their final 17 matches. It was enough to finish 13th and stay in the second division, but it does leave some wondering whether or not Thioune can get enough out of a notoriously inconsistent Hamburg side to put them over the top.
However, whether Osnabrück’s second half struggles were due to Thioune or due to a squad that was probably decent at best, remains questionable.
Either way, Thioune and his squad have a big task on their hands and heavy expectations on their shoulders.
That banging sound you hear is Hannover and Nürnberg supporters hammering on doors and pounding their keyboards for this author daring to classify their sides as “Other Heavyweights”.
The reason these two clubs fall into this segment is that unlike Hamburg, neither of them were in contention for the promotion spots last season.
Hannover endured a miserable Hinrunde, bringing much joy to anyone who enjoys seeing Martin Kind suffer, including this author, but after a mid-season managerial change, they rebounded in the Rückrunde and climbed up to 6th in the table at season’s end.
Former Sandhausen skipper Kenan Kocak took over the managerial reigns in November and eventually got Die Roten into form after they went most of the Hinrunde without a home win. Kocak is back on the touchline for this season to see if he can continue his good work.
But a drawback for Hannover heading into this season is that the squad lost several of the key contributors who were responsible for their good run in the Rückrunde. Midfielder Edgar Prib switched to Düsseldorf, striker John Guidetti returned to Spain after his loan expired, and long-time keeper and club captain Ron-Robert Zieler was deemed surplus to requirements and moved to Köln on loan.
The cupboard isn’t all bare, however.
Returning starters include midfielder Genki Haraguchi, and strikers Marvin Ducksch and Hendrik Weydandt. Hannover also brought in a slew of new, cost-efficient signings. Haraguchi’s international teammate Sei Muroya and Ghana international Patrick Twumasi are among them, as is former Kiel standout Kingsley Schindler, who joins on loan from Köln.
Prospects for the upcoming season remain mixed for Hannover. They undoubtedly have the ambition to return to the Bundesliga and their good form in the Rückrunde last season shows that they can play to that level, but questions regarding the manager and the new signings remain unanswered.
But as disappointing as Hannover’s previous season was, Nürnberg’s 2019-20 season was an absolute disaster.
They sacked two managers before the end of the season and then a third after they barely managed to scrape past Ingolstadt on away goals in the last seconds of the relegation playoffs in July.
As such, they dramatically overhauled the squad this offseason. Players such as Mikael Ishak, Patrick Erras, and Michael Frey departed Franconia and, in their place, Nürnberg brought in a number of new players, including two Bayern youngsters, keeper Christian Früchtl and attacking midfielder Sarpreet Singh. Also joining the side is the 2. Bundesliga’s second-leading goal-scorer from 2019-20, former Wiesbaden striker Manuel Schäffler.
Schäffler couldn’t keep Wiesbaden in the second division last season despite his 19 league goals, but his presence will give Nürnberg a proven commodity up top and allow them to focus on improving what was one of the league’s worst defenses last season.
Former RasenBall Leipzig assistant manager Robert Klauß takes over as manager for 2020-21.
After the misery of last season, a safe mid-table finish would do some good for Nürnberg, and it seems like they should be able to do that this term.