2. Bundesliga Season Preview Part One: Can anyone challenge Hamburg and Köln?

This Friday, the 2. Bundesliga returns for another season of twists and turns, with the rest of the league looking to shoot down ex-Bundesliga giants Hamburger SV and 1. FC Köln, as well as avoid the dreaded drop to the 3. Liga.

In the first of two articles, VAVEL UK takes a look at nine of the 18 sides – Hamburg, Köln, Holstein Kiel, Arminia Bielefeld, SSV Jahn Regensburg, VfL Bochum, MSV Duisburg, 1. FC Union Berlin and FC Ingolstadt 04.

Part two will follow on Thursday.

Hamburger SV

Last season: 17th (Bundesliga)

Manager: Christian Titz

Pre-season friendlies: Büdelsdorfer TSV (18-0 W), TuS Dassendorf (10-0 W), AGF Aarhus (5-1 L), CSKA Moscow (1-0 W), Rapid Wien (2-1 W), SV Meppen (2-1 W), Stoke City (2-1 W), AS Monaco (3-1 W)

Opening game: Home to Kiel (3 August)

Transfers in: David Bates (Rangers), Manuel Wintzheimer (Bayern Munich U19), Christoph Moritz (1. FC Kaiserslautern), Khaled Narey (SpVgg Greuther Fürth), Jairo Samperio (Las Palmas)

Transfers out: Dennis Diekmeier (released), Sejad Salihović (released), Andreas Hirzel (FC Vaduz), Luca Waldschmidt (SC Freiburg), Christian Mathenia (1. FC Nürnberg), Mohamed Gouaida (SV Sandhausen), André Hahn (FC Augsburg), Nicolai Müller (Eintracht Frankfurt), Bjarne Thoelke (FC Admira Wacker Mödling), Walace (Hannover 96), Alen Halilović (AC Milan), Sven Schipplock (Bielefeld), Bobby Wood (Hannover, loan), Mergim Mavraj (released)

Hamburg are in the second tier for the first time since the introduction of the Bundesliga in 1963, and if performances in reason seasons have been anything to go by, it is not a moment too soon. Nevertheless there were signs of promise under Titz towards the end of last season, and many of their squad, including experienced campaigners that kept them alive until the final day, like Aaron Hunt and Lewis Holtby, have decided against jumping ship.

Young Fiete Arp’s decision to resist the temptations of Bayern is also particularly laudable, even if the odds are he’ll end up there eventually. The 2. Bundesliga is the perfect place for him to showcase his massive potential, as is the case for Hamburg’s other youngsters.

Their preparations though have been dampened by a spate of injuries at the back, so much will be expected of Bates and Rick van Drongelen. Friendly results have been strong, apart from a freak loss to Aarhus, whilst with the experience of the likes of Hunt, Holtby and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, back from his loan spell with Leeds United, on paper they should go back up at the first attempt. Hamburg don’t do things the easy way though, and football isn’t played on paper.

1. FC Köln

Last season: 18th (Bundesliga)

Manager: Markus Anfang

Pre-season friendlies: VfB Eichstätt (5-2 W), Bonner SC (1-0 L), Wuppertaler SV (2-2 D), WSG Wattens (2-0 W), Watford (1-1 D), Werder Bremen (1-0 W), 1. FSV Mainz 05 (5-3 W)

Opening game: Away at Bochum (4 August)

Transfers in: Lasse Sobiech (FC St. Pauli), Louis Schaub (Rapid Wien), Niklas Hauptmann (Dynamo Dresden), Benno Schmitz (RB Leipzig), Matthias Bader (Karlsruher SC), Rafael Czichos (Kiel), Dominick Drexler (FC Midtjylland)

Transfers out: Dominic Maroh (released), Lukas Klünter (Hertha BSC), Claudio Pizarro (Bremen), Leonardo Bittencourt (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim), Yuya Osako (Bremen), Dominique Henitz (Freiburg), Sven Müller (Karlsruhe), João Queirós (Sporting CP B), Anthony Modeste (Tianjin Quanjian), Pawel Olkowski (Bolton Wanders), Miloš Jojić (İstanbul Başakşehir)

Where did it all go wrong? In May 2017, Köln beat Mainz 2-0 to secure European football for the first time in a quarter of a centre. Just 15 months later, they are preparing for like in the second tier. The failure to adequately replace Anthony Modeste, injuries to key players such as Jonas Hector and a collapse of defensive stability saw the Billy Goats rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table for most of the season, despite some signs of recovery under Stefan Ruthenbeck.

