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The Ultimate 23/24 Zweite Bundesliga Preview
In mere hours, a brand new season of the Zweite Bundesliga will be upon us. Who will succeed, who will fail, and what other twists and turns the 50th season has in store is all explored today!
Fans of German football will need to wait just a bit longer for the Bundesliga to return, but one can take solace from the fact that the most exciting division in all of Europe returns this evening.
When Hamburger SV hosts Schalke 04 tonight, another chapter in the Zweite Bundesliga epic will be opened. The upcoming 297 days will inevitably promote another unpredictable journey whose twists and turns will leave even the most well-versed journalists scratching their heads at what ultimately unfolds by the end of the season.
Nevertheless, we’ve assembled just the crew to take on this impossible task. Head writer Adam Khan is joined by Louis Ostrowski (football kit aficionado and Bundesliga FANatic writer), Matthew Karagich (host of the 2nd Bundesliga Podcast), and Walterball (HSV fan and Twitter personality) to preview the upcoming campaign in all its entirety.
From the young player of the season to the impending flop and the clubs destined for promotion, all is explored in The German Football Weekly’s Ultimate Bundesliga 2 Preview.
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The Teams Who Will Get Promoted Are…
Last year, without big clubs like Bremen and Schalke in the division, HSV were by default most people’s tip for promotion. They didn’t quite manage it, but Die Rothosen came close again with the two-legged playoff proving the final hurdle too far.
Over the summer, HSV haven’t imploded. They have kept all their key players and added a few more interesting names. That makes them a potentially even hotter favorite this time around. It’s hard to make a convincing case why this squad won’t be in the top two come May, but, it is still HSV, so who knows?
Schalke, as expected, are also a favorite to immediately return to the Bundesliga. They have kept a decent chunk of their squad together from the end of last season when they looked like one of the better sides in the top flight. In Thomas Reis, they also have a coach who won this league in his only full season in it.
There’s no standout candidate for third place; I’ve gone for Holstein Kiel as I like their transfers, but I think Hertha and Karlsruhe will be up there. In fact, nearly half the league could make a good go of it!
There are two clear favorites for promotion in the form of Schalke 04 & Hamburger SV.
Schalke 04 boasts a squad with a strong mix of experienced second-tier campaigners, and young, rising, talents ready to leave a lasting impact on the division. Furthermore, Thomas Reis is an excellent manager who is a perfect fit for the emotionally laden Gelsenkirchen fan base.
HSV, on the other hand, have enjoyed incredible continuity despite missing out on topflight promotion for the 5th season in a row. Key talents like Ludovit Reis, Robert Glatzel, Sebastian Schonlau, and Daniel Heuer Fernandes have all remained at the club, while manager Tim Walter is approaching an almost unprecedented 3rd season in a row at the Volksparkstadion.
There is always one surprise package that sneaks into promotion contention in the 2. Bundesliga, and for this season, I have gone with Holstein Kiel.
The North German outfit have made the absolute most of a limited transfer budget, and their ability to string together 3 consecutive top-half finishes means they are due another shot at the promotion playoff this season.
It felt as if Hamburg should’ve been one of the sides promoted last season, and now at the sixth time of asking, they are desperate to escape the 2. Bundesliga. To me, this feels like the last dance for this cast of players and coaches. They have one of the best squads yet again with some excellent additions, but can they overcome the demons of years past? I say yes.
Despite a new midfield mix, it’s largely the same squad returning for Schalke 04 this season. It certainly helps to have the best 2. Bundesliga striker of all time in your team, and I believe Schalke will yo-yo back up to the top flight. Third is interesting and quite difficult to predict. I love what St. Pauli have done during the summer window, and I think under Fabian Hürzeler they are ready to make a real go at promotion.
Hamburg and Schalke have the edge compared to the rest of the league. Both teams addressed their needs nicely with HSV strengthening their defense and Schalke 04 targeting their attack.
The race behind these two is wide open. Hertha, St.Pauli, Holstein Kiel, or even some bigger surprises could arise here. I still went for Hannover. They had a very solid summer window so far, and I definitely trust Stefan Leitl to do it again. If - and that's a big if - they can bring consistency into their game, I think Hannover is a very hot candidate for the promotion playoff next year.
