Fortuna Düsseldorf 2018-19 Season Preview

Facts

Full name: Düsseldorfer Turn- und Sportverein Fortuna 1895 e.V.

Nickname: Die Flingeraner (a tribute to the working-class district of Flingern, where it all begins)

Founded: 5 May 1895

Club Colors: White, Red

Stadium: Merkur Spiel-Arena (Capacity: 54,600 (9,917 standing))

Major Trophies: German Championship (1933), 2. Bundesliga (1989, 2018), DFB-Pokal (1979, 1980)

2017-18 Results: 2. Bundesliga Champions (63 points) and 2nd Round exit in DFB-Pokal

2017-18 Top-scorers: Rouwen Hennings (15 (13 in 2. Bundesliga)), Benito Raman (10)

Pre-season Results: P9 W7 D1 L1

Key Transfers (as of August 23)

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Arrivals: Marvin Ducksch (St. Pauli), Aymen Barkok (Eintracht Frankfurt, loan), Kevin Stöger (VfL Bochum), Alfredo Morales (FC Ingolstadt), Diego Contento (Bordeaux), Kenan Karaman (Hannover), Matthias Zimmermann (VfB Stuttgart), Dodi Lukebakio (Watford, loan)

Departures: Axel Bellinghausen (retired), Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Mönchengladbach, end of loan), Julian Schauerte (KAS Eupen), Lukas Schmitz (Wolfsberger AC), Genki Haraguchi (Hannover, end of loan from Hertha Berlin)

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2017/18 Review

Although it proved to be cruel on countless occasions, football always reserve some room for a fairytale story or two. In the penultimate round of the 2016-17 season, Fortuna Düsseldorf needed a scrappy 3-2 win at mid-table side Nürnberg to secure their 2. Bundesliga status, with the winning goal arrived three minutes from time when Abdelhamid Sabiri canceling out his opener with an own-goal. When the two sides met at Max-Morlock-Stadion a year later, both already booked a long-awaited Bundesliga return. A draw would have seen Nürnberg lift the trophy but an injury-time header from Kaan Ayhan saw Fortuna crowned Germany’s second-tier champions for the second time. The result? 3-2.

A strong start to the season was the driving force for Fortuna’s promotion, as Friedhelm Funkel’s side collected nine wins from the first eleven matches – they had two wins until October in the previous campaign. Before the league went for the extended Winterpause, a hard-fought win at Eintracht Braunschweig was priceless as they suddenly failed to win their previous six outings. It was a strange Rückrunde for Fortuna – losing at Jahn Regensburg after going 3-0 up in the 15th minute and three successive defeats at the first half of April – but the lack of real challengers at the top helped them to win the league with a point tally (63) that wouldn’t have been enough for a playoff berth in the previous two seasons.

From midfield general Florian Neuhaus to mid-season arrival Genki Haraguchi, loan signings were vital for Fortuna’s promotion rally. Initially arriving on loan from Standard Liège, Benito Raman managed to hit double digits from a wide position. Zweite Bundesliga veteran Rouwen Hennings – the division’s top-scorer in 2014-15 for Karlsruher SC – was leading the team on both goals (13) and assists (7), though. At the other end of the tunnel, Raphael Wolf had his moments but eight 2. Bundesliga goalkeepers surpassed his seven clean sheets for the season. The pairing of Kaan Ayhan and Andre Hoffmann – who used to be huge prospects at Schalke and Hannover, respectively, before serious injury problems blocked their progress – at the heart of the defense brought the better times for Fortuna with the additional perk of their set-piece threat.

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Squad

Provided Fortuna’s limited budget and the fact that a number of loanees were due to return to their parent clubs, Düsseldorf pulled smart business in the summer. They locked the effervescent Raman, Dejan Lovren’s younger brother Davor (a winger) and regular right-back Jean Zimmer on permanent deals, while landing further promising players on loan for the season with the arrival of Aymen Barkok (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Dodi Lukebakio (Watford). Former Bayern Munich fullback Diego Contento (somehow, he’s only 28), US international Alfredo Morales, Kevin Stöger and Kenan Karaman will all vie for starting roles at Merkur Spiel-Arena (say goodbye to the closing manufacturer Esprit) but last season’s 2. Bundesliga top-scorer Marvin Ducksch (formerly of Borussia Dortmund) is the marquee signing with a bargain £1.80m (Transfermarkt) from St. Pauli (spend last season on loan at Holstein Kiel).

The biggest concern would be on filling the gaps left by the return of Neuhaus to Borussia Mönchengladbach after the 21-year-old maestro’s faultless season. Funkel struggled for creativity in the middle throughout last season and it wouldn’t get any easier with the absence of their complete central midfielder. Only four outfield players turned 30 from the squad with all of them facing stiff competitions for starting roles.

Wolf would set to improve on his hideous record of conceding 94 goals in 48 Bundesliga games with Werder Bremen, although a certain Michael Rensing is now fully recovered from a fractured rib that cost him the starting berth. There is a good chance of seeing the same four players in defense – Funkel doesn’t really care about the fashionable three-man backline – with Zimmer and Niko Gießelmann playing either side of Ayhan and Hoffmann. Marcel Sobottka is the only player you could really bet on to feature regularly in a double pivot, with veterans Adam Bodzek and Oliver Fink likely to compete with new arrivals Matthias Zimmermann and Morales for the remaining position. Funkel played Ducksch behind Hennings in a routine 5-0 win at fifth-tier TuS Rot-Weiß Koblenz in the DFB-Pokal opener but the time would surely come for him to send one of them to the bench – especially if Barkok finds his form back that once dubbed him as one of Germany’s exciting youngsters. Lukebakio helped his cause with a couple of goals in his competitive debut but expect to see more of Takashi Usami, Raman and Karaman in the wing.

