Although there is one more matchday left before the winter break comes along, the 2. Bundesliga has hit the halfway mark already and with that the Hinrunde is complete. That means it’s time to review how each of the 18 clubs in the league has done so far, and reflect on some of the unpredictable and chaotic events that have taken place over the past 17 matchdays. If you want to know every detail of what’s gone on at every club, here’s the place. So, let’s start from the top…
1st place: FC St. Pauli
With a six point gap to second place, St. Pauli are not only Herbstmeister for the first time in the 2. Bundesliga, but also have the biggest lead any team has had at this stage since Ingolstadt in 2014/15. It’s a big improvement on where they were a year ago, when Timo Schultz was fearing for his job with the team in the relegation zone. They stuck with him and have been more than rewarded for their trust.
St Pauli have undeniably been the most impressive side in this division throughout the first half of the season. Schultz has gotten the best out of every individual in the squad – Guido Burgstaller, who was so out of form for so long at Schalke, is the league’s leading scorer, while Daniel-Kofi Kyereh has become the league’s best assist provider and is now a Ghanain international too. Most crucially, St. Pauli have been invincible at the Millerntor, winning all eight of their home games so far. Only five teams have ever achieved that in the history of the 2. Bundesliga. Every single one of them won promotion at the end of the season. The signs are very good.
2nd place: SV Darmstadt 98
Darmstadt struggled for most of last season, but rescued a respectable finish of 7th with a fantastic run from March onwards. Then they were plunged into turmoil. It was already known that star man Serdar Dursun would leave in summer, but he followed by a number of other regulars and then controversially, coach Markus Anfang. Appointing the out-of-work Thorsten Lieberknecht and replacing Dursun with free transfers Philipp Tietz and Luca Pfeiffer meant that few were excited about the Lillies, but they have proved everybody wrong.
Members of the squad and the media have talked about Darmstadt’s great team spirit, something which Lieberknecht has prioritised in the past. The tactics have been spot-on too, as the adoption of a 4-4-2 has helped both Tietz and Pfeiffer – neither particularly prolific before this season – to an astonishing 12 goals each. The duo’s combined 24 goals means they’ve scored more goals than 10 of the teams in the league, while Darmstadt’s total of 38 is the highest tally in the league. The centre-back duo of Patric Pfeiffer and Thomas Isherwood also deserves a lot of praise – the youngest centre-back partnership in the league has also been arguably the best; Isherwood has hit the ground running since joining from Östersund, while Pfeiffer has cut out the mistakes and become a much more reliable defender than he was a year ago.
3rd place: Hamburger SV
Hamburg’s first three seasons in the 2. Liga all followed the same blueprint: lots of expectation, strong start, suddenly turn into a shambles, finish fourth. This year is a bit different – now that Schalke and Bremen are also in the league, the external pressure on HSV has been reduced. That might help explain why Tim Walter’s team is probably the least volatile, most sensible version of HSV we’ve seen in the second tier. There are no major recurring problems, there have been no inexplicable collapses.
That’s all very positive. Another important note is how well this squad has dealt with setbacks, which can’t be said of many HSV teams of the past few years. Every single part of the HSV backline, plus goalkeeper Daniel Heuer-Fernandes, has been sidelined with injuries (some of them severe – Tim Leibold is out for the rest of the season, Josha Vagnoman has played just once, Stephan Ambrosius not at all) but the team has taken it all in their stride. Even without their first choice goalkeeper, right back and centre-backs and with no natural left-backs fit, HSV have conceded just 17 goals, the lowest in the division.
What has held the team back this year is the failure to turn draws into wins; HSV have drawn eight times, the most in the league, and on six of those occasions the xG suggests they probably should have won. In spite of that, some players have impressed going forward, with Sonny Kittel managing 10 assists and youngster Faride Alidou attracting the attention of top flight clubs.
