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2. Bundesliga Hinrunde Review

Hamburger SV v VfL Bochum 1848 - Second Bundesliga Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Sunday January 24 marked the halfway point of the 2020-21 2. Bundesliga season.

Here is how the table looked at the midway marker:

1. Hamburg – 36 points

2. Bochum – 33 points

3. Kiel – 32 points

4. Düsseldorf – 31 points

5. Fürth – 29 points

6. Hannover – 26 points (+8 GD)

7. Karlsruher – 26 points (+4 GD)

8. Heidenheim – 26 points (+2 GD)

9. Erzgebirge – 25 points (+4 GD)

10. Paderborn – 25 points (+3 GD)

11. Osnabrück – 22 points

12. Nürnberg – 20 points (-3 GD)

13. Regensburg – 20 points (-4 GD)

14. Darmstadt – 18 points

15. St Pauli – 16 points

16. Sandhausen – 15 points

17. Braunschweig – 14 points

18. Würzburger – 9 points

The Hinrunde featured some fantastic performances and surprises along the way. Let’s take a look back at how the 18 sides in the German second division did in the first half of this season:

The Champs (Hamburg):

Hamburger SV v SC Paderborn 07 - Second Bundesliga Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The Dinosaur roared to the top of the table in the Hinrunde and became first half champions with 11 wins and 36 points, 3 ahead of second place.

(The 36 points is 6 more than last year’s 2. Bundesliga champions Arminia Bielefeld had at the same point)

But it hasn’t been a walk in the park.

After starting out the season like gangbusters, winning their first 5 league matches, Daniel Thioune’s side went into a slump in November. Beginning with a draw in the Hamburg Derby in Matchday 6, HSV enduring a 5 match winless streak that stretched into the beginning of December, with three awful losses in a row to Bochum, Heidenheim, and Hannover. The winless streak dropped them to 4th in the table after Matchday 10. Fortunately, Hamburg righted the ship over the final 7 matches of the Hinrunde, winning 6 of them.

So it’s been a very streaky season thus far for HSV results wise, but when it comes to their individual play, things have been pretty consistent, one way or another.

Simon Terodde has continued to dominate the 2. Bundesliga, leading the league with 17 goals scored. That averages out to a goal a match thus far. The striker became the 2. Bundesliga’s all-time leading goal-scorer in Matchday 2 and he’s been the focal point for Hamburg’s attack ever since the season kicked off.

But it hasn’t been just a one-man show for Hamburg. By the time winter rolled around, the rest of Hamburg’s attack had begun picking up the slack as well. Players like Bakery Jatta and Sonny Kittel are on good runs of form and have made Hamburg’s attack the deadliest in the 2. Bundesliga, with 40 goals scored in the first half of the season.

Further back, Sven Ulreich, signed from Bayern Munich in September, has proved a stabilizing influence in goal. While he’s not been dominant (he was directly responsible for one of their 3 losses thus far) he has given HSV a definitive #1 in goal, fixing an issue that plagued the side last season.

That being said, it’s not all roses for HSV. The 5 match winless run highlighted some potential questions regarding the squad’s defensive quality. It was the back line that ultimately doomed Hamburg’s promotion campaign last season and there have been some nervy moments this season as well. Matchday 17’s come-from-behind win against Braunschweig was case in point.

Stephan Ambrosius, Toni Leistner, and Moritz Heyer have seen the majority of time at center-half. They’ve been fine, but it would not be very surprising if Hamburg went looking for defensive reinforcements before the winter window closes on February 1.

The Trailers (Bochum, Kiel, Düsseldorf, Fürth)

VfL Bochum 1848 v 1. FC Nürnberg - Second Bundesliga Photo by Max Maiwald/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

This quartet hold positions 2-5 in the table and it’s these 4 sides that appear to be the most likely to take the second promotion spot and the promotion playoff slot.

What’s interesting is that 3 of these sides didn’t get off to great starts this season.

Sitting second in the table, Bochum are the only other side besides Hamburg with double digit wins in the Hinrunde (10). They won only 1 of their opening 4 matches, but have since won 9 of 13, including an away win over the league leaders.

