As we discussed several times, this was always set up to be a relatively star-studded year in the 2. Bundesliga, the second-highest division of the Deutsche Fußball-Liga. With 2 Berlin-based clubs (Hertha Berlin and Berlin Union), FC Bayern's local-rival-slash-sugarbaby (1860) and several teams that have pretty decent histories in the 1. Bundesliga and/or the Pokal (Köln, St. Pauli, Hertha, Kaiserslautern), this was set up to be a fairly exciting year.
Over the past few weeks, a pretty strange situation has developed. At the top of the 2. Bundesliga table, 2 clubs are running away with the league: Eintracht Braunschweig and Hertha Berlin are separated from their nearest pursuers by double-digits. Hertha was one of the clubs expected to dominate this year: they have a big stadium, a well-known history, and a roster that was pretty deep and talented (at least compared to most other clubs in this competition). And their record has borne this out: a +21 goal differential, best in the 2. Bundesliga, only one loss so far this season, and an active 17-game unbeaten streak that's seen them clean-sheet their opponents 8 times. Hertha's standout player this year, Ronny Furtado de Araújo, is a Brazilian wingback/fullback type who had several starts in the Champions League with Sporting Lisboa a few years ago. He played against Manchester United and AS Roma; hardly a surprise he's feasting on 2. Bundesliga competition.
More surprising, to me at least, has been the play os TSV Eintracht Braunschweig. Der Löwen spent most of the 20th century in German football's top division, and even won the title in 1967. But they've been laid low over the past few decades, going as far down as the Regionalliga before climbing back up into the 2. just last season. Now, amazingly, they're atop the table and looking primed for a return to the big leagues. Braunschweig have likewise lost only once, their Dominick Kumbela's 13 goals lead the league, and they even gave Freiburg a tough match in the Pokal at the end of October (eventually losing 2-0, but hanging in there for most of the day).
Anything's possible, but it looks like these 2 are great bets for the automatic promotion spots. Right below them, though, is a crazy battle for the last play-in spot: 8 teams are within 6 points of each other, all fighting for 3d place. And with a possible date against SpVgg for the winner, winning the play-in looks even more manageable than usual. Here's a look at the contenders for the right to get flattened twice by Bayern next season:
For a while, last year's 1. Bundesliga bums were looking like they might bounce right back up: they were up there with Braunschweig and Hertha until they closed the fall semester with a 3-match losing streak. The last of the 3 was the worst, as K'Slautern outplayed VfR Aalen for most of the match, but allowed a goal on the stroke of halftime and then couldn't find a way through in the second. That one not only cost them 3 points, but gave 3 to one of their closest pursuers. Still, these guys are a threat, and we could be seeing them next season.
This is Nils Petersen's old club, and I always wonder what, exactly, their name is supposed to mean. Does "Energie" just mean ... "Energy?" Sounds like something the WNBA would come up with, or some weird semi-pro lacrosse league. Even the name of the city, "Cottbus," always leaves me furrowing my brow in a vain attempt to understand the situation. This year, their leading scorer, Boubacar Sanogo, is an Ivorian journeyman who played for a few teams in the 1. (including Werder, where he played with Özil) and who apparently likes to brawl with his teammates.
Also, I just learned that Cottbus is functionally bi-lingual, with street signs printed in both German and Lower Sorbian. There's just so much going on here. I really hope these guys make the jump.
TSV 1860 Munich
With 6 wins out of 19 matches played, 1860 are miraculously in the hunt for that play-in spot. Watching our in-stadium little brother make the jump to the 1. Bundesliga would be cool, I guess, because we could have an extra match a year at the Allianz, and because maybe they could pay back some of the money they owe us. This outcome is looking increasingly less likely, though, as 1860 have won only 3 times in their past 12 (and one of those was a Pokal match against lower-division Berliner AK).
VfR Aalen, Berlin Union, FSV Frankfurt, Ingolstadt 04, Köln
These guys are all sitting between 26 and 28 points, meaning they all have a chance at getting into that 3d-place spot, but they'd need to start putting together winning streaks to do it. Köln was last year's ugly crash-out from the top division, but the Billy-Goats are perhaps the biggest and best known of this group. Promotion by FSV Frankfurt would allow twice-yearly derby matches with Eintracht, and Berlin Union could give us the rate specter of 2 teams from the same city being promoted at once. Union are probably the hottest of the bunch, with only 1 loss in their last 8 (and that was a hard-fought 4-3 defeat on the road to Braunschweig, the top team in the division).
Anyway, we'll try to keep everyone up-to-date on the battle for promotion, but ... you know how that goes. In other newsworthy items: Saurez to Bayern rumors heat up, Jupp Heynckes urges guys who haven't been starting to stay at the ready, and Shaqiri will miss at least this weekend's match with an ankle problem. As always, thanks for reading, and check back tomorrow or Thurs for more.