Braunschweig - With the smallest budget in the division by far and only seven players on the books to have previously tasted life at this level, Eintracht Braunschweig go into their first Bundesliga season in 28 years with a healthy dose of realism.
Masters of surprise
"We're all very aware that we're going to be winning fewer games than we've gotten used to," head coach Torsten Lieberknecht told bundesliga.com. Indeed, in terms of relevant experience, the only players who really fit the bill are new signings Marco Caligiuri, late of Mainz, with 88 Bundesliga appearances under his belt, and once-and-future Lions' frontman Torsten Oehrl, snapped up from Augsburg (44 games).
The last of skipper Dennis Kruppke's 54 top-flight outings was eight years ago, while Ermin Bicakcic, Matthias Henn, Timo Perthel and Damir Vrancic have mustered all of nine games between them at that level. Braunschweig's rivals will nonetheless underestimate at their peril the team Lieberknecht first guided up from the third tier and then, as surprise Bundesliga 2 runners-up behind Hertha BSC Berlin, back to German football's top table.
Over the course of the team's promotion campaign last season, the 39-year-old coach outwitted the opposition time and again with tactical variations, often during the course of the match itself. And if the recent Nordcup meeting with Hamburger SV is anything to go by, he will be continuing to apply the same methodology one division higher. In the first half of the hour-long contest, the underdogs parked the bus and barely ventured forward, while after the interval they had the perplexed hosts pinned for long stretches in their own half.
Top scorer sidelined
In the end, Braunschweig only lost out on penalties, and went on to record a morale-boosting 2-1 victory over Lower Saxony rivals VfL Wolfsburg in the third place play-off. It was a promising showing all-round, even if nobody at the club is attaching too much significance to a pre-season tournament. More important longer-term will be the eventual return to fitness of 19-goal Bundesliga 2 top scorer Domi Kumbela, who remains sidelined after undergoing an operation for a thigh injury in May.
One player who can help plug the gap in the meantime is another new signing, Simeon Jackson. The pacy and versatile Canada international made the move from English Premier League outfit Norwich City and is determined to make his mark in the Bundesliga. If, in doing so, he can help Braunschweig hold onto their freshly-earned place there, it would almost be a bonus. As Lieberknecht put it, asked to formulate the club's season target, "We want to be a team who are appreciated for the way they play - win or lose."
Jürgen Blöhs/Angus Davison