The winter break probably came at the wrong time for SC Paderborn. After languishing at the bottom of the table for a long time, SCP picked up seven out of a possible 12 points from the last four Bundesliga matches, which was one more than in the previous 13 games. After teething problems, Paderborn are now finally settled into the top flight and the 2-1 victory against Eintracht Frankfurt just before Christmas puts them three points away from the play-off spot. It's obvious that the team at the bottom of the Bundesliga are looking to carry over the form shown in December into the second half of the season. That is to be achieved through focused training sessions in East Westphalia. As one of only two Bundesliga clubs – the other being league leaders RB Leipzig – Paderborn did not go abroad for a training camp but instead remained at home to prepare for the second half of the season. The opener sees the team coached by Steffen Baumgart take on Bayer 04 for the third time this season: On the first Bundesliga matchday of the campaign, the surprise newcomers certainly played their part in a very attacking game that the Werkself won 3-2 in the end. The second round tie in the DFB Cup at the end of October was certainly less exciting with Lucas Alario scoring the only goal of the game in the 1-0 win for Bayer 04. Both games were played at the BayArena so Paderborn now have the chance to take revenge in front of their own fans.
In addition to the impressive run at the end of the first half of the season, there is something else to provide hope at SCP – or more accurately a new person: Dennis Srbeny, who was at Norwich City in the Premier League, returns to Paderborn to strengthen the attack. Srbeny played for the East Westphalian team in the first half of the 2017/18 season scoring nine goals and providing eight assists in 15 games for the then third division side. Baumgart saw the 1.9 metre tall striker as just the type of player he wanted and Srbeny showed what he could do in the victory in a friendly against Hannover 96. It appears very possible that he may play against Bayer 04. The SCP coach will no longer be able to call on another attacking player: Midfielder Cauly Oliveira Souza has joined the Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad. The Brazilian made 13 appearances for Paderborn in the first half of the season, scoring two goals and standing out as one of the best players for SCP. In addition to Cauly, the squad player Khiry Shelton also left the club in the winter break.
Things looked up at the end of the first half of the season but the defence is – also due to the courageous attacking approach of Baumgart – still the Achilles heel for Paderborn. The newcomers conceded 36 goals in the first half of the season with only Werder Bremen (41) and Mainz 05 (39) letting in more. It's rather inconvenient for Baumgart that he has to reorganise his back four for the visit of Bayer 04. The only recognised left-back in the team, Jamilu Collins, is currently serving a one-match ban. Baumgart has already revealed his line-up at the back: The Luxembourg player Laurent Jans will switch from the right to the left with Mohamed Dräger coming into the team on the right side of the defence.
In the announcement that Cauly was leaving, CEO Martin Przondziono made it clear: “In keeping with our philosophy of improving players and giving them the chance to take the next step in their careers, provided that does not affect meeting our targets and the overall conditions are right, we acceded to his desire move on." That philosophy appears to work. Over recent years, Paderborn have worked their way up through lower leagues with modest financial means and have turned unknown footballers into Bundesliga players. Striker Streli Mamba, for example, is already much in demand after being brought in from Cottbus last summer. This approach ensures SCP have a sustainable future – regardless of the division they play in.
On paper, Paderborn still remain the likely contenders for a relegation spot at the end of the season. But the team showed in the weeks before the winter break that they can compete with any team in the league and they posed big problems for the top teams from Dortmund and Leipzig. If Paderborn succeed in consistently reproducing the form from December and the defence becomes more solid then the team from East Westphalia does have realistic hopes of staying up.
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