There is hope coming into this campaign though. Key players including Hector and Timo Horn have signed new or extended deals, all the more remarkable in those two cases given they had been linked with both Bundesliga and Premier League clubs. They have bought smartly too, with strong signings including Schaub and Hauptmann, plus two key men from new coach Anfang’s Kiel team of last season in Czichos and Drexler.

Initial pre-season results and performances caused concern amongst the club’s faithful, but victories over Bremen and Mainz in their final two warm-up games will boost spirits, and assuming it doesn’t all fall apart, it’s incredibly difficult to foresee anything other than an immediate return to the Bundesliga for the carnival club.

Holstein Kiel

Last season: 3rd (lost play-off)

Manager: Tim Walter

Pre-season friendlies: TSV Büsum (10-0 W), MTV Hetlingen (10-0 W), SV Todesfelde (4-0 W), SC Weiche Flensburg 08 (3-2 W), Dynamo Moscow (6-2 L), VfR Aalen (1-0 W)

Opening game: Away at Hamburg (3 August)

Transfers in: Dominik Reimann (Borussia Dortmund), Jannik Dehm (Hoffenheim II), Benjamin Girth (Meppen), Janni Serra (Dortmund II), Stefan Thesker (FC Twente), Heinz Mörschel (Mainz), Timon Weiner (Schalke 04 U19), Tobias Fleckstein (Schalke U19), Hauke Wahl (Ingolstadt), Mathias Honsak (Red Bull Salzburg, loan), Lee Jae-song (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Jonas Meffert (Freiburg)

Transfers out: Lukas Kruse (released), Drexler (Midtjylland), Bernd Schipmann (released), Czichos (Köln), Joel Gerezgiher (SG Sonnenhof Großaspach), Sebastian Heidinger (released), Luca Dürholtz (SV 07 Elversberg), Nikas Hoheneder (Chemnitzer FC)

Playing in the 2. Bundesliga for the first time in over 35 years, last season was a dream for the Storks. Their swash-buckling free-flowing football captured everyone’s imagination, and in an incredibly open league they pushed all the way for a shock promotion to the Bundesliga. Their form slipped away but they still held on to third, only to inevitably lose to VfL Wolfsburg in the Relegation play-off.

This season will be very different. Anfang has gone to Köln, followed by Czichos and (via Midtjylland) Drexler, whilst other key figures from last season’s squad, most notably the league’s top scorer Marvin Ducksch (signed from parent club St. Pauli by Fortuna Düsseldorf) are also missing. Sides that have lost the play-off traditionally struggle the season after, with Eintracht Braunschweig even relegated last year, so Kiel could face an uphill task to even stay in the league.

There are glimmers of hope though. New boss Walter is highly thought of from his time with Bayern Munich’s youth teams, whilst in Lee Jae-song, who had been considered the best South Korean player still playing in his native country before his move to Germany, could prove to be one of the stars of the season if he lives up to his reputation.

Arminia Bielefeld

Last season: 4th

Manager: Jeff Saibene

Pre-season friendlies: FC Offenbüttel (15-1 W), VfB Fichte Bielefeld (6-0 W), SV Rödinghausen (1-0 L), FC Baník Ostrava (2-0 W), FK Jablonec (1-0 L), Dynamo Moscow (4-1 L), SC Verl (5-0 W), FC Gütersloh 2000 (5-1 W), Bremen (1-0 L)

Opening game: Away to 1. FC Heidenheim (5 August)