The Teams Who Will Get Relegated Are…
My hope is that Osnabrück stays out of the bottom three, and I can just about convince myself it will happen. That means I have to give Nürnberg as a surprise pick to finish 16th. I’m not convinced by Dieter Hecking’s work as sporting director, and they haven’t improved this window. Cristian Fiel as a coach is an interesting, albeit risky, choice. The results didn’t come when he was in charge of Dynamo Dresden, but I thought the team played some good football.
Wehen Wiesbaden are my first choice for direct relegation. They went straight back down the last time they played at this level, and have already had many of their key players poached by the other 2. Liga sides.
Eintracht Braunschweig, meanwhile, made a surprising move to replace Michael Schiele with Jens Härtel a few weeks after the season’s close. Looking at how dull Härtel’s Rostock side ended up, and looking at Braunschweig’s attacking options, I’m not overly convinced they will have what it takes.
Our resident Osnabrück fan Louis may have convinced himself that Die Lila-Weißen will have enough to stay in the division, but I, unfortunately, do not share the same optimistic outlook. Losing, and not adequately replacing, top-scorer Ba-Muaka Simakala will come back to bite Osnabrück next season. I struggle to see them scoring enough goals to remain above the relegation zone when matchday 34 rolls around
Following them is Eintracht Braunschweig, experiencing a similar problem after their creative axis, Immanuel Pherai, left for HSV. Die Löwen have made some exciting young acquisitions, but it still looks like a lot of the goalscoring burden will be shouldered by 32-year-old Anthony Ujah. Add to that the fact that Braunschweig conceded a staggering 59 goals last season, and one begins to understand why this could end up being a very difficult season for the club hailing from Lower Saxony.
Finally, in the relegation playoff spot, I have Wehen Wiesbaden. Being able to retain Benedict Hollerbach will be absolutely crucial for their counter-attacking approach, and between him and the well-traveled Ivan Prtajin, they have a solid attacking base to make up for a mediocre defense.
There are definitely five teams that will be fighting to avoid the drop in what should be another tense relegation battle. The three promoted sides as well as Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig. The latter might do enough to reach the playoffs, but as we saw last season, that is far from a godsend for clubs in the Zweite Bundesliga.
Wehen Wiesbaden and Osnabrück still have strong enough squads to play at this level, but I think there are too many teams ahead of them on paper. Wiesbaden keeping Benedict Hollerbach for the time being is a major boost after deals with Köln and Union Berlin fell through. Osnabrück, on the other hand, added 2. Bundesliga experience for first-time head coach Tobias Schweinsteiger to work with.
The more you think about it, the more difficult it becomes to pick the bottom three. However, I believe Braunschweig, Wiesbaden, and Osnabrück will ultimately finish the season on spots 16, 17, and 18.
The whole league should be a tight contest this season, and that includes the relegation battle to the 3.Liga. Osnabrück lost some key players and they lack quality and depth in their squad.
Wehen Wiesbaden have a unique style of football that will definitely be good enough for some points, but I don't think it will be enough to secure a spot in this division for next season.
1. FC Kaiserslautern might be a bold name on the list, but I think they will get into some trouble next year. Their performance trend in 2023, mediocre squad, and uninspiring transfer window should send some sizable worries throughout the fanbase.
The Biggest Positive Surprise Will Be…
Holstein Kiel and Karlsruhe SC are two teams I’d expect to do well this year and count among the surprise packages. However, Hansa Rostock are the side I am picking for this selection.
After struggling for most of last season, Hansa ended the 2022/23 campaign in impressive fashion under their third coach, Alois Schwartz. At the time of writing, They have made six signings this summer, five of whom come from sides newly relegated from the division. Sarpreet Singh and Sebastian Vasiliadis are two players who have been among the best in the league at times but didn’t come close to that level last year. If everything clicks, they could be in the top half.
Rather than select one of the many clubs with the potential to exceed expectations next season, I have opted for a player. Forzan Assan Ouédraogo may not be on the radar of many at the time of writing, but the 17-year-old is an absolute top talent who could be on the shortlist of many big clubs by the time the season ends next May.
