As the race to reach the 2018/19 German top-flight heats up, bundesliga.com takes a look at the runners and riders who currently find themselves at the head of the pack in an exciting and closely-contested promotion push in Bundesliga 2.
1st: Fortuna Düsseldorf
After winning nine of their first 11 games of the season, Friedhelm Funkel’s side went on a six-game winless streak that included home defeats to Dynamo Dresden (3-1) and promotion rivals Nuremberg (2-0). A subsequent run of four straight victories came to an end at Union Berlin on Matchday 22, before Funkel’s charges slipped to their sixth defeat of the season at Jahn Regensburg on Matchday 24. They have since returned to winning ways, however, beating both St. Pauli and Duisburg 2-1 in their last two league outings.
Star player: Rouwen Hennings
Former Karlsruhe striker Hennings has rediscovered his scoring touch since returning to his homeland from English side Burnley in 2016, netting 20 goals in 57 appearances in all competitions for Fortuna, including 11 this season. The burly centre-forward notched his ninth league goal of the campaign in the recent win over Duisburg, cutting inside onto his left foot on the edge of the box and burying an unstoppable effort into the net.
Fortuna face three of the bottom seven (Darmstadt, Bochum and Heidenheim) in their next four matches before games against mid-table Ingolstadt and Dresden. If all goes to plan, Düsseldorf’s place in next season’s top flight will be set in stone by the time they welcome Kiel to the ESPRIT Arena on the penultimate day of the campaign. They travel to second-placed Nuremberg on the final day in a match which could decide the destination of the Bundesliga 2 title.
First promoted to the Bundesliga in 1966, Fortuna enjoyed 16 uninterrupted seasons in Germany’s top flight between 1971 and 1987 and even reached the UEFA European Cup Winners’ Cup final during that period, losing 4-3 to Spanish giants Barcelona in 1979. They last achieved promotion to the Bundesliga in 2012/13 but dropped back into the second tier after just a single season, finishing the campaign in 17th place. Now under the stewardship of former Cologne, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin head coach Funkel, Düsseldorf sit five points clear of second-placed Nuremberg and look primed for a return to Germany’s top division.
Nuremberg’s 11-match unbeaten league run came to an end on Matchday 25, when they suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat to local rivals Greuther Fürth. They then slipped to a last-gasp 1-0 defeat at Arminia Bielefeld, failing to score for the fourth time in five league matches. With just four points separating his side from third-placed Kiel, head coach Michael Köllner will be desperate to find a solution to Der Club’s goalscoring woes as soon as possible.
Star player: Hanno Behrens
Behrens has not only played every minute of Nuremberg’s league campaign so far, he has also netted an impressive ten league goals from defensive midfield. A colossus in the centre of the park, FCN’s captain and talisman is set to play a key role in the club’s run-in, particularly with leading scorer Michael Ishak sidelined until mid-April with a knee ligament injury.
With games against lowly Darmstadt and mid-table trio Dresden, Ingolstadt and Heidenheim coming up in the next four weeks, Köllner will be confident of extending their five-point lead over promotion play-off incumbents Kiel ahead of the two teams’ meeting on Matchday 31. They will certainly hope to have promotion wrapped up by the time they host leaders Düsseldorf on the final day.
Founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963, the Franconians had won more top-flight titles than any other club in Germany (9) prior to 1987, when they were overtaken by Bayern Munich. Their last major piece of silverware came in 2006/07, when Hans Meyer’s Nuremberg beat Bundesliga champions Stuttgart 3-2 after extra-time to lift the DFB Cup. They reached the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup the following season, only to be knocked out by Benfica in the last 32 of the competition. After being relegated in 2013/14, they qualified for the promotion/relegation play-off in 2015/16, but were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by Niko Kovac’s Frankfurt.
3rd: Holstein Kiel
A stuttering start was overcome when Kiel won eight of the nine games following Matchday 2 while a ten-game unbeaten run consolidated their standing in Bundesliga 2. Only one team (Eintracht Braunschweig) has drawn more games than The Storks' incredible tally of eleven stalemates, but Markus Anfang’s men are the top scorers with 51 goals in 26 games, top scorer Marvin Ducksch weighing in with a division high 14 and Dominick Drexler registering eleven.
