The Bundesliga 2 season is ending, and it is increasingly apparent which clubs will return to Germany’s top flight. At the top of the league, Darmstadt and Heidenheim look like favorites for automatic promotion, with both being at least three points clear of the third-placed side Hamburg SV. Hamburg, meanwhile, is four points clear from fourth, meaning they will likely face either Stuttgart or Bochum in the Bundesliga promotion/relegation playoff.
A minimum of two of these three teams will be promoted, possibly all three, but promotion is basically impossible for the other 15 Bundesliga 2 teams. As a result, many of the league’s top players will move on in the summer, looking to play at a higher level. Here are five that could make a move.
Michał Karbownik, 22, Fortuna Düsseldorf
Technically speaking, Düsseldorf isn’t out of the promotion race. The club is fourth in the league, but they are four points behind Hamburg with three games remaining. Not impossible, but a very daunting task.
If Düsseldorf was promoted, left-back Michał Karbownik would be a big reason why. The Poland international has one goal and five assists this season, directly contributing to one in every nine of the club’s goals this season. He’s also been helpful on defense, with 19 interceptions, 13 tackles, and 13 clearances, and his versatility allows him to play in midfield as well.
Karbownik is on loan from Brighton, who he joined in 2020 from Ekstraklasa side Legia Warsaw. He’s spent the past few seasons out on loan and, with the season Brighton is having, it’s not likely he comes back to the first team. A move to a mid or low-table Bundesliga side that lacks depth could make sense, as could a move to a strong Championship side.
Tim Breithaupt, 21, Karlsruher
After an up-and-down past few seasons, Karlsruher is firmly in the middle of the league this season — not good enough for promotion but safe from relegation. However, they could be even higher in the league if not for Breithaupt’s injury.
Tim Breithaupt has been a fixture in Karlsruher’s midfield for a few seasons and currently has over 50 appearances in the 2 Bundesliga. This season, he featured in each of the club’s opening 22 matches before suffering an ankle fracture that has kept him sidelined since. Before his injury, the German youth international was having a fine campaign, with 24 tackles won and 29 interceptions.
While his injury may keep him from moving this summer, Breithaupt has spent enough time in the second tier. A move to the Bundesliga would be great, and Breithaupt has been linked with Augsburg and Mönchengladbach in the past.
Ao Tanaka, 24, Fortuna Düsseldorf
Few leagues sign more Japanese players than the Bundesliga — eight of the 26 players in Japan’s World Cup squad that beat Germany play in either the Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2. Ao Tanaka was a key part of Japan’s World Cup team: they won both of the matches he started (Germany and Spain) but lost the two he didn’t (Costa Rica and Croatia). He even won the Man of the Match award against Spain, finding the winner to send Japan to the Round of 16.
Tanaka’s Düsseldorf stats are similar, with the club losing nearly 50% of the matches he’s missed this season. He also has plenty of experience, having spent last season on loan with Düsseldorf before making the move permanent, having previously been a J League star. This season, Tanaka has been a force in midfield, with 22 tackles, 19 interceptions, and 13 clearances.
However, Tanaka does have a history of injuries — in 2016 he suffered a serious knee injury, and he has suffered two more this season. Similarly to Breithaupt, he might miss out on a transfer this summer because of his injuries, but he would be a bargain signing for a team willing to take a risk.
Robin Hack, 24, Bielefeld
It’s been a rough two seasons for Bielefeld: last season, they were relegated from the Bundesliga to the Bundesliga 2, with just 28 points in 34 games. Now, they are once again battling relegation, this time trying to avoid playing in Germany’s third tier.
Robin Hack has been a rare bright spot for the club: he has 14 goal contributions this season, one of the highest tallies in the league. This included some strong performances such as his goal and two assists vs Holstein Kiel and his brace against Kaiserslautern, who still won the match. Last season in the Bundesliga, Hack impressed when he played, with three assists in 13 starts.
Hack is almost definitely leaving Bielefeld whether they get relegated or not, as there is reported interest from numerous Bundesliga sides, including Mönchengladbach. However, it might make sense to move to a lower-table team so he can become an established starter first — soon to-be promoted Darmstadt or Heidenheim could be options.
Mikkel Kaufmann, 22, Karlsruher
It’s been a very good year for Nordic strikers. Erling Haaland is arguably the best player in the world right now. Zlatan Ibrahimovic might finally win the Champions League, even if he didn’t play. Rasmus Hojlund is having a breakout season with Atalanta.
Right now, though, there’s another Nordic striker flying under the radar: Mikkel Kaufmann. Though he started the season slowly — just two goals by winter break — he’s hit a patch of unreal form in recent weeks. The Danish striker has eight goals in his last eleven matches, also chipping in with four assists during that time. Overall, he has 17 goal contributions, meaning Kaufmann is responsible for nearly one in every three Karlsruher goals this season.
Kaufmann is on loan from Danish side FC Copenhagen, and he’s expected to make the move permanent this summer. However, there’s no reason he couldn’t move to another club, whether Karlsruher purchases him or not — he would be a great signing for most Bundesliga sides, or he could return to Denmark.
Image Courtesy of Rüdiger Müller, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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