Players in: Prince Osei Owusu (Hoffenheim II), Cédric Brunner (Zürich), Jóan Símun Edmundsson (Odense BK), Roberto Massimo (VfB Stuttgart, loaned back), Nils Seufert (Kaiserslautern), Philipp Klewin (Rot-Weiß Erfurt), Max Christiansen (Ingolstadt), Schipplock (Hamburg)

Players out: Christopher Hemlein (Kaiserslautern), Florian Dick (Kaiserslautern), David Ulm (released), Nikolai Rehnen (Fortuna Köln, loan), Henri Weigelt (AZ Alkmaar), Nils Teixeira (AEL Limassol)

Bielefeld are far from the most fashionable team in the league these days, but after keeping them up the year before, Saibene has made progress in putting two recent spells in the third tier behind them, and they quietly landed just short of the podium last season, without ever truly threatening to snatch a place on it.

Their best business this summer has probably been to keep Andreas Voglsammer, despite intense interest from Ingolstadt, whilst after he burst out of their youth teams last season, Massimo remains with the club for another two years despite signing for Stuttgart. Their biggest name signing has been Schipplock, a striker in need to re-familiarising himself where the net is.

Despite retaining the core of last season’s side, matching last year’s fourth-place finish will be a hard task for Saibene’s men, especially if some of the expensively-built squads live up to their reputations. Whilst there is a danger they could fall short of expectations, on the other hand the stability and experience means they are a dark horse in the promotion race.

SSV Jahn Regensburg

Last season: 5th

Manager: Achim Beierlorzer

Pre-season friendlies: TB ASV Regenstauf (13-1 W), FC Gottfrieding (12-0 W), 1. FC Schweinfurt (3-2 W), ASV Cham (9-1 W), SV Wehen Wiesbaden (4-1 L), FSV Zwickau (1-0 W), SpVgg Unterhaching (1-0 W)

Opening game: Home to Ingolstadt (4 August)

Transfers In: Johannes Kraus (Ingolstadt U19), André Weis (Kaiserslautern), Sebastian Stolze (Wolfsburg II), Dominic Volkmer (Bremen II), Maximilian Thalhammer (Ingolstadt, loan), André Dej (Sportfreunde Lotte), Jonas Föhrenbach (Freiburg, loan), Marcel Correia (Kaisersalutern), Julian Maurice Derstroff (Sandhausen)

Transfers Out: Uwe Hesse (released), Marcel Hofrath (released), Marvin Knoll (St. Pauli), Kevin Hoffmann (Zwickau, loan), Bastian Lerch (VfB Straubing)

Not much was expected of newly-promoted Regensburg this time last year, especially as Heiko Herrlich, the coach who brought them up, left for Bayer Leverkusen. Nevertheless, they quietly snuck up the table to eventually finish fifth. They home form was solid, and there were some incredibly matches, no less than when they came from 3-0 down to beat eventual champions Düsseldorf.

With the exception of Knoll, their free-kick specialist who has moved on to St. Pauli, plus loan signings Benedikt Kimber and Josuha Mees, Beierlorzer has kept his squad together for the new campaign. The fill the void, he has added the experience of Correia and some youthful vigour in loan signings Thalhammer and Föhrenbach.

Few will expect them to threaten the big clubs at the top of the table, yet this stability stands them in very good stead to pull a few more surprises this season. Marco Grüttner will be looking to match the 13 goals he struck last season, and he will be backed up by a supporting cast including Sargis Adamyan (who’s just signed a new deal), Jann George, Jonas Nietfeld and Stolze. They conceded as many as they scored though last year, and defence could prove a weak point once more.

