After matchday 13, Arminia Bielefeld is at the top of the 2. Bundesliga. How did this happen?
On Sunday, Die Blauen produced a rout as they thrashed 1. FC Nürnberg on their own patch at the Max-Morlock-Stadion in Bavaria. It was a sixth successive victory on their travels in the league.
Arminia have been full of mediocrity since their relegation from the Bundesliga in 2009, even spending three seasons in the third tier, between 2011-13 and the 2014-15 campaign. Survival in the second tier was the sole aim in 2015-16, something they had failed to do in two of their three previous attempts at this level.
A 12th-place finish was on the cards that year before a narrow escape in finishing 14th the following season. However, the North Rhine-Westphalia club took a turn for the better two years ago when they finished in a surprise fourth position, narrowly missing out on the promotion playoffs. They appear to have established themselves in the division since, finishing seventh last time out.
Promotion was certainly not among expectations heading into the 2019-20 2. Bundesliga campaign, particularly after losing key defender Julian Borner to English Championship club Sheffield Wednesday over the summer.
The club have been hurt by finances over the past decade or so. In fact, it goes way back further. They have had to develop from within. Two seasons ago this started with the appointment of Jeff Saibene as head coach. Little was known of the former Luxembourg footballer when he arrived in Germany, particularly that he had been a firefighter back home.
Saibene knew his football, guiding the team up to a surprise fourth place finish after narrowly avoiding relegation the season before. Previously managing in Switzerland, Saibene was shown the doors at the Bielefelder Alm in December 2018 when the club was down in 14th place in the table.
Little did the club board appreciate what the current FC Ingolstadt head coach left behind. The fans were, however, disappointed.
Fortunately, they appear to have made the right move in appointing Uwe Neuhaus as his replacement. The former Union Berlin and Dynamo Dresden man guided the team to a seventh place finish during the second half of last season. That success has continued into the current campaign, which sees Arminia top of the table after 13 games as we head into the November international break.
His team are dictating the tempo of games as they play to his philosophy: lots of possession in a 4-3-3 formation. He certainly hasn’t been expected to take Arminia to these great heights that the club haven’t seen for the best part of a decade. The club simply cannot pull players like Hamburger SV, VfB Stuttgart, Nürnberg and Hannover 96 can and do in this division. The acquisition of a player like Marcel Hartel, from Union Berlin, for example, has been huge for this club.
Fabian Klos and Andreas Voglsammer have been a huge factor in the club’s success – scoring 18 of their 29 goals to date. Klos has been the club’s top goalscorer for seven of the past eight seasons, with Voglsammer topping the list at the end of the 2017-18 campaign.
An injury to either forward would all but end Arminia Bielefeld’s unlikely promotion back to the Bundesliga. But continue to play the way they play, then their fans may be able to dream come the end of the season…