Paderborn have had an up-and-down campaign so far. An indifferent start to league proceedings over the first five matches was followed by a five-game unbeaten run. After 12 games and a 3-0 win at Karlsruhe, they were only three points off the top three in Bundesliga 2, although down in ninth. However, back-to-back defeats at home to Nürnberg (3-1) and then away at promoted Elversberg (4-1) halted that climb. Head coach Lukas Kwasniok was particularly annoyed by his team’s performance in the latter. “Those 15 minutes after half-time were pathetic and almost embarrassing,” Kwasniok said of the period where his team conceded three times in the space of 10 minutes. Their sixth defeat of the season saw Paderborn slip to 12th in the standings and under pressure going into Sunday’s game at Hannover. They fielded the youngest starting XI in their second division history that day (23.1 years old) and won 1-0. “We wanted energy, passion and heart on the pitch. We managed that and implemented things well,” Kwasniok summarised afterwards. The result saw Paderborn climb up to 10th in the table.
Things have been far more serene in the DFB-Pokal so far. Paderborn began their campaign with a commanding 7-0 win at fourth-tier Energie Cottbus before a statement result in the second round as they knocked out last season’s semi-finalists Freiburg. They won 3-1 in the Black Forest thanks to a Filip Bilbija brace and a sublime free-kick from Florent Muslija.
Paderborn extended coach Kwasniok’s contract only a few weeks ago. The 42-year-old has been in the job since he succeeded Steffen Baumgart in summer 2021. “Lukas has proven over a long time at Paderborn that he and the coaching staff can take players to a higher level and also develop and improve young players from our own academy,” said managing director for sport Benjamin Weber. “Continuity in this important position is also a strong message to our players.”
As was the starting XI in the weekend’s 1-0 win over Hannover as Kwasniok made seven changes from the 4-1 loss to Elversberg. Goalkeeper Pelle Boevink, who had played in the cup victory at Freiburg, made his Bundesliga 2 bow. Striker Moritz Flotho was handed his senior debut. Maximilian Rohr and Laurin Curda came into the back three, while Mattes Hansen got the nod in midfield. There were also fresh legs in attack alongside Flotho with Muslija and Iylas Ansah brought in. The coach’s bold move paid off.
The headline-grabbing summer signing of Max Kruse ultimately amounted to nothing. The 35-year-old former Germany international had joined the team after seven months without a club looking to make a mark again, but after only five appearances he left in November after a mutual agreement to terminate his contract.
Kwasniok likes his teams to attack. Paderborn finished last season’s Bundesliga 2 campaign as the second-highest scorers with 68 goals behind Hamburg (70). Their main man was Muslija with 10 goals and 10 assists. The Kosovo international is again the focal point of the attack this season with seven goals and two assists. The set-piece specialist was man of the match in the second round against Freiburg.
The 1-0 win over Hannover was only the second time this season Paderborn have kept a clean sheet. They have conceded 27 goals from 15 league games and are yet to find the defensive solidity they enjoyed in 2022/23, where they were one of the best teams in the second division with only 44 goals conceded from the 34 games. After beating Hannover, defender Rohr said: “We experienced once again that we need to fight hard for every point this season.” Paderborn also struggled in possession despite a man advantage for much of the game. “We were too slow on the ball, with a lot left to be desired in our play,” Rohr added. Midfielder Robert Leipertz, who was the team’s top scorer last season with 11 goals, is yet to rediscover his best form this term due to injury. And there appears to be a lack of penetration up front following the departure of Marvin Pieringer to Heidenheim after his 10 goals last year.
It’ll be interesting to see if Kwasniok opts to rotate again for Wednesday’s trip to the BayArena, whether he sticks with the winning youthful approach of the weekend. Paderborn have proven a number of times in recent years, including against Freiburg already this campaign, that they can cause an upset in the DFB-Pokal. The Werkself have been warned.
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