The Bundesliga 2 promotion race is traditionally an entertaining spectacle, filled with unpredictability, wild games and huge crowds – and the 2022/23 season is no different.
A handful of teams are out in front at the halfway stage, and with the caveat that plenty is likely to change between now and the end of the campaign, bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the frontrunners.
Position: 1st (automatic promotion)
Goals: 27-15 (+12)
After getting off to the worst possible start with a 2-0 defeat at Regensburg on Matchday 1 in July, head coach Torsten Lieberknecht soon got his side back on track – to the extent that they have not lost since.
A solid defence has been the foundation of their promotion push under Lieberknecht, who previously guided Eintracht Braunschweig to the Bundesliga in 2013. With just 15 goals conceded and six clean sheets kept, no other side in the second tier runs as tight a ship as The Lilies.
They are also unpredictable at the other end of the pitch, with goals shared across Philipp Tietz (six), Braydon Manu and Patric Pfeiffer (both four), while Tobias Kempe has more assists (eight) than anyone else in the division. If they can carry on where they left off prior to the winter break, Darmstadt could be in line for another spell in the top flight.
Watch: the best of Darmstadt's season so far
Position: 2nd (automatic promotion)
Goals: 29-19 (+10)
HSV have been knocking at the door of a Bundesliga return ever since getting relegated five years ago, only missing out last term in the play-offs against Hertha Berlin. That appears to have hardened their resolve to secure one of the two automatic promotion berths this time around in what has been an all-or-nothing campaign: Tim Walter's men tend either to win (11) or lose (five), with just one draw on the board in 2022/23.
Home form has left plenty of room for improvement, but HSV are the division's best away side having taken 18 of a possible 24 points on the road. Much of that is down to Bundesliga 2's leading marksman this term, Robert Glatzel, who has 11 goals and an assist under his belt already.
Aided by a supporting cast of Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer (five goals), Sonny Kittel (four assists) and exciting winger Jean-Luc Dompe (one goal, four assists), the northern giants are well stocked as they prepare a charge down the home straight in 2023.
Watch: Hamburg beat Orange County during their US tour
Position: 3rd (play-off)
Goals: 33-20 (+13)
The only club in the current top five never to have set foot in the Bundesliga, Heidenheim are doing everything they can to change that - largely thanks to the division's second most dangerous attack, with 33 goals scored at the halfway stage and a goal difference of +13.
The Voith Arena has been a veritable fortress for Frank Schmidt's side this term; they are one of just three teams with an unbeaten home record in 2022/23, winning six and drawing two so far. Tim Kleindienst is a formidable forward, boasting nine goals and three assists, and he has a reliable supply line from former Bayern Munich midfielder Jan-Niklas Beste, who has chipped in with five goals and six assists of his own.
They will need to improve results away from home if they are to mount a sustained promotion challenge, but fixtures against Braunschweig, Nuremberg and Bielefeld – all in the bottom half of the table – once league action resumes, should give them an opportunity to get into the groove once more.
Goals: 29-23 (+6)
Heard about the club who were promoted to the Bundesliga and went on to win the top-tier title the very next season? The stuff of legend actually happened in 1997/98, when Otto Rehhagel guided promoted Kaiserslautern to the Bundesliga title just 12 months on from leading them to promotion from Bundesliga 2, and although they are currently looking to march straight through the second division in just one season, it would nevertheless match the achievement of Paderborn in 2018/19.
A club steeped in tradition, The Red Devils were one of the Bundesliga’s founding clubs, and spent just one season out of the top flight in its first 43 years. A drop to the third tier was reversed last season with Dirk Schuster taking the reins from Marco Antwerpen for a two-legged play-off win over Dynamo Dresden, and he knows what it takes to deliver back-to-back promotions, having succeeded with Darmstadt in 2014/15.
Schuster is placing his faith not only in his own experience, but that of his squad, with an average age of 28 one of the highest in the division. That includes 31-year-old US striker Terrence Boyd, who has already scored eight times this season. Marlon Ritter has been the provider of six goals – the second highest in the division – and with only three clubs bettering Kaiserslautern’s total of 29 goals, they have good reason to dream of a second straight promotion, and a return to the Bundesliga for the first time since 2012.
Goals: 25-18 (+7)
Hannover also have a coach who knows what it takes to win promotion from Bundesliga 2, with Stefan Leitl succeeding as Greuther Fürth boss in 2020/21, and he has set his team up to fight for a place in the top flight – almost literally.
Hannover have been involved in the most challenges (averaging 216 per game) and with Ron-Robert Zieler the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets so far this season (seven) propping them up, no wonder only Darmstadt have conceded fewer (15) than Hannover’s 18 goals. Zieler has also made the most saves in the division, with the Germany international helping Hannover run a tight ship that has set sail for the Bundesliga.
At the other end of the field, Cedric Teuchert is delivering the best season of his career to date, with seven goals one more than the six he netted for Hannover in 2019/20 and Nuremberg in 2017/18. A third crack at Bundesliga football - after spells with Schalke and Union Berlin - could be beckoning for the 25-year-old.
Goals: 35-22 (+13)
The league’s top scorers, Paderborn have found the back of the net a collective 35 times and are the only club with three players on six or more goals, in Robert Leipertz, Marvin Pieringer (both seven) and Felix Platte (six).
Their strength has been on the counter-attack with seven goals coming from rapid transitions. For the East Westphalians to continue to dream of promotion, they will have to perform a collective counter-attack from the four straight defeats with which they ended 2022, when they travel to Karlsruhe and host Fortuna Düsseldorf to kick off 2023.
Watch: Highlights from Paderborn 2-3 Hamburg
Goals: 26-20 (+6)
Fortuna have been a fortress in Düsseldorf, averaging two points per game at home, compared to just 1.1 on their travels. Since they have nine home games still to look forward to in the second half of the season, Daniel Thioune’s side cannot be discarded from the promotion race.
Much of their goals have been created by or come directly from Dawid Kownacki, who has been involved in a total of 12 of their 26 efforts (six goals, six assists), and the 25-year-old Polish forward needs just one more goal to match his best of seven in 2020/21.
They say all good things come in threes, and Düsseldorf would have nothing against making 2023 the year of their third rise to the Bundesliga.
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