The Schalke Academy star can excel in almost every attacking position on the pitch, with his silky skill, nimble movement, and exquisite ball control proving extremely unconventional for a teenager who already stands at a staggering 1,92m.
Having played a starring role in Germany’s U17 EURO triumph, and featured in all of Schalke’s pre-season friendlies, it is clear that Ouédraogo is a player primed to make his senior breakthrough at the Veltins-Arena next season.
In what is an extremely difficult season to predict, there are at least four teams who could make this claim.
Choosing just one though, it has to be Magdeburg. I find it difficult to look past what an asset having Christian Titz and his proactive footballing philosophy is to the club. Despite losing Mortiz-Broni Kwarteng to Bochum, Titz still has numerous flexible options to implement in his attack.
Magdeburg have also had an extremely interesting transfer window, adding the likes of Xavier Amaechi - who has plenty to offer -, Julian Pollersbeck - who knows the Titz way from their shared time at HSV -, and Ahmet Arslan - who was the 3. Liga’s top scorer last season. They have looked to address the defensive issues that held them back during the last campaign, and I believe Magdeburg are primed to make a serious challenge for a promotion play-off this season.
My first reaction when I read this question was undoubtedly Holstein Kiel. The squad's makeover was definitely necessary and I think they managed it quite well. They made some really interesting signings, with Shuto Machino, Tom Rothe, Bo-Muaka Simakala, and Marko Izevic all expected to play a starring role for the North German outfit next season. It will be interesting to watch if this Kiel team can produce from the start, or if they will require a few weeks to gel as a unit.
The Biggest Disappointment Will Be…
1. FC Kaiserslautern enjoyed a great return to the league last year and may be hoping to push on after their top-half finish. I don’t think they’ll be in relegation trouble, but they won’t be far off it. I expect it will be a slog until the very end for Die Rotten Teufel.
A quick glance at Fortuna Düsseldorf’s roster provides for uncomfortable viewing. For a side that hopes to count itself amongst the promotion candidates, Fortuna looks awfully short on quality and depth throughout the roster. Bar the Japanese combo of Ao Tanaka and Shinta Appelkamp there is a real lack of talent in key positions. With the smallest roster in the division - 21 players - Düsseldorf are still 4 or 5 transfers away from where they would likely hope to be.
One imagines that this will change in the ensuing weeks, but with the start of the season imminent, it is all far from ideal.
It was hard not to love what Kaiserslautern did last season. Their never-say-die attitude and numerous last-gasp winners won them the nickname “the comeback kids”. No team secured more points when trailing in the 2. Bundesliga last season than Kaiserslautern (18 points).
But, failing to control the game state and coming from behind isn’t sustainable. Add to this the lack of a secondary goal-scoring option behind Terrence Boyd, and I just don’t believe the second season will be as exciting as the first.
The obvious pick would be Hertha BSC, but given that many have Fortuna Düsseldorf as a promotion contender for this year, I would love to offer some contra argument.
Even though they have a clear, possession-based, philosophy under Daniel Thioune, and still have some high-caliber names in Tanaka & Appekamp, I do not feel comfortable putting any true hope in ‘the Fortuna’ this year. The gaps created by the losses of Michal Karbownik, Dawid Kownacki, and Christoph Klarer are too big to fill, and just a day before the start of the season, none of them have adequately been replaced.
The Best Transfer Will Be…
I’m not sure I’ve ever been as excited to see a new signing that I’ve never watched before in the 2. Liga as I am with Shuto Machino. Holstein Kiel’s new forward is a Japan international and one of the top scorers in the past J1 League season. It’s not too dissimilar to when Kiel brought Lee-Jae Sung over from Korea; a huge success!
Japanese players have become quite fashionable in Europe recently with quite a few players moving from Japan to Europe and immediately thriving, and Machino has the quality to do the same.
The transfer window will remain open for another month, but I doubt there will be a deal to top Holstein Kiel’s acquisition of Ba-Muaka Simakala. The former Osnabrück winger joins Kiel at the perfect footballer age of 26, fresh off of a spectacular campaign in the 3. Liga.
