SC Paderborn 07; 2013/14 – 2nd in Bundesliga 2 (Promoted)
Paderborn will be enjoying their first ever season in the Bundesliga this campaign, and were delighted to find that their Benteler Arena will host their opening game against Mainz, a side that have also worked their way upwards to a lofty position – a role model that Andre Breitenreiter’s side will be trying to emulate.
If there was one thing that typified Paderborn’s campaign it was goals. Not the 15-0 by which they won their first friendly this season against Verne, nor the 14-0 by which they won the second, against Geseke. Not even the 26-1 by which they larruped Oesterholz-Kohlstaedt (rather poetically, Paderborn’s website describes the avalanche of goals – which took eight minutes to begin – ‘came like ripe fruit’). They were rather brought down to earth in their fourth friendly this season – a 2-0 defeat by Arminia Bielefeld, with both strikes headers from corners within the first two minutes.
Goals, though, at both ends, were a feature – the 3.26 goal per game average the highest in Bundeliga 2 by a quarter – indeed, one has to go down to eighth spot to see a team that conceded more, St Pauli (49) than Paderborn’s 48. The club have made a number of additions over the summer, but all have been midfielders or forwards, so it is fair to assume that Breitenreiter’s intentions will sway more towards the scoring rather than the prevention of goals.
Breitenreiter’s formations last season veered towards a 4-4-2, with Mahir Saglik and Elias Kachunga often doing the striking duty – the former ending the season as the league’s joint top scorer with 15 while Kachunga has made his loan move from Mönchengladbach permanent over the summer, and the numbers have been bolstered by Stefan Kutschke of Wolfsburg (scored 5 of the 26 during the half he played) and highly-rated Marvin Duksch from Dortmund (who missed the game). Even Moritz Stoppelkamp, ostensibly a wide player, (3/26) acknowledged that he’s quite happy playing up top on his arrival.
There is no shortage of action in the midfield, either. Mario Vrancic topped the charts with eight assists last season, but playing in a slightly more advanced role than the Croat was Albanian set-piece specialist Alban Meha. The Snaiper (Sniper) as he has become known bagged himself twelve goals last season and, should Paderborn be given any dead balls around the box, he is as deadly as his name suggest. The Juninho Pernambucano comparisons are an exaggeration, but not by too much.
Equally, while their players are some way short of the ability one would see at Dortmund or Bayern Munich the intensity of Paderborn’s play and their willingness to attack should mean they fit right into the Bundesliga, ensuring that even if they don’t take it by storm, they are still able to give a good account of themselves on the way.
There was a decisive game for Paderborn against Greuther Fürth broadcast on British television that not only served as a fine advert for Bundesliga 2 football, but also was fairly typical of Paderborn as a whole – it ended 2-2; the goal that put the home side 2-1 up, from Marc Vucinovic, was a rocket from 25 yards and although they swarmed all over Greuther (whom they had just overtaken in the league) a third goal would not come and, in the end, they were undone by a last-gasp equaliser. Fürth were one of the better teams – frequently Paderborn did manage to over-run their opponents; a 4-0 win against Bielefeld, 4-1 against Bochum, 3-0 against St Pauli, even a 1-6 win at Fortuna Düsseldorf (though Fortuna had the last laugh, inflicting Paderborn’s sole post-Christmas home defeat).
Equally, such a pro-active style of play brought about a few beatings, too – one extreme week going from that 4-1 win against Bochum to a 4-0 defeat at Karlsruhe – yet in Bundesliga 2, the attacking intent was often enough to undo teams. Of course, a league higher means there’ll be more of a challenge.
Can They Stay Up? Although Lukas Kruse might get used to picking the ball out of his net, Paderborn have given themselves every chance of out-gunning some of their lesser Bundesliga opponents. That said, some decent predictive models had them down as relegation candidates during the early part of last season, and look how than ended up. I’m going to edge just on the side of safe – I like what I’ve seen of Duksch, and the games I got to see of Paderborn last year fill me with encouragement.
Incidentally, if you want to catch Paderborn before their first Bundesliga season starts they have games planned against both Wigan Athletic and Everton.
Racing Club de Lens, le Sang et Or (the red and gold) were promoted to Ligue 1 after finishing second in Ligue 2 behind Metz last season. After a season of joy in Nord-Pas-De-Calais, it has been a summer of frustration on two separate fronts.