Star player: Marvin Ducksch
The 24-year-old Ducksch – once on the books of his hometown club Borussia Dortmund has also provided eight assists in this, his second season on loan at Kiel from St Pauli. A tall centre-forward with solid aerial ability, Ducksch boasted plenty of promise at junior level and even represented Germany when they finished runners-up at the 2011 UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
Games against Bielefeld and Nuremberg will test Kiel’s promotion credentials. Their encounter against the latter in late-April is already looking like a crucial fixture in the push for automatic promotion behind favourites Fortuna, who may have already sealed the Bundesliga 2 title before these teams meet on the penultimate day of the campaign. Otherwise, The Storks could be considered to have a winnable amount of games ahead.
Former German champions from 1912, Kiel have had a tough existence since the Second World War. The city was almost completely destroyed, including various facilities owned by the club. They did manage to qualify for the newly founded top division – the Oberliga Nord – in 1947, however, years later they failed to make it into the newly formed Bundesliga and floated around the lower leagues since the mid 1960s. In 2013, Kiel made their way up to the third division, while last year, for the first time in over 35 years, they made it back into German football’s second tier.
4th: Jahn Regensburg
A shocking opening to the current campaign that included eight losses and just three wins in their first eleven matches left Jahn just one place above the drop zone. A corner was turned at the end of October when a Sebastian Stolze double and a Marvin Knoll strike earned a 3-1 win against Kaiserslautern at the Continental Arena. Just one loss and six wins in their ten games following that triumph helped to fire the Bavarian team up the table.
Star player: Marvin Knoll
Versatile defensive midfielder Knoll has come in for constant high praise during what has been a thus far outstanding season for the 27-year-old Hertha youth-team product. Adding five goals and five assists from a deep-lying position is no mean feat for a player who enjoyed successive promotions with Jahn in their previous two seasons.
With just three home games out of eight remaining this season, coach Achim Beierlorzer faces a tough task trying to negotiate his team into the top two. That said, largely facing teams from mid-table downwards will certainly leave the Bavarians feeling confident about making a promotion play-off.
Founded in 1886 is a gymnastics club, the Bavarian association decided to create a football team under their banner in 1907. Various amalgamations ensued over the years while following the end of the Second World War, the Red Shorts, as they later became known, bounced around the lower leagues. Branching out on their own as a footballing entity from 2000, the Jahnelf became third division regulars following promotion to the Regionalliga Süd in 2000. Two promotions to Bundesliga 2 were followed by immediate relegation back to the third tier in the following decade. In 2015, Jahn dropped into the fourth division. After blowing a 12-point lead at the top, the club appointed current Bayer Leverkusen head coach Heiko Herrlich, who guided Jahn back to the third division at the first time of asking. Herrlich then repeated the feat the following season as he took Regensburg back into Bundesliga 2 via a play-off triumph over 1860 Munich. Herrlich may have moved on in the summer, but his successor Beierlorzer has taken the club to the verge of a third successive promotion, and possibly a first Bundesliga season ever.
5th: Arminia Bielefeld
Limiting their losses to eight games in Germany’s second tier may not be an outstanding record, but it means that Jeff Saibene’s men have been unbeaten in 18 matches, winning ten. Home and away wins away to promotion-chasing Nuremberg and a thumping 5-0 triumph against Pauli at the Bielefelder Alm stadium have made Die Arminen a team to be respected this term.
Star player: Stefan Ortega
The 25-year-old goalkeeper Ortega has been ever present for Arminia this term, managing to keep eight clean sheets in his team’s promotion push. Having made several key interventions during an exciting season to date for fans of The Blues, the team’s No.1 has been one of those custodians who wins points.
Bielefeld’s next run of games will prove a stern test of their staying power in this race to the Bundesliga, with matches against Fortuna, Kiel and Ingolstadt certain to prove make or break tests. The Blues should know by early April whether dreams of an 18th season in the top-flight are alive or dead.
Die Arminen were founded in 1905, were West German champions by 1922 and West German Cup winners much later in 1966. A first ever promotion to the Bundesliga – where they have since appeared on 17 occasions – was achieved in 1970, however, a match-fixing scandal soon afterward led to the club being heavily punished with automatic relegation. The Blues have subsequently floated mainly between Bundesliga 2 and the third tier in latter years, enjoying a couple of notable DFB Cup runs along the way.