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Zweitegeist | Round 17 – Team of the 2. Bundesliga Hinrunde

That’s it, the final 2. Bundesliga round of 2016 has been completed and Eintracht Braunschweig have been ‘crowned’ the Herbstmeister – the ‘Winter Champions’ – having the led the way for most of the season so far. Just two points behind them are the former-Bundesliga regulars Hannover and Stuttgart, looking to bounce back up to the top flight at the first time of asking. At the foot of the table sits poor St. Pauli – perhaps the most widely beloved and admired club in the league – but also one of the most hopelessly unlucky with a backdrop of an ongoing injury crisis and only two victories all season.

Huge credit also needs to go to the work done by Heidenheim and the newly-promoted pair of Würzburger Kickers and Dynamo Dresden – all of whom have made it into the top-seven at the halfway stage of the season. Big-spending 1860 München, on the other hand, need to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror, as they languish in 13th-place. What has been a thoroughly entertaining and competitive Hinrunde has unfortunately ended in rather drab fashion, with a pitiful 33 goals scored in the final two rounds, as was mentioned in last week’s column.

With that in mind, Zweitegeist has done away with our regular talking points for Round 17 in favour of a special ‘Team of the Hinrunde’ edition. After much deliberation (and almost coming to blows…) we’ve come up with a final XI of the best-performing players in each position in an attacking 4-4-2 formation. Enjoy!

Kirschbaum; Trimmel, Decarli, Gordon, Insúa; Hartmann, Schröck; Gogia, Burgstaller; Terodde, Kumbela

GK: Thorsten Kirschbaum (Nürnberg)

It has been a long year for Thorsten Kirschbaum. Dropped last November for the evergreen Raphael Schäfer, the then 28 year-old was denied even a place in the squad for much of the rest of the season, and failed to make another competitive appearance under former manager René Weiler. Personal issues were cited as the main reason for the gulf between Kirschbaum and Weiler, although club politics – the boss was thought to object to some of the signings made by former Sporting Director Martin Bader – were another rumoured obstacle.

That must seem a long time ago now. Thrust back into the side after an injury to Schäfer, he has been a major part of the side’s revival as they continue to recover from a disastrous start to this campaign. Kirschbaum has accumulated four clean sheets and is ranked third in Kicker’s top-rated players in the whole division so far. The icing on the cake came in October where he two saved penalties in consecutive games, both of which Nürnberg went on to win. With Schäfer having now returned to the squad, FCN manager Alois Schwartz has cemented Kirschbaum as his new number 1. Turnaround complete. – TNJ

RB: Christopher Trimmel (Union Berlin)

Another player who has stepped up following an injury to a team-mate, Christopher Trimmel has emerged as an equal to former Union captain Benjamin Kessel following the latter being ruled out on the eve of the season with a broken foot. The 29 year old Trimmel, now in his 3rd season with the club, had been among the under-achievers in the last campaign as a squad that was tipped as promotion dark-horses largely floundered.

Now though, the Austrian has established himself as one of the most dependable members of this promising Berlin side. No stranger to a wing-back role last year, the tireless running he exhibits on a weekly basis has allowed Steven Skrzybski licence to roam inside and contribute goals while Trimmel occupies all the territory along the right touchline. The full-back now holds firm in whoscored.com’s team of the season so far, as well as in Union’s first choice XI. As Die Eiserne continue to battle for promotion, he looks like winning his personal battle with rival Kessel, as well as with every left winger who comes his way. -TNJ

CB: Saulo Decarli (Eintracht Braunschweig)

Saulo Decarli’s season at Eintracht Braunschweig got off to an inauspicious start as he served a suspension for the first two games of the season and looked like he might potentially not be able to get back into the team ahead of the newly-formed partnership of Joseph Baffo and Gustav Valsvik. His first game got off to an even worse start as he was at fault for a slapstick goal by fellow ‘Team of the Hinrunde’ member Guido Burgstaller after just a few minutes. Eintracht famously went on to win that game against Nürnberg 6-1, with Decarli more than making up for his earlier error with two goals.

Since then his form has been colossal and the Swiss centre-back has established himself as arguably the best defender in the league. In many games he’s seemed to have the answer for everything that’s been thrown at him. He always seems to know the right time when to press and hassle an opponent or when to sit and protect the space in behind. He’s competitive in the air but it’s his decision-making and timing that continues to impress this season. I’ve lost count of the number of superb blocks or last-ditch tackles he’s nailed. Braunschweig boast the defensive talents of Marcel Correia and Ken Reichel but Decarli is truly a Rolls Royce of a defender. – AW

CB: Daniel Gordon (Sandhausen)

In one of the more bemusing transfers of the summer, Daniel Gordon, who had been expected to leave Karlsruher, but for a few months had been linked to several top flight clubs alongside defensive partner Florian Hϋbner (who eventually moved to Hannover) announced immediately after the final match of the season that he had turned down a new contract at the Wildpark and would be moving to a club that finished 7 places below his former employers, and also happened to be one of their local rivals, SV Sandhausen.