4th place: FC Schalke 04
Nobody knew quite what to expect from Schalke in their first 2. Bundesliga season since the early 90’s. Would the team and the fans be able to adjust from losing every week to suddenly being the favourites for most games? And would the vastly overhauled squad need more time to gel before mounting a title fight?
Even now, it’s hard to rate how well this season has gone for Schalke so far. On one hand, they are in fourth place, well in with a chance of promotion. On the other hand, the football they have played has often been overly negative, despite some significant attacking talent in their ranks. Watching them is a frustrating experience, because you know that if Dimitrios Grammozis put a little more faith in exciting players like Rodrigo Zalazar rather than tough tackling malocher types like Victor Pálsson, there would be a team which their vast army of fans could fervently get behind.
Instead, Schalke’s strength comes not from beautiful flowing football, but mostly from set-pieces and crosses. New signing Thomas Ouwejan has proved the perfect provider to star buy Simon Terodde, the Dutch left-back having the second most assists in the league and the second most crosses. As good as he is, there is an argument that Schalke could be better without Terodde, scoring five against Sandhausen and four against Nürnberg in his absence.
5th place: SSV Jahn Regensburg
Entering their third season under coach Mersad Selimbegovic, Jahn’s goal was never to fight for promotion – and they insist it still isn’t, despite being the surprise package of the season so far. They are firmly part of the promotion battle though, with their current position matching the benchmark Achim Beierlorzer’s team managed back in 2017/18. The signing of Sarpreet Singh on loan from FC Bayern is the main catalyst for Jahn’s overachievement thus far. The New Zealander was ineffective at Nürnberg last season, but since his move to the other Bavarian side in the league Singh has turned into a phenomenon, with four goals and six assists to his name. The other key man in midfield is Max Besuschkow, who has continually improved since joining the club in 2019; not only does Besuschkow run the game, he also scores the goals, with his tally of five making him Jahn’s top scorer.
Four defeats in their last five games suggests they probably can’t keep it up, though. Ultimately some players in the squad probably don’t have what it takes to compete for promotion. Injuries have meant that Jahn haven’t had their first-choice defence available, and most of the goals Jahn have conceded have come in November and December, with Steve Breitkreuz or Sebastian Nachreiner in the side. There are also some things for Regensburg to worry about in the future, with director Christian Keller now at Köln and a number of players likely to leave at the end of the year.
6th place: SC Paderborn 07
Paderborn waved goodbye to iconic trainer Steffen Baumgart in summer after four years in charge at the Benteler-Arena. While he continues to impress over in Köln, Paderborn made a smart move to replace him with Lukas Kwasniok, who had helped Saarbrücken to fifthin the 3. Liga after winning the Regionalliga Südwest the previous season.
Paderborn have been arguably the best team in the league at times, playing some wonderful football, and striker Sven Michel has been one of the league’s standout players. The 31 year old has already scored more than his previous 2. Liga record with 13 goals, including a hat-trick against Karlsruhe. Goalkeeper Jannik Huth, who was previously backup to Leo Zingerle, has also had a very impressive season since becoming Kwasniok’s number one.
It could certainly be better though, as Michel and his strike partner Felix Platte have both been held back by injuries. Paderborn are very reliant on the pair; last year’s top scorer Dennis Srbeny has managed just one goal, and his former Norwich teammate Marco Stiepermann is SCP’s third top scorer thanks to a brace against Aue. Also – Lukas Kwasniok, please put your mask on.
7th place: 1. FC Nürnberg
Nürnberg, like most of the teams around them, are in a better place now than they were a year ago. Robert Klauß’s first season was to be endured rather than enjoyed, and Klauß wasn’t particularly popular with every Club fan. The performances have improved, thanks to Klauß’s favoured midfield diamond, getting the best out of Johannes Geis, Fabian Nürnberger, Tom Krauß and Mats Møller Dæhli.
