PREVIEW: WEEKEND GERMAN ACTION
The German 2. Bundesliga gets underway, with Matt Taylor and Paderborn visiting newly-promoted Hansa Rostock and Ricardo Clark and Eintracht Frankfurt looking to begin their promotion campaign at Fürth.
SpVgg Greuther Fürth - Eintracht Frankfurt
Ricardo Clark will look to see substitute minutes on Friday as Eintracht Frankfurt begin their season with a trip to Greuther Fürth, with a quick return to the top flight in mind.
Frankfurt's previous season ended in heartbreak, with a 17th-place finish in the 1. Bundesliga ending their six-season run in the top flight. As the team has maintained a strong core of their team, they are widely expected to only have a short stay in the second tier.
Under the guidance of new coach Armin Veh, who has experienced success in the Bundesliga, most notably winning the championship with Stuttgart in 2007, they have the tools to dominate the division in a similar manner as last season's 2. Bundesliga winners Hertha Berlin.
Clark has split time between the defense and midfield in preseason, however will likely begin the game on the bench and remain a second-half substitute option for Veh.
Frankfurt begin their 2011-12 campaign against a Fürth team which has continually come close to making the jump, however has consistently missed out by often narrow margins.
Last season was perhaps their closest call, as their fourth-place finish saw them just four points off of the promotion playoff, leaving them hungry to finally succeed in the new season.
Fürth come into the season relatively healthy, with only new arrival Robert Zillner missing with a shoulder injury suffered at the end of the previous season with Unterhaching, and forward Dani Schahin out for several weeks with a meniscus problem.
Frankfurt see a number of players on the sidelines, as defenders Habib Bellaid and Georgios Tzavellas are both recovering from knee injuries, forward Martin Fenin is out with a muscle pull and former Werder Bremen defender Dominik Schmidt is still regaining his fitness from an earlier injury.
Additionally, former team captain and leading striker Ioannis Amanatidis has been released from the team and is currently embroiled in a legal dispute over the status of his contract.
FC St. Pauli - FC Ingolstadt 04
Edson Buddle will look to begin a strong 2011-12 campaign on Saturday as Ingolstadt begin their season with a trip north to face former 1. Bundesliga team St. Pauli.
Buddle and Ingolstadt put together a strong spring campaign to finish the 2010-11 season well clear of relegation, and will try to build on that performance in a push to establish themselves as a solid middle-of-the-pack team in the division.
They did well to hold onto nearly all of the important pieces of their lineup, and will hope the team can continue their momentum under popular head coach Benno Möhlmann into the new season.
While facing a team which was competing in the top level less than two months ago, they still hold a good chance of beginning with a success on the road as their opponents St. Pauli have seen a large number of their previously on-loan starters return to their parent clubs, leaving them a much weakened team as compared to last season.
Most importantly, the Pirates of the League are now facing life after the departure of club legend Holger Stanislawski for Hoffenheim, who had effectively been at the club since 1993, first as a player, although more recently as the team's coach since 2006.
In addition to the team departures, St. Pauli have a number of injuries to contend with. Defenders Moritz Volz and Carlos Zambrano are both out due to broken leg and thigh problem, midfielder Dennis Daube with a torn knee ligament, and forwards Marius Ebbers and Rouwen Hennings are sidelined due to respective adductor and groin problems.
Ingolstadt are almost fully healthy heading into the game, with only defender Tobias Fink absent with a broken nose.
Hansa Rostock - SC Paderborn 07
Matt Taylor will look for a successful start on his return to the 2. Bundesliga on Sunday when Paderborn hit the road to pay a visit to newly-promoted Hansa Rostock.
A highly successful campaign with 3. Liga team Ahlen last season earned Taylor a lengthy contract with Paderborn, and he should be in their starting lineup from the opening minute as they try to get the new season off on the right foot.
Taylor has been a scoring machine in the team's pre-season games, and a continuance of his run which began last season upon his arrival at Ahlen will be welcome by the team in the upcoming term.
Rostock are back in the division after their short yet dominant stay in the 3. Liga, and will surely provide a difficult opening test for Paderborn as the season gets underway.
Both teams come into the game relatively healthy. Rostock defender will miss the chance to debut against his former team as he recovers from a broken rib, while Paderborn forward Sören Brandy is out with a pulled muscle.
Eintracht Braunschweig - TSV 1860 Munich
TSV 1860 Munich forward Bobby Wood will look to begin a breakout season at the club on Sunday when they visit 3. Liga champions Eintracht Braunschweig.
After his promotion to 1860's first team in early-2010, Wood has established himself as one of their most promising young players to watch and is almost certain to figure in heavily in the new season.
The versatile attacker is projected to be used by head coach Reiner Maurer as a first-choice bench player behind forwards Benjamin Lauth and Kevin Volland, and will almost certainly be one of the first options off the bench for the team.
1860's continual financial turmoil may have finally come to a halt during the summer break thanks to a major investment by Jordanian businessman Hasan Ismaik, which while causing a major uproar amongst many fans, has given them the wherewithal to have legitimate promotion hopes in the upcoming seasons.
A season-opening win against Braunschweig - who stormed through the 3. Liga with little opposition - would go a long way towards convincing critical fans of their intent.
Braunschweig will be missing defender Deniz Dogan, who is out with a broken leg. 1860 have several critical injuries; defender Necat Aygün is out for the immediate future with a fractured bone in his face, midfielder Stefan Aigner with a muscle pull, and new arrival Collin Benjamin is absent for the time being with an Achilles problem.
Karlsruhe SC - MSV Duisburg
Luis Robles will hope to begin the new season for Karlsruhe on the field when the team hosts MSV Duisburg.
Robles received a break during the off-season as the team released his main competition for the role of starting keeper, however is currently locked in a battle with new arrival Dirk Orlishausen for the number-one spot.
Whoever should begin Sunday's game between the posts, they will be at the rear of a defense which desperately needs to improve last season, where they were regularly torched by opposing teams for heavily lopsided losses.
Duisburg are also looking to improve on a largely disappointing 2010-11 season, however their ultimate goal is promotion to the 1. Bundesliga, which they missed last time around thanks to a dramatic collapse throughout the early months of the year.
Karlsruhe are without newcomer Marcus Piossek, as the former Ahlen midfielder is recovering from a shoulder operation. Additionally, forward Andrei Cristea is still working back to fitness following a knee operation, and forward Moses Lamidi is out with a muscle pull.
For Duisburg, midfielder Ivica Grlic is set to miss the game with a minor knee problem and forward Srdjan Baljak is still recovering from an ACL tear.