1. FC Nürnberg’s return to the 2. Bundesliga last year after a season in the Bundesliga couldn’t have gone much worse, with a succession of coaches failing to halt the side, and just Fabian Schleusener and a matter of seconds separating them from a second-successive descent.
This year, it was meant to be different. In Robert Krauß, they had hired a young, ambitious coach, fresh from learning his trade in the Red Bull machine, with the experienced Dieter Hecking above him to offer guidance and give him the players he needed to carry out his project. Promotion wasn’t necessarily expected but surely it couldn’t be any worse than last year, right?
The defeat last week to Hannover was the strongest indication a repeat could be on the cards. That was then followed by a 1-0 defeat to SSV Jahn Regensburg, going down to a late Andreas Albers goal, before a 2-0 reverse at SV Sandhausen on Sunday, with Nils Röseler and ex-Fürth man Daniel Keita-Ruel, of all people, capping a disastrous January that has seen them pick up just one point in six games.
There have been consequences. The promising Bayern midfielder Sarpreet Singh has been sent packing, criticised by Krauß for his attitude and performances in training. Mats Møller Dæhli, so impressive when at St. Pauli, and Dennis Borkowski, borrowed from Krauß old club, have been brought in to help an attack beleaguered by injuries and poor form.
Robin Hack and Manuel Schäffler have shouldered the attacking burden in recent weeks, as Nikola Dovedan continues to operate below all expectations, Schleusener struggles to make an impact (his goal against Ingolstadt remains his sole strike in 39 appearances), and injury deprives them of the services of Pascal Köpke and Felix Lohkemper.
The absence in particular of Lohkemper, due to a hip problem, has directly coincided with the awful run since the New Year. He had underwhelmed last season and had hardly set the world alight with Magdeburg the year before. Yet he was a player transformed at the start of this season, forming an understanding with the likes of Schäfler, scoring four and assisting five, and, whilst obviously an overstatement, he was like Nürnberg’s own Lionel Messi.
Krauß has also been let down by senior players though. Captain Enrico Valentini has been showing signs of wearing down, with a long-term injury for Oliver Sorg meaning there is no viable alternative. Christian Mathenia, however, is most symbolic of the collapse in the past couple of weeks.
At fault for two goals in the hammering to Hannover, he did not cover himself in glory either as Sandhausen went 1-0 up late in the first half on Sunday. He fluffed an attempted punch on the corner from Besar Halimi, with his teammates then unable to clear the danger. He was then unable to regain his composure in time to stop the low-lying shot from Röseler, which was more than reachable.
One mitigating factor is that Krauß is, for the most part, working with a squad that has changed little last season. Perhaps it is unsurprising therefore that the find themselves just a point better off than they were after 19 games last season, and are 14th in the table, just two points clear of Sandhausen 16th and three of 17th-placed Eintracht Braunschweig. And with all the teams behind them continuing to pick up points, they need a win – fast.
Krauß tried to focus on the positives after the game – believing it to be a better performance despite the result – and both he and Hecking are trying to fight off talk of a ‘panic’ and a ‘crisis’. Krauß has been backed, despite his inexperience at this level, but the knives are out elsewhere, amongst the fans and the press.
There is hope in the promise brought in by the new signings – Møller Dæhli had a decent debut in Sandhausen – whilst Lohkemper, and perhaps Sorg, will return in time. If Mathenia doesn’t improve, they have Christian Früchtl, another on loan from Bayern, waiting in the wings.
Yet there was more bad news on Monday, with confirmation that Schäffler had broken his thumb during the course of the game in Sandhausen. He will be operated on later in the week and is likely to be out for weeks. And that came after police had to separate the team coach from their angry fans on their return to Franconia on Sunday night. It’s not going to get easier for Krauß.
▪ If Nürnberg were the biggest losers, the big winners of the ‘English week’ in the 2. Bundesliga are Karlsruher SC. The draw against Heidenheim was followed up by victories over both Hannover 96 and VfL Bochum, with Christian Eichner’s men, unbeaten in 2021, creeping up to fifth in the table. Hamburger SV are for now in control at the top though after a convincing 3-1 win against SC Paderborn 07, with Karlsruhe’s win in Bochum keeping Daniel Thioune’s side four points clear. Holstein Kiel and SpVgg Greuther Fürth, third and fourth respectively, have both picked up seven points in the last three games as well.
▪ Hannover recovered from the Karlsruhe defeat with a win against out-of-form VfL Osnabrück on Monday night, however despite his side’s indifferent season, Kenan Kocak has been forced to back his existing squad with no new arrivals in January. His working relationship with general manager Gerhard Zuber has been described by club supremo Martin Kind as “difficult” after a tense window. Zuber refused to sign Kocak’s desired target, such as Mehmet Ekici, whilst Kocak vetoed players suggested to him by Zuber. The impasse is likely to be unsustainable, especially if the club aren’t promoted in May.
▪ Deadline day was a quiet on in the league, although Osnabrück were in the market, making a double coup with attackers Sebastian Müller and Jay-Roy Grot. Karlsruhe have brought Kevin Wimmer back to Germany, Würzburger Kickers signed Georginio Wijnaldum’s half-brother Rajiv van La Parra, whilst Darmstadt, Paderborn and Sandhausen also brought in fresh faces. Darmstadt have signed midfielder Samuele Campo, Nikolaos Zografakis, a winger from VfB Stuttgart II, joins Sandhausen and Paderborn added defender Nicolas Bürgy.
▪ 1. FC Heidenheim had pulled off a ‘hammer’ transfer over the weekend by bringing back Tim Kleindienst on loan after a disappointing six months at KAA Gent. Frank Schmidt threw last season’s top scorer straight in for the game against FC St. Pauli on Sunday and he immediately delivered with a brace. However he was on the losing side, with St. Pauli holding on to a lead at the fourth time of asking, Rodrigo Zalazar scoring the winner in a thriller.
▪ SV Darmstadt 98 ended their four-game losing streak in midweek against Sandhausen, winning 2-1 after going behind in barely more than 30 seconds, before a draw with Regensburg three days later. After both games, Markus Anfang was left raging at the time added on – even more in Regensburg as Kaan Caliskaner’s equaliser came in the seventh added minute. There had been an injury in the five originally added, but where that five came from to begin with was anyone’s guess.
Matchday 18 Results
FC Erzgebirge Aue 2-1 Würzburger Kickers
Eintracht Braunschweig 1-0 1. FC Heidenheim
Fortuna Düsseldorf 0-0 Hamburger SV
VfL Osnabrück 0-1 SpVgg Greuther Fürth
SV Darmstadt 98 2-1 SV Sandhausen
Karlsruher SC 1-0 Hannover 96
1. FC Nürnberg 0-1 SSV Jahn Regensburg
SC Paderborn 07 1-1 Holstein Kiel
FC St. Pauli 2-3 VfL Bochum
Matchday 19 Results
SpVgg Greuther Fürth 3-0 FC Erzgebirge Aue
Würzburger Kickers 2-1 Fortuna Düsseldorf
Hamburger SV 3-1 SC Paderborn 07
Holstein Kiel 3-1 Eintracht Braunschweig
SSV Jahn Regensburg 1-1 SV Darmstadt 98
VfL Bochum 1-2 Karlsruher SC
1. FC Heidenheim 3-4 FC St. Pauli
SV Sandhausen 2-0 1. FC Nürnberg
Hannover 96 1-0 VfL Osnabrück