The Zweite Bundesliga has always been a source of great talents for the Bundesliga and the rest of Europe – this summer shall be no different.
One of the most exciting title races this year, the 2. Bundesliga has historically always been well-regarded for its technical level and has been the breeding ground for several German talents over the years.
Pascal Groß has been one of the league’s most effective exports in recent years. He transferred from FC Ingolstadt 04 to Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League and has since flourished under Chris Hughton first and now Graham Potter.
There have been plenty others, of course. French international Benjamin Pavard left Lille for VfB Stuttgart and established himself as a very solid defensive presence, comfortable at either full-back or centre-half.
After the pandemic affecting club finances last year, this summer might be a return to normalcy in terms of player transfers in German football and beyond.
FTF takes a look at five U23 players in the 2.Bundesliga who have impressed thus far and are worth keeping an eye on.
Age – 22
Club: Erzgebirge Aue
Role: Center forward
Market value via Transfermarkt: £3.60m
Spearheading Erzgebirge Aue’s attack this season is former Schlake U19 player, Florian Krüger.
The Germany U21 international has been capped at various levels with the national-level and has shown signs of becoming a very potent attacker across the front line in his time so far with Die Veilchen.
Standing at 6’1″., Krüger is a typical modern day German forward, comfortable playing up front or cutting inside off the left or attacking the penalty area from the right wing. Attacking the channels or the penalty area, he
Krüger is the top scorer in the league for U23 players and is also the fourth highest overall for goal contributions this season with 16 goals and assists. What makes his achievements all the more impressive is that he plays in an Erzgebirge Aue that don’t enjoy a lot of the ball. Therefore, he has to ensure that he takes every other chance that he gets. And he does.
Erzgebirge Aue average the third lowest possession in the 2.Bundesliga at 44.7%, they are also fairly passive in terms of their defending. This is further evidenced by their PPDA [ passes per defensive action ] which is 16.71 at the time of writing.
Talking about Krüger’s figures in a bit more detail, he isn’t a high-volume shooter by any means. Averaging 1.8 shots per90 so far this season, his opportunities for shots have more often than not come as a result of counter-attacks or set-pieces.
Running off the shoulder of the last defender or pulling his marker out wide, Krüger is comfortable at doing both. He is not one for showing power in his strikes when he scores, focusing more on the placement than the momentum itself. More often than not, he likes to shape himself in a way to use the instep in an attempt to finesse the ball. The numbers suggest that his technique works well, as almost 55% of his shots have been on target so far this season.
Krüger does well when tasked with feeding his team-mates as well. His runs towards the byline allows his team-mates to find space in front of the penalty area. Then, Krüger’s well-timed cutbacks has seen assist quite a few goals this season, 6 to be precise.
At 22, no doubt that the German has a lot of room for improvement, however, one can safely assume that his talents would do well in a higher division too.
2. Bakery Jatta
Age – 22
Club – Hamburger SV
Role: Wide attacker
Market value via Transfermarkt: £1.80m
22 year old Gambian international Bakery Jatta has had a rollercoaster of a year. After having his identity unfairly disputed by German media, the Hamburg winger was the subject of multiple investigations and headlines. However, there was no proof whatsoever of any wrongdoing on his part and HSV fans stood strong behind their star player during those tough times.
In what has been one of the most exciting title races in recent history in the Zweite Bundesliga, Hamburger’s push for promotion has been fueled by the incredible displays of Simon Terodde up top. In addition to him, the players behind him, particulary Jatta, have had a fantastic year as well.
With Sonny Kittel flanking the other wing, Jatta and Kittel make for a dynamic duo who are very direct in their style of play. In fact, their contributions are a major reason why Daniel Thioune’s team are such a great watch as well.
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Four goals and two assists so far this season is by no means a great return. Nonetheless, Jatta’s importance to Hamburger is more than just his goal contributions.
He is comfortable playing on either flank and loves to take on his markers and get past them with skill and physique. Amongst the high volume dribblers in the league, Jatta stands out. Attempting nearly six dribbles per game and with an overall success rate of 67%.
Jatta contributes well in terms of defensive duties too. Behind him, Joshua Vagnoman is another exciting young prospect. The two of them combine to make Hamburger’s right flank a threat for any side on their day.
Jatta attempts to engage in almost six defensive duels per game and wins nearly 68% of those. His height and physicality means that he can be a reliable presence during set-pieces at both ends of the pitch. He is quite comfortable in the air as well, winning 50% of his attempted 4.7 aerial duels per game.
All of these facets make Jatta a player to keep an eye on for the Bundesliga sides and teams across Europe as well. It’d be interesting to see where his career takes him next if Hamburger decide to cash in on his talents.
3. Erik Wekesser
Age – 23
Club – Jahn Regensburg
Role – Left back
Market value via Transfermarkt: £630Th
Jahn Regensburg may well be in the lower echelons of the 2.Bundesliga however, they do have a player amidst their ranks who belongs in the upper echelons. Erik Wekesser, at left full-back is one who impressive for a number of key metrics this season.
