We don't often dip down into the second division, but things are looking very exciting down there. Ali explores the potential comings and goings.
So the top two in the 2. Bundesliga are VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96, the two sides relegated from the Bundesliga last season. So far nothing very new, I suppose, but considering SC Paderborn dropped straight through with barely a whimper and are now in the third division keeps everyone on their toes. Stuttgart looked well set to win the title and return at the first time of asking before the season started but haven't had things their own way, only returning to the top on their own after a 2-0 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. Hannover started the campaign in blistering form, unrealistically fast in fact and it almost blew up in their face as they lost their way mid-way through the first half of the season. They have fought their way back and are now sitting pretty, three points behind Stuttgart.
Hannover are tied with Eintracht Braunschweig, one of a number of surprise packages challenging for promotion. A stunning first half of the season sees them level with their bitter local rivals, a struggle which could end very nastily and will certainly leave one side scarred for years if they don't both fail to get promoted come May. That rivalry has been riven with some disgusting acts, including Braunschweig fans taunting Hannover fan to "Follow Their Goalkeeper" onto the train tracks, a reference to the tragic suicide of Robert Enke. Tasteless and disgusting fan actions aside this promotion battle adds another dimension to the already dynamic and intense local rivalry and it will be fascinating to watch it unfold over the second half of the season.
The four chasing sides below Braunschweig were also somewhat surprising. Union Berlin and Dynamo Dresden are offering real alternatives to RB Leipzig in the old East, maybe indicating one of the benefits of the rise of the energy drink giants. If all the old, legendary, traditional clubs of the former GDR can sort themselves out and challenge then Leipzig will struggle to attract fans. Union are three points behind Braunschweig (with Dresden a further point behind) and whilst getting a play-off place might be asking too much for this season, both will be keeping the pressure on and hoping for a choke from one of the top three under the pressure of going after the automatic promotion places. Dresden, having only just come up from the third division last season, are the real success story and have the second highest average attendance across the second divisions of Europe (behind fellow sleeping giants Newcastle United in England). There would be a lot of happy neutrals if they were to make it back to the Bundesliga, although Union would also be well received.
We will certainly be keeping a close eye on the second division as the season concludes and will keep you updated. It looks like being an exciting finish, with two huge clubs getting promoted automatically and another one making the play offs. The Bundesliga will be more than happy to receive any of the current top five, making the run-in all the more exciting for the neutral. Hold on tight!