They aren’t always great to watch; FCN are one of the lower scoring teams in the top half, and also had the meanest defence until recently – after 11 games, Klauß’s team had let in just seven goals, only suffering their first defeat at the end of October. A tough run of fixtures to end the Hinrunde has seen Der Club drop back from the rest of the pack, losing four of their last six games and letting in 13 goals in that time. That is probably a fairer reflection of where Nürnberg stand right now, not yet at the level of the promotion favourites, but still close enough to be in with a shout.
8th place: 1. FC Heidenheim
Things rarely change at Heidenheim. In October, Frank Schmidt agreed a new contract that will keep him at the club until 2027. If he sees it out, he will have spent20 years on the FCH bench. The only new permanent signing was Tim Kleindienst, who returned on loan last year and is now in his fourth different stint at the club. They sit in the exact same position they did at this point last season, except this year they have 27 points rather than the 26 they had a year ago.
The results from week to week haven’t been as consistent. Heidenheim went up to third after winning three consecutive games, then lost the next three, shortly followed by another three wins. Heidenheim have never had quite enough quality this season to mount a serious charge; scoring the least out of all the top half teams.
9th place: Werder Bremen
Werder geared up for their first season at this level for four decades by hiring Markus Anfang from Darmstadt, and he brought half his squad with him. The results under the new coach were mixed. Bremen were in the top half but got knocked out the cup by Osnabrück, lost the derby to Hamburg and also suffered embarrassing three goal defeats against Paderborn, Dresden and Anfang’s old side Darmstadt.
In mid-November, it was announced that Anfang was being investigated for having a forged vaccine passport. Just hours before their next game Anfang was gone, “resigning” because of the “extreme stress” the situation had caused. It was without doubt the dumbest thing anyone involved with Werder had done since director Frank Baumann decided not to replace Maxi Eggestein and go into the season with Christian Groß and Ilia Gruev as the only number sixes in the squad.
They won’t miss Anfang much; his replacement Ole Werner looks far more suited to the role, and has won both of his first two games in charge of the Grün-Weißen. The only lasting legacy of the previous coach will be the players brought in to play his system (and the sale of Johannes Eggestein, who apparently didn’t fit said system), but at least Marvin Ducksch has been a success so far, scoring seven since joining. The squad may not be the most smartly assembled, but there is still a lot of ability in their ranks.
10th place: Karlsruher SC
Karlsruhe were one of the surprise packages of last season, achieving a sixth placed finish in Christian Eichner’s first full season in charge. Although they currently sit in the bottom half, Karlsruhe are only five points away from the promotion playoff spot and have performed to a similar level to last season. Key to Karlsruhe’s success is their reliable attacking core. Philipp Hofmann has scored eight, Marvin Wanitzek five, Choi Kyoung-Rok and Fabian Schleusener four. Young Malik Batmaz has also scored three goals in his limited minutes, and could feature more in the rest of the season.
They could do with improving at the other end though. Karlsruhe have conceded more own goals than any other team, have consistently conceded goals from set-pieces, and also have one of the weaker starting goalkeepers in the league according to Kicker’s performance rankings.
11th place: SG Dynamo Dresden
After an unlucky relegation in the 19/20 season, Dresden returned to the 2. Bundesliga at the first attempt. Their 22 point tally makes them the best of the three newly promoted sides, but it could easily have been different. After a great start to the season, Dresden went on a run of nine losses in ten games, sliding from second in the table all the way to 14th. Just when the pressure was piling up on Alexander Schmidt, the team finally found form, ending their horrendous run with a 1-0 win over Düsseldorf. Unsurprisingly, it was the outstanding Christoph Daferner who got the only goal. The Austrian striker has scored eight, most of them from around the six yard box.
Dresden have had bad luck with injuries – Tim Knipping, Sebastian Mai, Brandon Borrello and Panagiotis Vlachodimos all spent a decent amount of time injured, which may partially explain the losing run they went on. Certainly, if Daferner or Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer were missing for a significant period of time they could well find themselves struggling once more. If they play to their potential, though, this is a team that should be able to survive comfortably.