Managed by Thomas Reis, the squad is led by a group of players who washed out with previous clubs in the Bundesliga. Robert Žulj (formerly of Hoffenheim) might be the other candidate for league MVP besides Terodde. He along with Simon Zoller (Köln) and Gerrit Holtmann (Mainz) have been the danger men for Bochum thus far.

Coupled with this is a defense that finishes the Hinrunde tied for the fewest goals conceded (17), so in addition to solid attacking play, Bochum has been getting equally solid play at the back. Center-backs Armel Bella-Kotchap and Maxim Leitsch, both graduates of Bochum’s youth sector, might be the best pairing in the 2. Bundesliga.

Tied with Bochum for the fewest goals conceded is Kiel, who sit third in the table. After a disappointing 2019-20 season, Die Störche have bounced back in a big way under second year manager Ole Werner.

Unlike Bochum, Kiel started the season well, with 3 wins in their first 4 matches. Consistently getting points kept them near the top of the table for all of the Hinrunde, and they sat top of the table from Matchday 10 thru 13. A 3 match winless streak in the league saw them slip in the standings, but alongside that came the club’s biggest win in its history, when they knocked Bayern out of the DFB-Pokal on penalties at home.

Kiel’s defense, led by center-back Hauke Wahl and fullback Jannik Dehm, has been a big plus for them thus far. But at the same time, their attack lags behind the other frontrunners with just 28 goals scored. Former Dortmund prospect Janni Luca Serra leads the side with 6 goals and former Bremen man Fin Bartels provides veteran leadership for an otherwise young squad.

That brings us to Düsseldorf and Fürth, who sit 4th and 5th, both of whom have, believe it or not, occupied the relegation playoff spot at times thus far.

Düsseldorf’s season began poorly, last season’s relegation from the Bundesliga still seeming to affect the side. Just 1 win in their opening 5 matches saw them slip to 16th in the table, but after some lineup shuffling, Uwe Rösler’s side began to claw their way up the ladder. This in spite of obtaining 5 red cards in the Hinrunde.

Longtime squad standout Rouwen Hennings still leads the line, although he’s been joined up front by former Hannover-man Kenan Karaman, who equaled Hennings with 6 goals in the Hinrunde. Youngsters like Shinta Appelkamp and Kevin Danso have become established starters, along side veterans like Edgar Prib and Matthias Zimmermann.

Finally, Fürth didn’t take their first win of the season until Matchday 5, but then went on to win 5 in a row and get to the top of the table after Matchday 9. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag for Stefan Leitl’s side, but they remain in a solid position to make a run at promotion.

It’s an experienced Kleeblätter side, led by the striking partnership of Branimir Hrgota and Håvard Nielsen. Midfielders Paul Seguin and Sebastian Ernst have added 11 goals between them and American international Julian Green appears to have finally found a solid landing spot and co-leads the side with 6 goals.

While Fürth don’t have trouble scoring goals (they sit second behind Hamburg in terms of goals scored in the Hinrunde with 33), they, like the league leaders, have issues at the back. Leitl has shuffled his backline over the season trying to find the right combination, with left-back David Raum, who’s chalked up an impressive 7 assists to lead the league, being the only consistent feature.

Only 4 points separate these four sides, so it’s likely they will continue to change positions as the Rückrunde begins. They’re all also within striking distance of Hamburg up top, so at this point, any of these 5 could make a run at the league title.

The Middle Zone (Hannover, Karlsruher, Heidenheim, Erzgebirge, Paderborn):

1. FC Heidenheim 1846 v VfL Osnabrück - Second Bundesliga Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

6 thru 10 in the table features sides that started badly and recovered, and sides that started well and fell back.

Hannover have been very up-and-down thus far, settling into a solid mid-table side that has it in them to knock off the league’s better sides. At the same time however, they’ve also tripped up against the league’s worst sides, such as St Pauli and lowly Würzburger.

Still, after how poorly last season’s Hinrunde went, Die Roten will take the improvement. Marvin Ducksch leads the side with 9 goals and veteran keeper Michael Esser might have a claim as the 2. Bundesliga’s best shot stopper.

Level with Hannover on points are Karlsruher. And like Hannover, it’s been pretty much boom or bust for KSC thus far.

