By George Simms
Dwelling beneath the Bundesliga lies a thrilling promotion race that isn’t receiving due recognition, with up to seven teams in the 2. Bundesliga who have a realistic shot at replacing Schalke and Mainz in German football’s top tier.
Hamburger SV, the only team never to have been relegated from the Bundesliga before their 2018 relegation, have since come forth in back-to-back seasons. However, under new manager Daniel Thioune they now sit joint top with 42 points and are the league’s top scorers with 46 goals, helped in no small part by Simon Terodde’s personal tally of 19. Terodde is now the league’s all-time top scorer after recent prolific spells with VfL Bochum, VfB Stuttgart and two spells at 1. FC Köln.
This is a Hamburg side oozing with individual quality going forward, with Terodde supported by Sonny Kittel and Bakary Jatta, both undoubtedly Bundesliga standard. However, their defence has been average at best and has seen them drop some easy points, perfectly demonstrated by losing a 3-1 lead to draw 3-3 against Erzgebirge Aue.
Joining them at the top, VfL Bochum continued their scintillating form from the second half of last season. They have been propelled forward by the relationship between veteran striker Simon Zoller and Austrian attacking midfielder Robert Žulj behind him, with the duo scoring 11 and 10 league goals respectively.
Despite their loss to a resurgent Karlsruher SC, they responded with a win over VfL Osnabrück and are very well placed to go up. Their season will be hinged on a run of games between Matchday 24 and 27, where they play the teams currently in third, first, seventh and fourth back to back. If they can get through that period without losing too much ground, they should have a good run at promotion.
Holsten Kiel, who famously knocked Bayern Munich out of the Pokal earlier this season, boast the league’s strongest defence and now find themselves level on points with Hamburg and Bochum at the summit, though ominously breathing down their necks is Greuther Fürth.
With the likes of former ‘Gladbach striker Branimir Hrgota, Bayern youngster Julian Green and league veteran Mërgim Mavraj in their ranks, they certainly have the individual quality to secure promotion.
At the bottom of the league, with just 12 points after 20 games, newly promoted Würzburger Kickers look doomed to go down as quickly as they came up, having been blighted by injuries, Covid-19 outbreaks, and a distinct lack of individual quality.
Second-bottom Eintracht Braunschweig probably remain favourites to go down with the Kickers, especially after St Pauli’s recent resurgence in form. Osnabrück have now lost seven games in a row and scored in only two of those games, meaning they’re in the worst form of any team in the league. Braunschweig only five points behind them and SV Sandhausen four behind, they are only a few more poor results away from finding themselves in the 3. Liga. It is all to play for.