I’ll follow up with some in-depth looks at the top three divisions, but I thought I’d put together some quick impressions of the (essentially) completed season….
This was clearly an impressive year for Dortmund, taking the title in style after a slow start. With impressive attacking football on display, they were clearly the best team. Their victory is probably also good for German football in general, as they are now rising to challenge Bayern, although they still have a way to go financially. Bayern München was in fact quite decent, impressive at times. And of course they can still claim victory by winning the Champions League (and to a lesser extent by defeating Dortmund in the DFB-Cup final). Schalke had a fine season, probably playing to their potential. They’re still lacking some steel to challenge Dortmund and Bayern. But they appear to be on the right path. Gladbach had a wonderful season, but you wonder whether they can repeat next season. Leverkusen and Stuttgart had OK finishes, but looked crap at times.One might have expected them to challenge, but they were nowhere near that level. Werder Bremen has really fallen off and one has to wonder whether they’re on they’re way back to mediocrity.
For the bottom teams, Augsburg was the most impressive, as everybody considered them automatic relegation fodder, but they fought and punched above their weight to stay up. Both Mainz and Freiburg were also candidates, but showed grit and determination. Kaiserslautern was found to be too weak, and Köln was a disaster, despite Likas Podolski’s best efforts. Hertha once again proved their management incompetant, as they fired coach Markus Babbel prematurely and almost got themselves relegated. (Still could happen if they lose against Düsselfdorf. Losing would be good for the game, perhaps the relegation would force some needed changes in Berlin). However, if they save themselves it will be because Köln was such a mess, not because of anything they (or Rehagel) did. Another dishonrable mention goes to Hamburger SV, which should be a power, but had their worst Bundesliga season ever.
Some interesting things happened in the 2.Liga. Eintracht Frankfurt was solid and earned immediate re-promotion to the Bundesliga. No real surprise there. Greuther Fürth has toyed with the idea for years, but always choked. This season they put everything together and deservedly go up. Düsseldorf was the pace setter for much of the season, but then fell off. They could still succeed if they upend Hertha in the playoffs. Fortuna has recovered from years in the wilderness, so this is definitely a positive trend. St.Pauli was strong all season, but lacked that little extra to put themselves over the top. Paderborn had perhaps their best season ever, and was in contention until the final day.
The rest of the news in the 2.Liga was mostly negative. Traditionals like 1860, Bochum and MSV Duisburg largely sucked. Karlsruhe and Aachen totally collapsed and got stuck in relegation. (KSC at least will be favoured to survive the playoff against Regensburg). The ex-GDR clubs were very disappointing. Hansa got relegated, and Cottbus and Aue were nervous until the final day. Aue was clearly punching above their weight last season, so at least their collapse was no surprise. However Energie might have harbored some thoughts of at least challenging, as they’ve gone up a couple of times. Instead they largely sucked. At least Union Berlin was decent, and Dynamo Dresden’s mid-table finish was positive. With Köln and Kaiserslautern coming down, at least a couple of attractive dates are on the schedule for next season, albeit balanced by Sandhausen and Aalen.
The third division turned out to be the most competitive of all. Notice that virtually every team had double-digit drawn matches, and promoted sides had double-digit losses. Sandhausen and Aalen surprised the pundits and gained relegation. Neither team was overly impressive, but they ground out results when they needed. Regensburg withstood a fierce battle to hold onto the promotion playoff spot. Disappointment for traditional sides like Osnabrück, Offenbach and Saarbrücken, who never really got into the race. Bielefeld never got started, but at least recovered from a horrible start to prevent disaster. Oberhausen cointinued their collapse getting relegated for second straight year. Jena was crap and deservedly went down. Normally I don’t care about the “B” sides, but Werder Bremen II reflects the chaos from the Bundesliga side. It’s the first time in some 40 years that they won’t be represented in the 3rd division…However the outlook for the league is quite nice: Aachen, Rostock and potentially Karlsruhe are very attractive draws for next season, Stuttgarter Kickers should create some interest as well. And one of Halle, Kiel or RB Leipzig should be coming up as well, all with decent attendance.