He didn’t get off to the best start at his new club, scoring a last-minute own goal to surrender a lead to Fortuna Dusseldorf on the opening day of the season. However, since then the Jamaican international has been one of the rocks on which a promising Hinrunde for Kenan Kocak’s men has been built. Die SVS have lost just twice since September, keeping 5 clean sheets in the process with Gordon an even-present. He even popped up to score his first goal for the club in a fantastic home win over 1860 Munich. The 31 year old will surely have next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup in mind as Sandhausen eye the top half.

LB: Emiliano Insúa (VfB Stuttgart)

Following their unprecedented relegation last Spring, giants VfB Stuttgart immediately had another fight on their hands, fighting off the sharks circling their stricken ship as other clubs looked to poach some of their established stars. Although they weren’t able to keep everyone, surely one of their biggest successes this summer was in hanging on to Emiliano Insúa. The Argentine international was linked with the likes of Olympique Lyonnais and former club Sporting before the 2016/17 season kicked off. How new manager Hannes Wolf must cheer the fact Insúa was still around when he took up his post in September.

The former Liverpool and Atletico Madrid left-back has shown the quality that earned him that place at some of Europe’s top clubs. His attacking nature has enabled Wolf to use him on occasions as a wing-back in an unusual 3-4-3 system, increasing the manager’s options. This has paid off with 5 assists from the 27 year old’s wand-like left foot, the most of any defender in the division, not to mention joint most at Stuttgart as they continue their bid to return to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking. -TNJ

DM: Marco Hartmann (Dynamo Dresden)

Dynamo Dresden stormed to the 3. Liga title last season but lost their captain Michael Hefele to Huddersfield Town over the summer, so the armband was passed on to defensive midfield enforcer Marco Hartmann. The no. 6 has been plagued with knee problems throughout his career but this season marks an unprecedented run of starts for him, as he has only missed 12 minutes throughout. It’s no coincidence that this campaign has seen him reach what local Dresdners are calling ‘the form of his life’.

The Dynamo captain has been ever-present at the base of their midfield – the defensive shield that allows the tenacious talents of Andreas ‘Lumpi’ Lambertz, Niklas Hauptmann and Aias Aosman to operate further forward. Hartmann has taken to life in 2. Bundesliga like a duck to water and has proven to be one of the most consistently reliable players in the team. His bulky frame means that his playing style is based on his instinctive reading of the game, rather than great mobility, but his height means he’s always a force in the air as well as in the tackle. Dynamo fans will be hoping that the rumours of another one of their captains moving to the English Championship do not turn out to be true this time… – AW

DM: Tobias Schröck (Würzburger Kickers)

Representing one of the surprise success stories of the season, a man who has been living a mini-one of his own. Würzburger had perhaps stunned even themselves with their promotion to this division, and most expected they would be settling in for a tough campaign. Equally, no fireworks were expected in particular from the 23-year old Schröck, who had last been seen having a perfectly solid campaign in rather uninspiring surroundings as Sonnenhof Großaspach finished 7th in the 3.liga.

Luckily, Bernd Hollerbach knew better, and as the Kickers finish the first half of the season in a superb 6th place, they have no one to thank any more than Schröck. More than living up to his manager’s depiction of a tough tackler who could also pull strings in midfield, the Bavarian’s pièce de résistance came at Dresden in September. That his thunderous volley was not nominated for the Pukás award is nothing short of a scandal. In any case, if we see a better goal in the 2.Bundesliga this season, we’ll have seen something very special. -TNJ

RW: Akaki ‘Andy’ Gogia (Dynamo Dresden)

Akaki Gogia, or Andy as everyone in Dresden knows him, arrived in 2. Bundesliga with a point to prove having endured a tough 2015/16 season at Brentford in the English Championship where he struggled to adapt and only made a handful of starts. He had previously tore it up for two seasons at Hallescher in 3. Liga so a loan move to Dynamo suited all parties. Having arrived after the season had already started he needed some time to build fitness but once he was unleashed it was a sight to behold, as he quickly proved himself to be a revelation of the league.

