Since their first promotion to the Bundesliga in 1971, VfL Bochum have always gone straight back up. Until 2011 – then the team managed by Friedhelm Funkel lost in the Bundesliga play-off against Borussia Mönchengladbach. That meant the Bochum supporters had to be patient for eleven years before the next opportunity to get behind their team in Germany's top flight.
After dropping down to the second division in 2010, VfL became a respected and established second-tier club with their 27,599 capacity Vonovia Ruhrstadion always attracting travelling fans. Bochum and Bundesliga 2: That appeared to go together for many looking on.
Indeed a look at the all-time Bundesliga table shows: Strictly speaking, Bochum belong more in the top-flight – at least from an historical point of view. With 1,160 games played and 1,374 points collected in their all-time Bundesliga account, the club from the heart of the Ruhr Valley are only three places behind the Werkself in 13th position.
The return to Germany's top flight was on the cards at the beginning of the restart in the middle of May 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the nine remaining games in the 2019/20 season, VfL clocked up five wins and three draws and moved up from a lowly 15th position to eighth in the second division. That contrast between relegation worries and periods of success are all too well known in Bochum – VfL's six demotions from the Bundesliga are the third most in German club football and with five immediate returns they also hold the record for bouncing straight back up.
The team under head coach Thomas Reis carried on last season where they left off after the restart due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Blue and Whites finished the first half of the season just three points behind Hamburg SV in second place and did not lose sight of the promotion spots after that: From matchday 15 they were always in one of the top three positions..
The consistency shown on the pitch, that VfL produced in 26 match days over two seasons, was also maintained in the second half of the season. With eleven wins and just one draw, Bochum with 34 points in the second half of the campaign (only Greuther Fürth picked up more 35 points) secured the second division league title for a fourth time following on from 1994, 1996, 2006.
A key element of the return to the Bundesliga for the record promoted team was down to the attacking duo of 'Zoller-Zulj’ producing the goods, with Simon Zoller playing in the classic number nine role and Robert Zulj just behind in attacking midfield. The 4-2-3-1 system favoured by head coach Thomas Reis appeared to pay off for the two 29 year-old attackers – Zoller (15 goals,10 assists) and Zulj (15 goals, 15 assists) with their marksmanship and vision for each other involving them in 37 and 45 per cent of all Bochum goals respectively..
The coaching staff will have been happy with the attacking and defensive work. The mix of young, dynamic defenders such as Maxim Leitsch (23) or the 19-year-old Amel Bella Kotchap, who both came through the youth ranks, and stalwarts like Danilo Soares, who has already played 125 games for the Blue and Whites, held the bottom defence tight together. The team from the Ruhr scored 66 goals but only conceded 39 – only Holstein Kiel (35) conceded fewer.
Away from the individual ability of players in the VfL squad, which took the team to the second division title, the mentality of the group was also striking. Typical of that last season: the all-or-nothing mentality of the Reis team. Bochum did lose nine times, which is more than all the other promotion rivals, but VfL often succeeded in coming out on top in hard-fought clashes. With just four draws over the whole season, VfL shared the points half as often as their direct rivals for promotion from Fürth (10), Kiel (8) and Hamburg (10).
Probably the biggest weakness of Bochum is to be seen in the departure of top scorer and provider Robert Zulj. The 29-year-old, who was directly involved in nearly every second goal for the Blue and Whites last term, is moving abroad. In the current transfer window, VfL have reacted several times to painful departures. In addition to goalkeeper Michael Esser (Hannover 96), three other players with Bundesliga experience have joined Bochum: the attacking players Christopher Antwi-Adjei (SC Paderborn) and Takuma Asano (Partizan Belgrade) plus Eduard Löwen, on loan from Hertha Berlin. In addition, the Bochum squad welcome a young player with the potential to develop in the shape of Patrick Osterhage (Borussia Dortmund U23).
In the history of German football, Bayer 04 and VfL Bochum have often played each other. From the Regional League West in the middle of the 1960s via the DFB Cup to the Bundesliga, the two clubs from the West, whose stadiums are just 45 minutes away from each other by car, have met 57 times – with the Werkself having the edge. With an overall goal difference of 101 to 84 for Bayer 04 as well as 26 wins and 13 draws put Leverkusen ahead in a head-to-head comparison with the Blue and Whites.
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