Just over two seasons ago, Wekesser was playing as a center forward for Astoria Waldorf in the German Regionalliga. He was quite good too, scoring 15 goals and assisting once, before leaving for Regensburg. Now, he’s been converted into a full-back and an adventurous one at that.
He is a highly progressive full-back as well, which is not uncommon of German full-backs these days. Wekesser attempts almost 11 progressive passes per game with a success rate of 78% and makes nearly 3 progressive runs per game. These numbers place him comfortably alongside some of the Zweite Bundesliga’s best fullbacks.
His passing into dangerous areas is of good quality too. In terms of Expected Assists per match, he scores 0.2, which once again places him in the upper bracket of the league’s fullbacks.
It is perhaps his experience as a striker that comes in handy when knowing which kind of cross is most favourable and which areas are most dangerous to attack inside the box. He is capable of crossing from a multitude of areas as well.
From deeper areas close to the touchline, just outside the penalty area in the half-spaces and chipped crosses from near the byline, he has it all in his locker.
With five assists so far this season, Wekesser has certainly been a bright spark in an otherwise challenging season for Die Jahnelf. It would be interesting to see if any Bundesliga sides come swooping in for him in the summer window, he has certainly shown the quality to do better in a higher division.
4. Lars Lukas Mai
Age – 20
Club – SV Darmstadt 98
Role – Centre Back
Market value via Transfermarkt: £1.62m
Probably the only player in the Zweite Bundesliga who can claim to have won the Bundesliga, Lars Lukas Mai is a special talent, to say the least.
“Lukas is a good lad and one of our most talented youngsters. At 19 he’s already a key player for our reserves in the third division. We’re convinced his development isn’t finished yet.” said Bayern Munich, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.
Coming from a family with a firmly established background in the world of German football, Mai joined Bayern’s academy at the age of 14. His first impression was so positive that the Bayern hierarchy decided to promote him straight to the U16s and he excelled there as well.
After progressing through the ranks, such a high level of talent could not be ignored for long and thus Jupp Heynckes decided to give him first team debut at the age of 17 in the 2017/18. He finished ninety minutes in both of the final two fixtures of the season to earn himself a Bundesliga medal.
Standing at 6’2″, there have been comparisons made to a current Bayern player in Niklas Süle. Such is Mai’s level already.
Fast forward to present day and Mai is on loan at Darmstadt 98, and doing his bit in the club’s bid for survival and securing another season in the Zweite Bundesliga.
Comfortable at playing out from the back, brave in his defensive duties and an intimidating prospect for any of the league’s attackers, Mai has been racking up impressive numbers for Darmstadt this season.
In terms of defensive duels, Mai has won 71% of the duels he’s contested, engaging in about seven defensive duels per match. In the air, there might still be room for improvement which is natural because he’s still quite young, engaging in 6.47 aerial duels per match and winning nearly half of them.
Heynckes in the past has praised Mai’s ability to build play from passing out from the back and his ball progression numbers back up those views. Mai attempts 9.58 progressive passes per match with a success rate of 77%, which is excellent and puts him sixth in the league for this metric.
Judging centre backs in today’s modern context is not an easy job, but Mai ticks a lot of boxes in this regard. Having signed a contract extension to his deal at Bayern before joining Darmstadt, it would be interesting to see how he is integrated into the team’s setup once he returns. He may just be part of Germany’s next great defense in the coming years.
5. Kevin Sessa
Age – 20
Club – 1. FC Heidenheim
Role – Central midfielder
Market value via Transfermarkt: £630Th
The final pick on this list is 1.FC Heidenheim’s Kevin Sessa. The Argentine-German is a diminuitive central midfielder with a low centre of gravity. In Heidenheim’s push for the play-off spots, Sessa has no doubt been one of the more delightful players to watch this season.
So far, Sessa has managed 7 goal contributions which includes two goals and five assists. It isn’t a hugely significant return, however, his drive to take on opponents and ability to progress the ball has been influential for Frank Schmidt’s side. It points to a great amount of faith in Sessa’s talents that Schmidt has been willing to give him a chance this season.
Sessa is originally from Stuttgart’s academy and along with his brother Nicolas, impressed plenty of coaches there. More recently, he has been likened to Bayern Munich star Joshua Kimmich and the similarities are there to be seen.
Sessa is one of the most proactive players in the league when it comes to ball progression. Averaging 6.5 progressive passes per match and 2.32 progressive runs with the ball per match so far this season. While the success rate can certainly improve, at 66%, the signs are positive.
The Heidenheim starlet also loves to dribble past his markers and can be quite a tricky customer to get the ball off of. Averaging 3.9 dribbles per match with a success rate of 55%.
Sessa’s ability to pick out his team-mates during set-pieces also means that he is the team’s primary option in those situations. Be it corners or indirect free-kicks, Sessa knows how to place the ball, to near perfection.
Another season in the Zweite Bundesliga might do him good but after that, it is clear that the natural talents of Sessa deserve to be at a higher level. Whether that is the Bundesliga or one of the leagues across Europe, remains to be seen.
All numbers via Wyscout accurate upto matchday 23.
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