Renovations Enforcing Absence
As a result of France winning the bid to host Euro 2016, RC Lens’ Stadium, the Stade Felix-Bollaert, is scheduled to host a number of games at the tournament. Last renovated in 1998, it is not a crumbling wreck of a ground, but nor is it one of UEFA’s elite stadia. In order to improve the state of their home ground – and, rather oddly, reduce the capacity from 41,000 to 35,000, RC Lens have agreed that they will leave the stadium for the whole of next season, something that makes their promotion last season seem particularly poorly timed.
“I wish we were playing in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and in the same stadium, preferably, for our fans,” admitted president Gervais Martel.
Lens as a Ligue 1 club generally average an attendance of 25,000, so there’s still stadia within Nord-Pas-De-Calais that could hold them, notably in Valenciennes (25,000) and Lille (50,000), but also a little further afield in Amiens (12,000) and Calais (12,500) – outside the region, the Stade de France has offered to host RC Lens next season, though the winds would howl through the empty seats if they were to take up the offer of an 80,000 seat stadium some 120 miles away.
As well as being the closest, Lille appeared to be the sensible option. France is not a country in which groundshares occur regularly, as two-city clubs are rare in the extreme. However, Lille’s new Stade Pierre Mauroy is the only really viable option to regularly host another Ligue 1 team. The snag is here is that Lille’s stadium is owned by a PPP (a private-public partnership) company who may have received €45 million from the region to help with construction costs, but are under no obligation to cede to the wishes of the region now building is complete. Nord-Pas-De-Calais can suggest it would be better for Les Dogues to allow Lens to play at their home but their request has fallen on deaf ears; particularly frustrating for Le Sang et Or after they twice hosted Champions League campaigns for Lille.
Valenciennes’ situation is slightly different in that their club president does not have the power of veto, but there is a definite sentiment against sharing with Lens, within the club though Vert-Marine (who run the stadium) would probably allow the ground-share should they be forced to do so. There is a regulation stating that a club cannot play at more than one ‘home’ stadium over the course of a season, and Martel insists it is in this spirit – for the bigger games – that he was hoping his club would be allowed to play in Lille, rather than every game for the course of a spell that is likely to last around 18 months. Lens have played at both Valenciennes and the Stade de France in the past, it is worth noting.
For now, though, that is how it is, and unless somebody finds a big enough stick to beat Lille with (and in no way could you suggest Lille are specifically in the wrong for looking after their own interests first excepting that it inconveniences one of their rivals) then Lens are without a home for their first Ligue 1 campaign in 3 years.
Finances Enforcing Absence
Which is where the second problem comes in. Ligue 1, being the bastion of Fair Play that it undoubtedly is, requires a balance of €10 million in each club’s accounts that wish to compete. Lens’ Azerbaijani owner has yet to stump up the cash so, as of Tuesday 15th July, the club can no longer consider itself a Ligue 1 club rather a Ligue 2 club who were never promoted. From a practical point of view, there is no firm decision made by the league as to which club would take Lens’ place in the top flight, though suggestion are that Sochaux, with Herve Renard in charge, would be favourites to see their relegation annulled.
Martel himself has insisted that the money is on its way from Azerbaijani owner Hafiz Mammadov, but his explanations of, first, the club changing accounts from Credit Agricole then the payment being sent but with the wrong IBAN code are, at best, flimsy. The decision taken on 15th July, to disallow Lens from Ligue 1 is the right one, however painful it may seem, though if Martel can finally secure payment from Mammadov before the next appeal before the CNOSF, there is little to suggest they would not be reinstated – though whether he is able to do so, of course, remains up in the air. One thing he has confirmed, though, promotion or no, is that Antoine Kombouaré will remain in charge.
Yet Life Goes On.
That same Tuesday 15th as they were effectively relegated, RC Lens travelled to Boulogne for a first friendly match of the season, with two very different sides lining up in each half, but each in Kombouaré’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. The first half started sprightly enough with last season’s top scorer Yoann Touzghar tapping in from a Chavarria cross; thereon, Racing did not have their way, conceding first from a deflected shot by Dia and, in the second half header from Rainier to give Boulogne a lead they held on to.
Of course, the players can only gain fitness and sharpness in view of the season to come; and in that respect, it won’t matter which division they’re in. They will next play on Friday evening, a friendly at Troyes (of course ‘at’ – their own ground is out of bounds currently). For a club who have won Ligue 1 in their time, the wait to hear their fate is unedifying and sad yet, if you look around Europe’s second tiers, not unheard of. It was a similar problem that befell Bologna as they were relegated from Serie A to Serie B, though they are likely to begin their campaign in the latter division.