Dynamo’s impressive 2-0 victory over Hannover will be remembered for the cracking goals scored by Marvin Stefaniak and Florian Ballas but it was Gogia’s stunning debut that is most prominent in my mind. Superb vision, touch and passing with both feet – it’s still unclear which one is his stronger foot. He’s made a knack of scoring in pairs this season but his shining moment was his brace and an assist in a virtuoso performance during Dresden’s historic 5-0 drubbing of Stuttgart that really made people sit and take notice. He’s been the main catalyst behind Dynamo’s excellent first season back in the Zweite Liga. – AW

LW: Guido Burgstaller (Nürnberg)

As Braunschweig narrowly claimed the Herbstmeister crown, the race for the Herbsttorjäger was slightly less close-run. In fact, almost the final act of the 1st half of this season was reserved for Guido Burgstaller as he extended his lead at the top of the scoring charts with a last minute winner for FC Nurnberg. For anyone who had seen much of Der Club this season, this turn of events would have come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

Like the rest of FCN, the Austrian suffered a disappointing start to the campaign following the greater disappointment of playoff failure last season. The nadir of this run came in the derby against Furth, where following suspension in the previous game, Burgstaller was left on the bench. Although he came on to score a consolation in the 2nd half, Nurnberg were left bottom of the league following defeat to their old rivals. They would not be there for long, however, as their talisman inspired them to a 7-match unbeaten run and a surge up the table. Burgstaller has failed to score in just two of the 11 matches since the derby, despite playing on the wing for many of those encounters. Stunningly, having found the net 14 times already, he has already surpassed his strike total for the whole of last season, where he scored a perfectly respectable 13 goals. Alois Schwartz has certainly learned his lesson about leaving out his captain.

Sadly, he may not get the chance to make that mistake again. As is the nature of this division, the best and brightest will eventually be lost to promotion or transfer. As Burgstaller was withdrawn to a wild ovation following his winner on Monday night, the rumours continue that this was a farewell. If the number 9 does earn himself a move to the Bundesliga, and perhaps a more sustained tilt at the Austrian national team, it will be well deserved. The 2.Bundesliga and FC Nurnberg though, would surely be poorer for it.

CF: Simon Terodde (VfB Stuttgart)

While VfB faced the prospect of losing some of their best players following their unforeseen relegation, and did indeed say goodbye to Daniel Didavi, Lukas Rupp, Serey Die and Filip Kostic, among others, they had a more optimistic flip side to that coin. As a veritable giant of German football in general, and certainly at 2nd tier level, Stuttgart had a considerable amount of weight to throw around to test the resolve of any of their new peers to lure virtually whoever they wanted in their bid to return to the top flight as soon as possible. So who to go for?

In terms of choosing a sure thing at Zweiteliga level, as close as possible to a cast iron, plain as day assurance of quality, they could not have picked a better target than Simon Terodde. The 28 year old had finished 2nd and 1st in the scorers charts in the last two campaigns. No other player finished in the top 15 in both seasons. Guarantee? More like guaran-Tor.

Their reported 3 million Euro investment has already proven sound. The former Bochum man has only started 14 of the 17 league matches in the first round after a hamstring injury in October, but has already emerged with 11 goals. His understanding and co-ordination with other new-boys Mané and Asano has been terrific and has also benefitted from fellow Hinrunde XI nominee Insúa’s golden crosses from the left. He has been the focal point for a solid, if occasionally wobbly, first half of the season for VfB and has stood out ahead of his team-mates: several experienced Bundesliga players and even a World Champion. He was also scouted by Jogi Löw. The striker’s stock has never been higher, but you wouldn’t bet against him rising further still. -TNJ

CF: Domi Kumbela (Eintracht Braunschweig)

I’ll hold my hands up here – if you’d told me a year ago I’d be naming Domi Kumbela in any kind of team of the season I’d have laughed in your face. After an unhappy spell in Turkey and then a goalless six months at Greuther Fürth he returned to the club where he was idolised. Between 2009 and 2014 his 62 goals for Eintracht Braunschweig helped them climb from 3. Liga to the Bundesliga, but in the second half of last season he was an ineffective member of a terribly weak front line. He looked likely to be a bit-part player again this season but fortunately for the veteran striker a switch to 4-4-2 and then an injury to record signing Suleiman Abdullahi gave him another chance in the starting lineup and he hasn’t looked back since.

Kumbela’s 11 goals in 17 games means that if he continues in this same vein he’ll be in line for the highest scoring season of his career. He still has the ability to miss the odd sitter but some of his finishing this season has been right out of the top drawer. What’s more, even in the few games where he hasn’t managed to score he’s still played a vital role in making Eintracht’s attack tick, meaning he’s only had one bad game all season. He’s certainly converted me to a fan over the past few months, while firing Braunschweig to the top of the table. – AW

Honourable Mentions

Rensing, Wulnikowski

Klingmann, Teixeira, Leistner, Neumann, Ballas, Akpoguma, Schmitz, Reichel

Gentner, Titsch-Rivero, Hauptmann, Moll

Bebou, Mané, Schnatterer, Klaus

Quaner, Harnik, Kleindienst, Wooten

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