VfL Bochum

Last season: 6th

Manager: Robin Dutt

Pre-season friendlies: DJK Adler Riemke (17-0 W), SG Linden-Dahlhausen (24-0 W), FC Brünninghausen (2-2 D), FC Zürich (3-0 W), Kaiserslautern (2-2 D), Stoke (2-0 W), Wolverhampton Wanderers (0-0, won on penalties), Borussia Mönchengladbach (0-0, lost on penalties), Monaco (2-2 D), Millwall (1-0 L)

Opening game: Home to Köln (4 August)

Transfers in: Miloš Pantović (Bayern Munich II), Vitaly Janelt (Leipzig), Sebastian Maier (Hannover), Robert Tesche (Birmingham City), Silvère Ganvoula (RSC Anderlecht, loan)

Transfers out: Selim Gündüz (released), Kevin Stöger (Düsseldorf), Martin Kompalla (released), Ulrich Bapoh (Twente, loan), Julian Tomas (released), Simon Lorenz (1860 Munich, loan)

Last season, Bochum seemed to be writing the blueprint for how to get relegated from the 2. Bundesliga, sacking Gertjan Verbeek two weeks before the first game with four men (including caretakers) ultimately taking charge of the team over the course of the campaign. The last of those though was Dutt, who was an uninspiring appointment at the time but launched an unlikely promotion push towards the end of the season, although as with others in the league, it fell short.

This summer has been one of consolidation, with few new signings. Maier has joined from Hannover, whilst Janelt and Tesche have seen their loan moves to the Ruhrstadion turned permanent. Crucially though, few have gone the other way, although the loss of the creative Stöger to Düsseldorf will be keenly felt.

Pre-season form has been good, but whilst the team look solid at the back, goals could be a problem again, unless Lukas Hinterseer or loan signing Ganvoula can hit a rich vein of form. Nonetheless, a much more stable campaign can be expected this year, and Bochum fans will spend more time looking up rather than down.

MSV Duisburg

Last season: 7th

Manager: Iliya Gruev

Pre-season friendlies: Hülser SV (12-0 W), Duisburger Stadtauswahl (6-1 W), Royal Antwerp (2-1 L), VfB Günningfeld (10-0 W), Brünninghausen (3-0 W), Hertha (1-0 L), Dortmund II (3-0 W), Bremen (1-0 L), FC Wacker Innsbruck (3-0 W), Al-Sadd SC (4-1 W), Fiorentina (0-0, lost on penalties), Athletic Club (1-1 D)

Opening game: Away at Dynamo Dresden (6 August)

Transfers in: John Verhoek (Heidenheim), Sebastian Neumann (Würzburger Kickers), Joseph-Clause Gyau (Großaspach), Seo Young-jae (Hamburg II), Yanni Regäsel (unattached), Richard Sukuta-Pasu (Sandhausen), Daniel Mesenhöler (Union Berlin)

Transfers out: Mark Flekken (Freiburg), Daniel Zeaiter (Alemannia Aachen), Marius Krüger (released), Nico Klotz (released), Tugrul Erat (released), Dan-Patrick Poggenberg (Großaspach), Kingsley Onuegbu (Nea Salamina Famagusta), Pascal Kubina (SSVg Velbert 02)

Despite some heavy defeats, Duisburg were almost as consistent last season as the other two promoted sides, finishing level on points with each of the three teams that finished above them. Gruev, as well as sporting director Ivica Grlić, have brought an air of stability to the Zebras, and despite still being held back by financial constraints, there are those that feel they could soon be contending for a Bundesliga return.

Their defence held them back last year and in response they have, they have brought Neumann back to the 2. Bundesliga after he had stuck with Würzburg, whilst Regäsel, most recently of Eintracht Frankfurt, also comes in. With Flekken departed, Daniel Davari will want a place between the sticks after playing second fiddle but Mesenhöler impressed in patches during his battle with Jakob Busk at Union Berlin.

They have added the muscle of both Verhoek and Sukuta-Pasu up front, and they will both be looking to break up the partnership of Borys Tashchy and Stanislav Iljutcenko. If any combination of those can click, and they block the leaks at the back, then they could finish higher than expected again, although in reality they will be looking at mid-table.