With 19 goals and 9 assists Simakala was unstoppable throughout Osnabrück’s late surge to promotion, even equalizing in the 94th minute on the final matchday to set up Die Lila-Weißen’s spectacular finish.
These attacking feats on their own make him a front-runner for this accolade, but the fact that Holstein Kiel were able to get him on a free transfer pushes this deal over the edge!
Immanuel Pherai was vital in Eintracht Braunschweig’s survival efforts, and his departure to HSV will remain a big talking point when we see a Braunschweig side struggling for goals throughout the course of the season. In his first campaign in the 2. Bundesliga, Pherai managed 9 goals and 6 assists from 27 appearances.
Pherai can play on the left side of an attacking three, or as a number eight, making the former Dutch youth international a solid option in Tim Walter’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. Regardless of what position he plays, I believe the 22-year-old will thrive in Hamburg.
For Holstein Kiel to get Tom Rothe on loan might be the “steal” of the transfer window. I loved him throughout his odd appearances with Borussia Dortmund, and Kiel might be the ideal spot to step up his game next year.
Simakala x Rothe will be exciting to watch, and even tougher to defend!
The Young Player of The Season Will Be…
Regardless of age, Ludovit Reis is arguably the most talented player in the league. Lots of people expected him to be playing in the Bundesliga this season, but he’s staying with HSV. That is a huge boost to their promotion hopes.
Alongside him this year will be compatriot Immanuel Pherai - crucial for Braunschweig last season and a decent candidate for Young Player of the Year on his own. Together they could make a very exciting partnership.
I echo a lot of the same thoughts which Louis explored above. A sloppy run of form, and a bad case of stage fright in the relegation playoff, perhaps put some bigger clubs off of Ludovit Reis at the end of last season, but anyone who has followed the 2. Liga for some time will know just how talented the 23-year-old Dutch midfielder can be.
His technical craft and relentless energy against the ball make for the perfect midfielder to embody Tim Walter’s exhilarating style of football. It will be very exciting to see how he and countryman Immanuel Pherai get on next season.
Someone has to represent the goalkeeper's union, and there is one player who I think will definitely prove to his parent club - FC Köln - that he should be the long-term number one.
I’m talking, of course, about Jonas Urbig. The 19-year-old played at Jahn Regensburg for the second half of last season, and despite keeping goal for one of the worst defenses in the league, he shone brightly with his strong shot-stopping ability.
He has impressed in pre-season with Greuther Fürth, and with regular first-choice keeper Andreas Linde out injured, I am confident that Urbig will grasp his opportunity and become one of the best keepers in the division.
I was 50/50 between Tim Lemperle from Fürth and Forzan Assan Ouédraogo from Schalke, but ultimately, I think Ouédraogo has the higher upside.
He should get opportunities because of the lack of depth in Schalke’s central midfield, and with Ron Schallenberg and Paul Seguin, he has experienced partners to team up with and take some of the defensive burden. As a homegrown player out of the Knappenschmiede, the immediate support of the fan base could push him to really leave his mark next season.
The Top Goalscorer Will Be…
I’m not a huge Robert Glatzel fan, but, given HSV’s strength and the comparative weaknesses of other forwards in the division, he seems to be the most likely top scorer.
Like Ludovit Reis, Glatzel was heavily linked with a move away from Hamburg before ultimately deciding to stay true to the project Tim Walter is building. Most teams in the 2. Liga have real trouble defending from crosses, and that is Glatzel’s key strength. If this is to be the year that Hamburg finally returns to the Bundesliga, Glatzel will have to continue his relentless scoring streak.
There are only two options here, and I have opted for the more traditional pick in Simon Terodde. 172 goals in 283 games, and 5 golden boots in 10 seasons, are statistics which speak for themselves.
At 35 he is no longer the youngest, but Schalke’s experienced center-forward has never relied on a burst of speed in the past to score bucketloads in the Zweite Bundesliga.
And, lest we forget it was just over 12 months ago that he scored 30 goals in 30 matches to send S04 back to the Bundesliga!