The Boss

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On one hand, Friedhelm Funkel is a vastly experienced coach for whom Fortuna’s promotion was the sixth time he helped a club to test Bundesliga football. But his first-tier record doesn’t bode well for the club’s survival hopes, as he only collected 489 points from previous 457 Bundesliga matches. He was involved in five relegation seasons – excluding the 1990-91 season in which he only took care of Bayer 05 Uerdingen’s (now KFC Uerdingen 05) final two games – and his best result is finishing eighth in consecutive seasons at the end of the 90s with MSV Duisburg.

He was last seen at this level when Hertha Berlin relegated to 2. Bundesliga under his tutelage in the wake of a panic move by the capital club’s official to fire Lucien Favre. The Swiss tactician led Hertha to an improbable Europa League berth but he started the new season on a wrong foot – six successive defeats after a winning start. Funkel had to wait until his 11th game in charge for a first league win although Hertha reached knockout stage in Europe following three wins on the trot – including against Heerenveen and Sporting CP. Surprisingly all of his four league wins at the helm of Hertha arrived away from their iconic Olympiastadion. Funkel had further unsuccessful brief stints at Alemannia Aachen and 1860 Munich before replacing Marco Kurz at Düsseldorf back in March 2016.

Expectation & Reality

Through their Twitter account, the UK Fortuna Düsseldorf fan club ran a poll on where could their side finish in their first Bundesliga season in six years. Understandably a top half finish was the available highest rank with only 13 people (out of 133 voters) predicting a stellar season. 11% of the votes went for the relegation playoff spot, while 14% deemed Fortuna’s top-flight stay will be a short-lived one. The vast majority of the vote (65%), however, jumped on a straightforward season saying Fortuna will be found somewhere between 10th and 15th in May.

When Fortuna returned to the Bundesliga after 16-years absence in 2012-13, they finished the Hinrunde nine points clear of Hoffenheim, who occupied the relegation playoff place (16th) at the midpoint of the season. But they only managed to collect a mere nine points in the entire second half of the season, resulting in an immediate comeback to 2. Bundesliga. For a club who last managed to finish in the top half of Bundesliga standing back in 1989-90, any achievement beside avoiding the drop would surely be considered as a bonus at this point. Replacing Neuhaus’ all-around qualities in midfield and getting the best out of Hennings and Ducksch at this level would be key elements for Fortuna’s season.

Fixture Overview

Four of Fortuna’s first five matches of the season will see them lock horns against teams who have never been relegated from Bundesliga. A home game against Augsburg will kickoff the league campaign followed by a trip to RB Leipzig before the season takes its first international break. Bayern Munich will be the only team Fortuna face away from home in Hinrunde from last season’s top-five clubs. The final game of the season would see Fortuna entertain Hannover if there would be no need for a playoff.

Verdict: 13th

Fan QA (Chris Wilkin, UKFortuna)

An introduction to your fan club

We are UKFortuna, an official fan club of Fortuna Düsseldorf. We formed originally on Twitter just under 5 years ago and have become an official fan club for this coming season, with presence on Facebook and Instagram. We have members from all over the UK and Germany, and we open to anyone joining, wherever they are in the world.

Would you prefer playing against the top clubs and fight relegation in Bundesliga over a dominant Bundesliga 2. season as a fan?

I feel like the promotion to the Bundesliga is a culmination of a lot of hard work by everyone at the club, after a significant change in direction by the hierarchy. Robert Schäfer has come in and overseen a big shift in the club, the way it operates and conducts itself. The promotion was deserved and I think we deserve to be in the Bundesliga. The fans have suffered a lot over the last 5 years, and even if the stay in the Bundesliga is short lived it will be an adventure. If we manage to stay in the Bundesliga and establish ourselves as a Bundesliga club then we can kick on and become a mainstay.

Are you satisfied with the club’s transfer activities?

The club has reinforced extremely well in the close season, strengthening the whole squad. There is still time in the window for further players to come in, ideally we need another experienced central defender and maybe some further backup on the wings. We have a good blend of youth and experience.

Which players should we be looking out for the season?

Benito Raman and Takashi Usami were two of our best players last season, and both will be keen to impress in the top flight. We have also signed some good 2.Bundesliga players from last season (Kevin Stöger, Marvin Ducksch) who will also want to prove that they can cut it at this level.

Do you think Friedhelm Funkel’s awful Bundesliga record would be a problem?

I don’t think so, Funkel has spent the last 18 months or so putting this team together. The players want to play for him and I think that this promotion will be his last chance to prove that he can manage at this level, it will only spur him on to want to succeed and keep them in the Bundesliga.

Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting Merkur Spiel-Arena for the first time

Go and experience the whole Dusseldorf experience. The altstadt (Old Town) has “the longest bar in the world”, with all different kinds of bars that will appeal to a person of any background. You need to taste the Altbier. If it is the summer have a few beers down by the Rhine, and if it’s the winter then dive into one of the cavernous brewpubs for a big plate of pork.

Your prediction

I am hopeful that we will stay in the Bundesliga, it will be a long hard season. My prediction is 15th.

 

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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