After barely squeaking into 15th place at the end of last season to avoid the relegation playoff, KSC began this season poorly with 3 straight losses. They bottomed out in 18th after Matchday 3, moved up slightly, and then fell back to 17th after Matchday 6. But then KSC put together a 4 match winning streak to haul themselves into mid-table. Another 3-match losing streak followed, but 3 more wins in January got them back up to 7th at the halfway point.

Striker Philipp Hofmann leads the side with 8 goals, but youngsters like Benjamin Goller and Dominik Kother have helped Karlsruher score 30 as a side. That being said, KSC’s defense has shipped 26 easily the worst of the 5 teams in this group.

Meanwhile, in an almost mirror image of their 2019-20 season, last year’s 3rd place finishers Heidenheim stumbled out of the gate. For the first 6 of 7 Matchdays, manager Frank Schmidt desperately tried to put together some sort of winning combination up front, but nothing he tried seem to work. Then finally, former Kaiserslautern striker Christian Kühlwetter marched onto the scene and grabbed the mantle with both hands.

Across Matchdays 7 thru 9, Kühlwetter scored 6 goals. He finished the Hinrunde with 11, easily the highest on the squad. His goals, coupled with Heidenheim’s typical disciplined play, helped them to dig their way slowly back up into mid-table.

Conversely, Erzgebirge began the season well (also in a mirror image of last season), but slowly slid down the table as the season progressed.

Pascal Testroet leads Erzgebirge with 9 goals and Florian Krüger sits right behind him with 8. Their work has allowed the side to take big wins against the likes of Darmstadt, Sandhausen, and Karlsruher.

That being said, the East Germans continue to rely on their defensive tactics to strangle opponents into submission. But at times thus far, their normally impenetrable defense has let them down, such as in comprehensive defeats to Hamburg and Bochum on back-to-back Matchdays in October.

Finally, there’s Paderborn. The weakest side in the 2019-20 Bundesliga by far, Paderborn haven’t looked much like a side ready to ride straight back up to the top flight.

They’ve taken solid wins against fellow mid-table sides like Hannover and Erzgebirge, but Steffen Baumgart’s side have struggled at times, particularly against the squads currently near the top of the table.

Dennis Srbeny and Dortmund II loanee Chris Führich have been the bright spots for Paderborn thus far, scoring 7 goals each. That being said, the rest of Paderborn’s squad doesn’t muster up at this point.

Each of these 5 squads could certainly make a run toward the top of the table in the Rückrunde (they sit just 7 and 8 points out of 2nd place respectively), but to do it, they would need to start stacking together wins pretty quickly. The gap to the relegation zone is about the same, but unless one suffers a serious downturn in form, don’t look for any of these 5 to fall into a relegation fight.

The Mehs (Osnabrück, Nürnberg, Regensburg, Darmstadt)

VfL Bochum 1848 v 1. FC Nürnberg - Second Bundesliga Photo by Max Maiwald/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Positions 11 thru 14 are occupied by sides who will be disappointed with their first halves, but not so dispirited that they can’t recover in the Rückrunde.

Osnabrück began the season well, even rising as high as 2nd after Matchday 7. But a poor run of form around New Year has seen them drop out of the top 10 in the table. The situation is similar to what happened to the club last season; a good start was enough to overcome a poor Rückrunde and keep them in the second division.

Lila-Weiß have struggled to score at times; their 20 goals rank as the 4th lowest in the league and their overall squad quality is questionable. However, they appear to have enough tenacity and results to end up somewhere in mid-table, barring a huge collapse. And ultimately, that’s a result that will likely satisfy the club.

Meanwhile, Nürnberg find themselves once again in the lower half of the table, though they appear to be slightly better positioned to avoid a close call as they did last season.

Manuel Schäffler has proven himself to be a quality striker at the level and until a recent injury, Felix Lohkemper had provided the club with a second reliable scoring option.

But Nürnberg’s defense has left much to be desired at times, a 5-2 thrashing at the hands of Hannover in Matchday 17 case in point. The side have yet to score a win in 2021 and they will need to start putting things together to avoid another flirtation with the relegation zone.

