This Thursday, 1. FC Heidenheim play the first of the two most important matches they have ever played as they face Werder Bremen to play for the right to play in the Bundesliga next season.
Unlike some of the big clubs in the league, there are few well-known faces in the team, but manager Frank Schmidt has crafted a tight and competitive unit over the years, with many players being outcasts from some of Germany’s biggest clubs – including Bremen!
For the benefit of anyone not familiar with the club, here’s a look at the players who might be facing Bremen on Thursday night, the manager and how they may set up.
Kevin Müller (Goalkeeper)
Signed from VfB Stuttgart II in 2015. He spent his first season in Heidenheim as back-up but the clear number one thereafter, making 135 league appearances for the club so far. One of the most dependable goalkeepers in the 2. Bundesliga and rarely makes a mistake. 15 clean sheets this season. Recently signed contract extension to 2025.
Marnon Busch (Right-Back)
Joined Heidenheim from Bremen in 2017 following a loan spell with 1860 Munich in their final 2. Bundesliga season. He had previously played a handful of games in the top flight with die Grün-Weißen. Competed with long-serving Robert Strauß for the right-back berth, eventually winning out last season. Missed just one game this campaign. Unspectacular but a solid performer.
Patrick Mainka (Centre-Back)
Previously spent a couple of seasons with Bremen II and signed by Heidenheim from Borussia Dortmund II in 2018. Quickly established himself as the main man in Heidenheim’s defence. Missed just 180 minutes of action this season and has avoided seeing a card all campaign. Under contract until 2024 after signing extension earlier in the season.
Timo Beermann (Centre-Back)
Signed from VfL Osnabrück in 2013 but missed the entire 3. Liga winning campaign due to a cruciate ligament rupture. Despite a tough start a dependable member of their defence since then, although he had lost his place this year to Oliver Hüsing and appears likely to leave in the summer. He has played every match since the restart though due to the latter being out injured. An offensive threat in the air.
Jonas Föhrenbach (Left-Back)
Signed from SC Freiburg in the summer after a loan spell with Jahn Regensburg last season. Appears to have dislodged Norman Theuerkauf from Schmidt’s starting XI, typically provided more of an attacking impulse down the left, although he has only contributed one goal and one assist. He has been used further forward at times this season.
Niklas Dorsch (Defensive Midfielder)
Signed from Bayern Munich II in 2018, having made just one appearance for the first team. The undisputed heart of this side and considered their best player this season. Pulls the strings from a deep-lying role and superb on the ball. Previously linked with Hamburger SV and Celtic and likely to be the subject of much interest in the summer, especially if they don’t go up.
Sebastian Griesbeck (Central Midfielder)
Part of the side that won the 3. Liga in 2014 having joined from local rivals SSV Ulm the previous summer. A loyal servant of Schmidt who can play a number of roles in midfield, often acting from box-to-box. Recently linked with Union Berlin and would be a big loss if he did leave. Partner of Bayern Munich and Germany defender Kathrin Hendrich.
Konstantin Kerschbaumer (Central Midfielder)
Amazingly, the Austrian is the only foreign player at the club. Signed from FC Ingolstadt 04 in the summer and previously impressed in the 2. Bundesliga with Arminia Bielefeld. He hasn’t showed his best form since joining but has scored three goals, including the dramatic late winner against Hamburg that sparked crazy celebrations and ultimately sealed third place.
Marc Schnatterer (Attacking Midfielder / Winger)
Mr Heidenheim. Captain and Schmidt’s most loyal lieutenant since joining 2008 when the club were in the Regionalliga. For years their best and most dangerous player, although his role has diminished ever so slightly this season, with signs of decline at the age of 34. He may not start here after a recent injury but will play an important role whether from the beginning or the bench.
David Otto (Striker / Winger)
Loan signing from Hoffenheim, having played three games under Julian Nagelsmann last season. He hasn’t impressed that much for Heidenheim, with just one goal and five assists, but seems to have rooted down a place in the side in the last few weeks. Schmidt appreciates his versatility, being able to act as a winger or behind the main striker as well as leading the attack.
Tim Kleindienst (Striker)
Signed from Freiburg in September having previously had a successful loan spell with the club in the 2016-17 season. His arrival helped to compensate for the loss of Robert Glatzel in the summer and he is their key man in attack. He has scored 14 goals for them this season, as well as setting up six goals. His experience with Freiburg will make him one of the most adapt to stepping up the challenge here.
Goalkeepers: Vitus Eicher is a distant number two for Müller, but is reliable when called upon and loyal to the club, signing a contract until 2023 back in September.
Defenders: The aforementioned Oliver Hüsing, another ex-Bremener, joined from Hansa Rostock in the summer and had dislodged Beerman but is just coming back from an ankle injury. Norman Theuerkauf joined in 2015 and is mostly used as a left-back these days but is also capable of playing in central defence and midfield. Likely to make an appearance from the bench, probably in place of Föhrenbach.
Midfielders: Robert Leipertz re-joined in early 2019 after spells with Schalke and Ingolstadt. He has scored seven goals this season but hasn’t always been first choice. Maurice Multhaup usually has the unenviable role of playing back-up to Schnatterer and doesn’t always make the most of his chances when they come. Tobias Mohr signed from Greuther Fürth in January and has a dangerous left foot. Kevin Sessa is a 19-year-old who has made just brief appearances from the bench since the restart.
Strikers: Denis Thomalla has served the club well since joining from Lech Poznan in 2016, with last season his most prolific with eight goals, but he has struggled with injuries this term. He did start though against Bielefeld. Stefan Schimmer signed from SpVgg Unterhaching in August and is mostly limited to a role as a substitute. He is an effective Joker though, scoring all six of his goals after coming off the bench, including three since the restart.
Frank Schmidt (Manager)
Schmidt was born just 200 metres from what was then the Albstadion in 1974 and has been coach since 2007 having spent the final four years of his playing career there. He has led Heidenheim from the Oberliga Baden-Württemberg to the brink of the Bundesliga and it is difficult to find a bad word said about him anywhere, yet alone in Heidenheim. His calm, grounded personal approach has been key to putting the club where it is today.
Heidenheim have been described as “the most tactically-disciplined team in the league,” and Schmidt is known for adapting the team style to suit the opponents – but that doesn’t mean they go ultra-defensive against supposedly ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ clubs.
Whilst they have experimented with a back three/five in the past, they nearly always play with a back four. They have mostly played 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 this season but can easily adapt to 4-4-2, in both traditional and diamond variants, even within games, with the versatility of some of their key players vital to their system.
Whilst the team have several attacking threats, their success is built on their defence. Only SV Sandhausen, FC St. Pauli and relegated Dynamo Dresden have scored less goals in the 2. Bundesliga this season, but only champions Bielefeld have conceded less.
Schmidt has also recently spoken about the importance of his substitutes, especially with five now able to come on, and his point was summed up in the game against Hamburg, with three involved in the winning goal. 14 goals have scored from the bench this season.