1. FC Union Berlin

Last season: 8th

Manager: Urs Fischer

Pre-season friendlies: Carl Zeiss Jena (1-1 D), Chemnitz (3-1 W), FSV Union Fürstenwalde (3-1 W), Norwich City (2-1 W), Girondins de Bordeaux (1-0 W), Queen’s Park Rangers (3-0 L)

Opening game: Home to Erzgebirge Aue (5 August)

Transfers in: Sebastian Andersson (Kaiserslautern), Florian Hübner (Hannover), Rafal Gikiewicz (Freiburg), Ken Reichel (Braunschweig), Joshua Mees (Hoffenheim II), Manual Schmiedebach (Hannover, loan), Julian Ryerson (Viking FK)

Transfers out: Steven Skrzybski (Schalke), Dennis Daube (KFC Uerdingen), Stephan Fürstner (Braunschweig), Mesenhöler (Duisburg), Kristian Pedersen (Birmingham), Toni Leistner (QPR), Philipp Hosiner (SK Sturm Graz)

After pushing for promotion in the previous campaign, much was expected of die Eisern last season. They struggled to get going, yet it was still a strange decision to sack Jens Keller, who had seemed destined to lead them into the Bundesliga for the first time, in early December. André Hofschneider couldn’t lead a charge up the table, and they were one of many teams perilously close to both promotion and relegation until season’s end.

The summer has been one of renewal. Several key players from the last few seasons have left, most notably Skrzybski, whose form last year earned him a move to Schalke. Their acquisitions have been impressive though, signing two of the best players from the relegated clubs Braunschweig and Kaiserslautern in Reichel and Andersson, plus Hübner and Schmeidebach from Hannover and Mees after impressing on loan with Regensburg.

They also have a coach in Fischer whose experience of managing big clubs in Switzerland, most recently FC Basel, make him another ambitious appointment in the same vain as Keller. Like with Keller two seasons ago, and considering the squad turnover, expecting immediate promotion might be asking a lot, but they pushed Stuttgart and Hannover nearly all the way that season, and they could do the same to Köln and Hamburg this time around.

FC Ingolstadt 04

Last season: 9th

Manager: Stefan Leitl

Pre-season friendlies: Stuttgarter Kickers (1-0 W), BFV-Auswahl (7-0 W), Kaiserslautern (2-0 W), Innsbruck (2-0 W), Unterhaching (1-1 D), Karlsruhe (2-1 W), Gladbach (1-0 W)

Opening game: Away at Regensburg (4 August)

Transfers in: Charlison Benschop (Hannover), Osayamen Osawe (Kaiserslautern), Konstantin Kerschbaumer (Brentford), Thorsten Röcher (Sturm Graz), Agyemang Diawusie (Leipzig), Benedikt Gimber (Hoffenheim), Lucas Galväo (Rapid Wien)

Transfers out: Marcel Tisserand (Wolfsburg), Florent Hadergjonaj (Huddersfield Town), Tobias Levels (released), Alfredo Morales (Düsseldorf), Patrick Ebert (Dresden), Thalhammer (Regensburg, loan), Stefan Lex (1860 Munich), Moritz Hartmann (Fortuna Köln), Christiansen (Bielefeld), Takahiro Sekine (Sint-Truidense VV, loan), Wahl (Kiel), Martin Hansen (Basel)

Having retained much of the side that was relegated from the Bundesliga, many expected Ingolstadt to challenge for an immediate return last year, yet that didn’t account for the hangover to be a strong one. Maik Walpurgis was replaced early on by Leitl, and whilst they always seemed just one good run of results away from pushing for a top three place, such a run never materialised as they remained mired in the crowded mid-table.

Going into the new season though, die Schanzer still have one of the strongest teams in the league. They have let go of some fringe players and Morales was snapped by Düsseldorf, whilst they have made some astute signings, with Kerschbaumer and Gimber having impressed last year in loan spells with Bielefeld and Regensburg respectively. The move for Osawe, who blew hot and cold for Kaiserslautern, is a more curious one.

Sonny Kittel was their most impressive player last season and they have crucially tied him down to a new deal. He is one of a number of players who will provide plenty of creativity, but if they are to challenge then they need their strikers to make the most them. If one of Stefan Kutschke, Dario Lezcano (assuming he stays) or Benschop can fire, they will challenge more seriously this time around.