12th place: Fortuna Düsseldorf
Fortuna rarely felt like major promotion contenders last season, even though Uwe Rösler’s team finished 5th. It was already known that Rösler would likely be departing, as his contract was not renewed, and Düsseldorf went for a longer term approach, appointing promising young coach Christian Preußer, who had earned promotion to the 3. Liga with Freiburg’s reserve side.
There were concerns that Preußer might not last very long though. A bad run left his team just two points away from the relegation playoff spot, and Fortuna were in crisis mode. Fortunately, they ended the hinrunde with impressive results against the top two, beating Darmstadt away and drawing with St. Pauli on Saturday evening. That should help lift the pressure off for now.
There is some pressure on sporting director Uwe Klein too, who has been in a public dispute with his predecessor Lutz Pfannenstiel over who is to blame for the failure to renew the contract of young goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, who has joined Watford after impressing for Sparta Rotterdam.
Klein and Preußer should both be praised though for signing and getting the best out of Khaled Narey, who has been far better than he ever was at Hamburg, involved in 11 goals for Fortuna. Otherwise, fans at the Merkur Spiel-Arena have had little to celebrate, especially as Fortuna have only managed one home win all season.
13th place: Hannover 96
There’s rarely any room for optimism in Hannover, especially not after finishing 13th in the 2. Bundesliga, the club’s worst campaign this century. This campaign has the potential to be even worse.
Jan Zimmermann’s team were initially inconsistent, hamstrung by woeful defending from set pieces, some shocking individual mistakes and forwards misfiring. Then they became simply bad. Each week the crowd numbers dropped, the HDI-Arena pitch grew worse (Zimmermann’s old team Havelse are playing their 3. Liga games there), and 96 looked less likely to win. After 8 winless games, new sporting director Marcus Mann relieved the coach of his duties, the final straw being a hopeless 4-0 loss in Karlsruhe. Incredibly, Hannover never managed to score more than once in a game during Zimmermann’s short reign – possibly explained by the decision to replace Bremen-bound Marvin Ducksch with Lukas Hinterseer, who has yet to score for the club.
Caretaker Christoph Dabrowski immediately stopped the rot, beating Hamburg and Ingolstadt in his first two games. He remains in charge until the winter break at least, Daniel Thioune or Uwe Rösler being the likely replacements should Mann or his meddling boss Martin Kind choose not to keep Dabrowski in charge. Whoever is in charge, they’ll have a job on their hands. Only last-placed Ingolstadt have scored less than their appalling tally of 13 goals. Hannover could easily slip back into the relegation battle, especially if they repeat the performances of last year’s Rückrunde.
14th place: FC Hansa Rostock
Rostock’s return to the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in a decade comes with the simple goal of survival. That goal proved too much for coach Jens Härtel when he earned promotion with Magdeburg a number of years ago, but Hansa are on their way to achieving it.
Hansa made a number of interesting signings over the summer, but it has mostly been about getting the best of the established members of the squad, like John Verhoek, who joined in 2019. The last time Verhoek played 2. Liga football, he scored not a single goal, as part of the Duisburg side that was relegated in 2018/19. This year he has already bagged 10, making him the highest scoring player in the bottom half of the table. That accounts for more than half of the goals Hansa have scored this season.
The only one of his teammates to have scored more than once this season is Hanno Behrens, the pick of the bunch in terms of the new recruits. Ridge Munsy, Streli Mamba and Svante Ingelson, the other big name new recruits have all been slightly underwhelming but by no means terrible, while Haris Duljević has started to impress recently.
15th place: Holstein Kiel
So close to promotion last year, Kiel are still suffering the traditional playoff loser’s hangover. As if losing the likes of Lee Jae-Sung, Jonas Meffert and Janni-Luca Serra wasn’t bad enough, the coach Ole Werner resigned after seven games with his side down in 15th and having lost 3-0 on three separate occasions.