Regensburg sit level with the Franconians on points, but trail them on goal difference. It’s been a second straight inconsistent season under manager Mersad Selimbegović, and the side have settled firmly into the mid-table after consecutive promotions in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Regensburg’s issues are similar to Osnabrück. They don’t score enough and their overall squad quality is somewhat middling. Andreas Albers leads the team with 6 goals, and while they are in the middle of the road defensively, that in and of itself won’t get the club any higher than it currently sits.

And then, there’s Darmstadt.

One of the Hinrunde’s biggest disappointments, at least as far as this author is concerned, Darmstadt have come nowhere near the high expectations some set for them when they hired Markus Anfang as manager.

The club have had little trouble scoring goals (they’re in the same vicinity as sides like Kiel and Düsseldorf attacking wise), but their defense has leaked like a sieve. Highly regarded Bayern loanee Lars Lukas Mai has looked anything but a solid defender at times, and the side have suffered blowout losses at the hands of Paderborn and Erzgebirge, not exactly offensive juggeranuts.

They, like Nürnberg, have yet to win in 2021, and with the relegation zone just 3 points astern, Darmstadt will need to put things together relatively quickly to avoid being dragged into a situation few saw them in at the start of the season.

The Cellar Dwellers (St Pauli, Sandhausen, Braunschweig, Würzburger)

Eintracht Braunschweig v Hamburger SV - Second Bundesliga Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Finally, these 4 sides were easily the worst in the league in the Hinrunde.

Yes, they really were that bad.

St Pauli is the most surprising of this lot, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been when looking at their business in the summer window.

The club gave new manager Timo Schultz a new look squad, but the new signings they brought in came predominantly from last season’s relegation sides. Players like Simon Makienok and Max Dittgen have showed ample reasons why they couldn’t keep their sides in the second division last season, and long-time keeper Robin Himmelmann had such a poor Hinrunde that he first lost his starting job and then lost his spot at the club entirely at the winter window.

It was so bad that St Pauli didn’t win a league match for almost months.

Fortunately, management didn’t sit still and worked to fix squad issues, particularly up top. Veteran striker Guido Burgstaller was signed in September, after being released by Smurfs. After regaining match fitness, Burgstaller has cemented a place in the side’s attack. Coupled with the emergence of Wolfsburg loanee Omar Marmoush, brought in during the January window, the attacking pair have given Kiezkicker life recently. Two straight wins to close out the Hinrunde helped to lift the side out of the relegation zone.

But Kiezkicker aren’t out of the woods yet by any means. Management will keep faith in Schultz to lead the side for now, but if things go south again, St Pauli could face the very real prospect of relegation.

Down in Baden-Württemberg, just a point out of 15th, sit Sandhausen. The perennial lower half finishers may have finally bitten off more than they can overcome.

A normally solid defense collapsed in the Hinrunde, as did former #1 keeper Martin Fraisl, who was released in January. The attack has been stagnant, although veteran striker Daniel Keita-Ruel has been a somewhat persistent scoring threat. Other than he and longtime side fixture Kevin Behrens, no one on the team has scored more than 1 goal.

Manager Uwe Koschinat was dismissed in late November, but things haven’t improved under new manager Michael Schiele. Sandhausen have been in this position before in recent seasons, but they may not be able to get out of danger this time.

That brings us to the newcomers from the 3. Liga: Braunschweig and Würzburger.

The former haven’t looked out of their depth this season, but it’s become rather obvious that this Braunschweig squad just doesn’t have the quality to be competitive in the league on a regular basis.

They’ve scored the fewest goals in the league thus far (16) and tied for the most goals conceded (36). They have not won a match since the beginning of December, although one of their 3 wins did come against 2nd place Bochum.

The club have brought in some new signings in the January window in an attempt to right the ship, but it might be asking too much of the club to survive another season at this level.

But as lackluster as Braunschweig have been, Würzburger have been even worse.

They’ve racked up as many managerial sackings as they have wins (2). They sacked Michael Schiele (now with Sandhausen) after just 2 Matchdays, and jettisoned replacement Marco Antwerpen a little more than a month later. Current manager Bernhard Trares has a near impossible task on his hands to get the side to safety.

Each of these 4 squads have a lot of work to do to secure their places in the 2. Bundesliga for next season. We’ll see who among them can pull it off.