Can you feel it?
It’s frustratingly close. The kickoff to the new season in Bundesliga 2 is just hours away, but we will all have to sit as patiently as we can while 14 other teams get their season started before we get to see the new-look Billy Goats in action in a game that actually matters!
I’ll keep an eye on the three Friday matches (Ingolstadt:Cottbus, Aue:St.Pauli, and Hertha:Paderborn), not only to scratch the Bundesliga itch that’s been needing more and more attention the last few weeks, but also to begin to gauge the competition for what I feel to be a promotion campaign. Certainly, St. Pauli and Hertha are candidates for a top-three finish by default, but the second league is loaded with teams that have potential to challenge. It will be a thrilling season, I am sure.
But, really, what I’m anxious for is the Sunday kickoff against Eintracht Braunschweig. That’s the fan mentality, yeah? Happy to watch some football, but none of it really compares to the feeling of watching YOUR team on the field.
In scoping out the first opponent of the season, Braunschweig would seem to have vast quantities of one particular quality we so desperately crave for our own club: consistency.
Manager Thorsten Lieberknecht took over the reigns at Braunschwig late in the 2007-08 campaign, upon which time he guided the Die Löwen through three consecutive seasons of steady improvement in Bundesliga 3, earning promotion after the 2009-10 season in which the Lions scored 81 goals while allowing only 22 on their way to 26 victories and 85 points, earning promotion by running away with the league title. His oversight of the rise of Eintracht is not unlike that of Holger Stanislawski’s guidance of St. Pauli to the Bundesliga a few years ago, actually.
The first season in Bundesliga 2 did not seem to phase the Lions, as they finished 8th in the table and 12 points clear of a relegation spot.
Lieberknecht will open his second season in charge of a zweite Liga team with a roster that received only minor tweaks since the end of the last campaign, which should give Braunschweig plenty of confidence to open the season, especially in their home stadium.
In goal, young keeper Daniel Davari was pressed into service early last season when veteran Marjan Petkovic was sidelined with injury. Davari played so well he kept the job the remainder of the season, even once Petkovic returned to health. While reports out of camp are that the competition is fairly even, one would have to believe Lieberknecht will stay with the younger player as long as he performs, while reserving the luxury of having an experienced back-up at the ready should Davari take a step back. I’d expect to see Davari on Sunday.
Davari should be completely comfortable playing behind Marcel Correia, Ermin Bicakcic, Deniz Dogan, and Ken Reichel, who were all regulars in the defense last season. Correia missed a few months last year due to injury, but returned to play the last four matches of the season and scoring a goal in the season finale. Whoever is going to create chances against the Lions’ defense will have to work hard to find the quality in them, and Davari has shown he’s not one to let a soft goal be the deciding score. If Chong Tese starts alone in the attack, this game could be a good measure for how productive he will be in a starter’s role. If Tese makes some noise, he will have earned it.
The midfield could be the one true mystery as far as how Lieberknecht approaches the match. The Braunschweig manager has tended to prefer a more defensive game plan, sending his team out in a 4-4-2 formation with two holding midfielders (or, double 6’s, if you prefer). With it being the first match of the season, one might thing Lieberknecht would go with the more-conservative approach.
However, with Christian Clemens out at least two weeks due to injury and the lack of a proven quality striker being a well-known theme around the Kölners, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the Lions to open their season in front of their home fans with a slightly more attacking line-up and trusting the experienced back line to handle the attack without the extra defensive focus from the midfield.
Whatever the formation, it’s hard to imagine it won’t include Damir Vrancic, and Mirko Boland, each of whom appeared in at least 30 matches for the Lions last year. Marc Pfitzner and Norman Theuerkauf are also frequent fliers from last year’s team, each appearing in 28 games. Though, off-season addition Kevin Kratz comes into the squad with a reputation as a solid defensive midfielder earned while toiling for Alemannia Aachen. Should Lieberknecht decide to being the game defensively, Kratz could make his Braunschweig debut as a starter come Sunday. He is reported to have impressed his manager and teammates in the run-up to the season, which could signal a regular spot in the squad for the newcomer.
A completely unfounded hunch has me thinking we could see Daniel Royer on the left side where we’d normally enjoy watching Clemens and that it will be a successful debut in the red and white for the young Austrian. One gets the impression he is itching to make an impression. This would be a fine time to endear himself to the EffZeh nation.
Finally, up front, the deadly duo of captain Dennis Kruppke and Domi Kumbela proved to Bundesliga 2 opponents they can cause problems for defenses, each finding the back of the net 10 times last season.
The problem for the Lions, however, is that the team managed only 37 goals total. You don’t need a degree in math to work out that 17 goals from the entire rest of the roster may have been enough to finish mid-table, but is not the sort of production for higher aspirations. Even more daunting would be the prospect of injury to either player, which would leave defenses to focus on the remaining healthy threat and potentially sending the Lions into a tailspin.
With both players healthy, however, new captain Miso Brecko and his backline partners likely know that neutralizing those two players will mean three points for the Billy Goats. While the pair of Lions were plenty productive last year in Bundesliga 2, Brecko, Kevin McKenna, Dominic Maroh, and Christian Eichner (aka: my projected back line for Sunday) will have the benefit of experience in Bundesliga where every team has dangerous strikers of yet higher class than Kruppke and Kumbela (all due respect, I’m sure). An honest effort should keep young keeper Timo Horn from seeing too many quality chances, especially should Stain decide to put Adam Matuschyk and Matthias Lehmann in the squad in defensive midfield roles.
Stani’s squad will be facing a team used to playing with one another and will do so in front of a boisterous group of Braunschweig supporters. It won’t be an easy season opener for the Billy Goats, by any means.
However, without any true scoring threats outside the two strikers, the Lions are definitely an opponent the Köln defense should be able to contain. The true question will be where the offense will originate for the visitors. While Tese has yet to prove himself in that regard, much less impress (okay, same with Royer…), Mato Jajalo, Adil Chihi, and Thomas Bröker all do have the experience and potential to cause issues, even for an experienced unit such as the one Braunschweig will field this weekend.
I think Horn will show his youth at some point, but I’m not thinking it’ll be right away. I like Matuschyk and Lehmann to cause enough issues for the home side’s attack that it’ll be a relatively stress-free debut for the youngster. And, like I said, I have a hunch Royer makes something happen. Give me another one from either Jajalo or Bröker and I have…
Eintracht Braunschweig 0:2 1. FC Köln