Every season, newly promoted clubs enter their domestic leagues with generally the same goal: to survive and avoid relegation. That is no different for the two promoted teams in the Bundesliga.
Despite most of the attention and glamour going toward the top clubs in each league battling for trophies and European places, the promoted teams always have fascinating narratives to follow every year. Whether they are overachieving and challenging for higher positions in the table or struggling to win and succumbing to the dismal fate of relegation, each new team in world football’s domestic leagues has something to offer.
Promoted Teams in the Bundesliga
In Germany’s top flight, the return of Stuttgart this season has been a welcome addition to the league as the five-time national champions are one of the country’s largest clubs, boasting a state-of-the-art 60,000 capacity stadium in the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
By far, Stuttgart are the most accomplished of any of the recently promoted teams in the Bundesliga, having won the league in 2006/07. Their relegation in 2018/19 to the second division was catastrophic, but they were able to rebound last season after finishing second place in the 2. Bundesliga, gaining automatic promotion.
Stuttgart’s season so far has been nothing short of a massive success. They are currently in ninth place, having accumulated 33 points from 24 matches while scoring 45 goals – which is the fifth-highest in the Bundesliga. The standout result for the club this season came on December 12, 2020, when Stuttgart travelled to Borussia Dortmund and obliterated Der BVB 5-1, with a brace from midfielder Silas Wamangituka.
The New Jersey Man
The manager of Stuttgart is Pellegrino Matarazzo, an Italian American who was born in Wayne, New Jersey and played college soccer at Columbia University in New York City. At 43, Matarazzo has quickly risen in the coaching ranks, working as a youth coach at Nürnberg before managing the Hoffenheim U17 team in 2017. During the 2018/19 season, Matarazzo served as assistant manager at Hoffenheim to then-German upstart coach Julian Nagelsmann, whose high intensity pressing tactics the New Jersey native has since implemented at Stuttgart.
In December 2019, Matarazzo was appointed to lead Stuttgart during the second half of the 2. Bundesliga season, which he did with great success. Under his watch, Die Roten picked up 27 points from the final 16 matches and finished in second, edging out promotion rivals 1.FC Heidenheim and Hamburger SV on the final matchday.
This season, Stuttgart have primarily played a fast-paced game in a 3-4-2-1 formation, with a focus on counterattacking to score their goals. In the famous victory over Dortmund, Stuttgart only had 28 per cent possession but were lethal on the break, scoring five goals as a result.
However, the high pressing strategy has also yielded 14 matches (of 24) where Stuttgart finished with higher possession than their opponents, primarily the clubs lower in the table. This style of play benefited Wamangituka and centre-forward Sasa Kalajdzic, who lead the club in scoring with 13 goals each. Matarazzo’s flexible tactics created an exciting side, which has led to an excellent first season back in the Bundesliga.
Arminia Bielefeld were promoted as champions of the 2. Bundesliga, making their first appearance in the top division since 2008/09. Unfortunately for the club, their return to the Bundesliga has not gone according to plan as they currently sit in 16th place, with only 19 points from 24 matches.
If the season ended today, Bielefeld would be in the relegation playoffs, where they would play a two-legged tie against the third-placed team in the second division, to try to stay in the Bundesliga.
One of the major issues for Die Blauen this season is their inability to score goals as they only have 18 so far, which is the second-fewest in the league. Their defence has also been poor, conceding 43 times, tied for third-most overall. As a result, Bielefeld have only won five matches this season, the last coming on January 20, ironically against Stuttgart. In fact, their four additional wins were against all of the other clubs battling for survival: Hertha Berlin, Köln, Mainz 05 and Schalke.
That Night in Munich
However, Bielefeld’s most impressive performance this season came on February 15 when they went to Munich and drew 3-3 with Bayern Munich, the current world and European champions. They even led the match by two goals twice, 2-0 after 37 minutes and 3-1 after 49 minutes. Despite Bayern coming back to avoid defeat, Bielefeld’s ability to draw away at arguably the best team in the world was a massive result. Even if they are relegated, it will be a match to remember.
Focus on Youth
Forty-eight-year-old Frank Kramer leads the way for Bielefeld, who was just appointed on March 2, following the sacking of former manager Uwe Neuhaus. Even though Neuhaus guided the club to promotion last season, the recent terrible form forced the club hierarchy to make a change, hiring Kramer with the hope that the German will be able to save the season and avoid relegation.
Kramer previously managed Fortuna Düsseldorf during the 2. Bundesliga 2015/16 season, but lasted only 17 matches, after accumulating just 16 points. He then worked in the German national team youth system, coaching the U18, U19 and U20 teams for three years, before becoming academy manager of RB Salzburg for the 2019/20 season.
His experience working with younger players was one of the reasons for his appointment by Bielefeld, since the average age of the squad is 25.2 years old, tied for the fifth-youngest in the Bundesliga.
In the end, if Bielefeld is to survive in the top flight this year, they are going to have to score more goals and get more production from forward Fabian Klos and right-winger Ritsu Doan, who both lead the team in scoring with just three goals. With fixtures still to come against four of the five teams they have already defeated, there is hope, but it will not be easy.