This is probably a boring answer but my Torjägerkanone selection is Simon Terodde. Whilst father time might catch up to him this season, his resume of 172 2. Bundesliga goals are extremely difficult to look past. In Terodde’s last five 2. Bundesliga seasons, the all-time leading goal scorer has scored more than 20 goals in all five campaigns! I have no doubt he will score another 20+ this season.
My pick for the Golden Boot is Robert Glatzel, but only because of the lack of competition. I don't think Simon Terodde is durable enough for another 20+ goal season, Florian Niederlechner could struggle altogether at Hertha, and beyond that it already gets thin for alternative competitors. The HSV attack led the division last year, and I do not see any reason why it should decline if Glatzel remains fit.
My Very Specific Prediction Will Be…
Max Kruse’s playing in the 2. Liga for the first time in a decade. So let’s enjoy it!
He’s going to make some negative headlines over the course of the season - most likely after getting into a petty argument on Instagram - and, on the pitch, he will either do well enough that he chooses to leave Paderborn at the end of the year, or he disappoints and his football chapter could be finished altogether.
Whether on the pitch or in the stands, FC St. Pauli is always a spectacle with colossal highs and lows. I don’t think next season will be any different for a side that has shifted up and down the table with uncontrollable regularity.
In the 2020/21 season, St. Pauli finished 15th in the Hinrunde (matchday 1-17) table, and 4th in the Rückrunde (matchday 18-34) table.
In 2021/22, St. Pauli finished 1st in the Hinrunde table, and 13th in the Rückrunde table.
And finally, last season, St. Pauli finished 15th in the Hinrunde table, and 1st in the Rückrunde table.
I don’t see this trend ending any time soon; it is part of the spectacle of being one of the thousands who adorn a Jolly Roger on their chest every weekend!
John Iredale is one of three Australians playing in the 2. Bundesliga, which is cause for celebration! Unlike Jackson Irvine and Connor Metcalfe, he is yet to represent the Socceroos on the international stage. That needs to change soon!
Since the retirement of Tim Cahill, Australia has yearned for a striker with technical quality, quickness, and great goal sense. Iredale can be that player. With the Asian Cup just six months away, Iredale can catapult himself into Graham Arnold’s plans with a strong Hinrunde for Wehen Wiesbaden.
I think this year will be closer than ever with a spread of not more than 15 points between 3rd and 15th place. Most of the teams tipped for a mid-table finish did a solid job in the summer transfer window, and with a lot of defensive-minded outlooks, many fixtures could end up swaying on just a few unpredictable moments. I expect surprise results every weekend, with Elversberg beating St.Pauli or Braunschweig getting a draw in Berlin. Every point will be crucial this year!
A Word to Describe Why Fans Should Watch the Bundesliga 2 Season…
This year’s 2. Liga is going to be… close! There are two big favorites at the top, but the gap between those challenging for the playoff and those fighting for survival could be very slim.
The 2. Bundesliga has exactly what many are frustrated at losing in the topflight: History!
As clubs like RB Leipzig, TSG Hoffenheim, and VfL Wolfsburg continue to establish themselves in the Bundesliga, more of the traditional outfits are being pushed out and gathering in the second division.
Hertha BSC, Schalke 04, 1. FC Kaiserslautern, 1. FC Magdeburg, Hansa Rostock, 1. FC Nürnberg, Hannover 96. Some of the biggest and most historic, clubs from East and West Germany are represented in the 2023/24 2. Liga, making for a spectacle that extends far beyond the 90 minutes of football on the pitch!
Think of any movie directed by Michael Bay. It’s explosions and a script that doesn’t make sense. That is the 2. Bundesliga season. It will be carnage. A campaign where genuinely anybody can beat anybody, featuring unreal atmospheres, and a mix of clubs with long traditions as well as young upstarts trying to disrupt the establishment.
Tradition. This year's Zweite Bundesliga will have a lot of big names from all across German football. There shouldn’t be a single week where you look up the fixtures of the upcoming matchday and don’t get excited. Combined with the great atmosphere in most of these stadiums, this year's season is set to be one of the most exciting in recent history.