If there are any positives to take from the summer, that has been the signing of Austrian striker Benedikt Pichler. Brought in too late to help Werner, Pichler has proven very useful for the newly appointed Marcel Rapp, scoring five goals since the coach’s arrival. Otherwise, the new signings haven’t fully convinced, and the stars of last season that remain haven’t hit the same heights. Last year’s rock solid defensive record is long gone, neither Ioannis Gelios or Thomas Dähne have been reliable in goal, and injuries have also made their mark. Understandably, it hasn’t been the same team since the core was ripped out of it.
16th place: FC Erzgebirge Aue
The experiment with Shpilevsky ended quickly. After opening the campaign with three consecutive draws, they lost heavily to fellow relegation battlers Sandhausen and Kiel, and after their fourth loss in a row, the coach was gone. Marc Hensel took over as caretaker, but since he lacks the necessary qualifications, could not be appointed as a permanent head coach. As a result, Pavel Dotchev was brought back to the club to take over as interim trainer, though Hensel remains equally prominent.
It took Aue until matchday 11 against Ingolstadt to get their first win, which was also the first time all season they’d even managed to take the lead in a game. The achievement was slightly overshadowed by a controversial red card given to Clemens Fandrich for allegedly spitting at the assistant referee Roman Potemkin, which resulted in a seven month ban, later reduced to seven games as the DFB’s courts could not be sure whether he had really done it.
Since then, Aue have won twice more, thanks to the goals of youngster Antonio Jonjić, enjoying a breakout season. At the other end of the pitch, club legend and captain Martin Männel has had a tough campaign, unwittingly helping Dresden win the weekend’s Sachsenderby by passing it straight to a Dynamo attacker. Usually so important to FCE, he has been one of the weaker goalkeepers in the league this season and will need to improve if they are to stave off relegation.
17th place: SV Sandhausen
Sandhausen struggled last season, only securing safety on the final day. As a response they brought in a whole host of new players, mostly from other 2. Bundesliga clubs. On paper, the squad has improved a lot – Gianluca Gaudino, Christian Conteh, Baskhim Ajdini, Oumar Diakhité, Chima Okoroji and Pascal Testroet were all brought in, all of whom have impressed at this level before. In practice, things haven’t really worked out.
Some of that is down to plain bad luck. Christian Conteh’s minutes have been limited by injury, while Gaudino started well before contracting COVID and hasn’t been fully fit since. Like the rest of the bottom four teams, Sandhausen have also changed coach, Alois Schwartz returning to the club for a second spell in September. They have improved slightly since, but are still yet to win at home. Is this the season Sandhausen finally go down? It’s possible, but they have escaped from worse situations.
18th place: FC Ingolstadt 04
Promoted through the playoffs last season, Ingolstadt chose not to retain coach Tomas Oral, possibly feeling that he could only take them so far. Or maybe they just couldn’t stand putting up with him for another year. Promoting Roberto Pätzold from within was a slightly strange move, but at least he managed to win one of his eight games in charge, unlike his replacement André Schubert (yes, that André Schubert). Schubi also lasted only eight matches, which was eight more than he should have.
For the last game of the Hinrunde, there was a new boss – former Wiesbaden coach Rüdiger Rehm. He takes over a team who has conceded more than any other side in the league and has also scored fewer than any other. In fact, with just seven points, Ingolstadt’s first half of the season was the third worst in the league’s history. Rehm’s task is a familiar one – just like at Wiesbaden in 19/20, he has to find a way to get some results with a team that does not seem remotely good enough for 2. Liga football. They may well prove worth watching from hereon in, though you shouldn’t expect to see much in the way of defending. Even if Rehm works miracles, it is very tough to imagine Ingolstadt playing 2. Liga football next year.