Munich - The Bundesliga 2 kicks off in earnest on Friday and it promises to be bigger and better than ever.

Be it the Rhine derby, the race for promotion or the return of two old favourites, Germany's second tier is guaranteed to set pulses racing.

Derby date


After the heartache of last season's relegation from the Bundesliga, Fortuna Düsseldorf can at least look forward to their hotly-anticipated showdown with fellow Rhine dwellers 1. FC Köln. Ask any representative from either side what they're most looking forward to in 2013/14 and the response is a resounding "the Rhine derby of course!"

These Stadtrivale collide as early as Matchday 2 this term, both with grand designs on a seat at Germany's top table. "We've got to be right on it from the start against [Energie] Cottbus and Köln," warned Fortuna head coach Mike Büskens after watching his side edge France's AS Monaco in their final warm-up game before this weekend's curtain raiser at home to Cottbus. "We played well, but you could see our weaknesses."

"Heated"


Looking to exploit said frailties are, among others, the likes of 1. FC Kaiserslautern and TSV 1860 Munich. A third-place finish handed the Red Devils a second bite at the cherry in their bid for promotion last season, but 1899 Hoffenheim were in no mood to let slip their six-year Bundesliga stay. Head coach Franco Foda is nevertheless "convinced the side can again make the push forwards."

That may might be easier said than done, however. "Bundesliga 2 is always a battle," explained 1860 sporting director Florian Hinterberger. "There's always a heated atmosphere. It's about the finer details." And he should know, having witnessed his side toil for the last nine seasons in the second division following their relegation from the Bundesliga back in 2004.

Moving on up


Looking to make theirs a much shorter stay, meanwhile, are Karlsruher SC and Arminia Bielefeld. The two sides made relatively light work of the third rung on the German football ladder and will be hoping to follow suit in the second tier.

Both clubs have long had a place in German folklore after sliding up and down the league pyramid over the years and both bring a sizeable backing - just under 57,000 fans in stadiums combined - to the Bundesliga 2 table. Better than ever? More like best yet.

Christopher Mayer-Lodge and Markus Hoffmann