Saturday afternoon marked another smear on Nico Kovač’s short reign at Bayern. The Bavarians were held by 17th placed Fortuna Düsseldorf to a 3-3 draw and find themselves beached in fifth place, now nine points off leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Heading into injury time 3-2 up, it appeared that Munich were nailed on to secure their first league victory in three games and a first win at home since September, previously besting Leverkusen 3-1 an age ago on matchday three.
However, in unsurprising fashion this season, FC Hollywood once again self-destructed and dropped crucial points to the newly promoted side after conceding a 93rd minute equaliser.
At the epicentre of Düsseldorf’s remarkable comeback? Dodi Lukebakio.
At 2-0 down, Lukebakio, on loan from Premier League side Watford, sparked a glimmer of resurgence for Friedhelm Funkel’s team on the brink of half-time. He snuck around Niklas Süle and latched onto Jean Zimmer’s poke to slot past Manuel Neuer from close-range.
After the break, Thomas Müller added to Bayern’s lead and the 27-time Bundesliga champions found themselves 3-1 up with 15 minutes to play. As the game approached its closing stages, Düsseldorf caught Munich against the run of play. Niko Gießelmann knocked the ball forward to Lukebakio, who showed off his lighting pace and dribbling ability to break away from the Bayern defence and coolly finished to complete his brace.
Lukebakio, not content with having his side condemned to a seventh defeat in eight games, sent Die Flingeraner faithful into frenzy when, in the third minute of injury time, he once again received a pass on the break. Charging towards goal, Lukebakio managed to hold off Süle before firing home to Neuer’s left and securing a historic point at the Allianz.
It appears a new star has been born in the Bundesliga, at Munich’s expense. But just where has Lukebakio come from?
The 21-year-old began his professional career in native Belgium at Anderlecht. He was part of the squad that reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Youth League in 2014, picking up impressive wins over the likes of Dortmund, Arsenal, Porto and Barcelona before crashing out to Shakhtar Donetsk in the final four.
The following season, Lukebakio broke through to the senior side and made 14 appearances, mainly off the bench, in the Jupiler Pro League. Anderlecht finished third and Lukebakio’s single goal of the campaign was the equaliser that confirmed a vital point against arch-rivals Standard Liège.
In August 2016, Lukebakio caught the eye of Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse and he made the jump across the border to France for a season-long loan. A frustrating year ensued and Lukebakio found his playing time severely limited. He ended the season with five appearances and 87-minutes of French league football to his name.
Upon his return to Anderlecht, there was barely time to rest as he was sent out on loan once more, this time to fellow Jupiler League side Charleroi. Lukebakio enjoyed a stellar six months under Felice Mazzu. He repaid the regular starts, scoring a brace and assisting another goal in only his second outing for the club. Lukebakio featured 19 times for Les Zèbres in the league. By January he had notched up three in both goals and assists and also featured in a 3-1 away victory against parent club Anderlecht.
During this stint, Lukebakio switched international allegiance from DR Congo to Belgium. Since September 2017, he’s featured 12 times for the Under-21s, finding the net four times. The team have qualified for the 2019 Under-21 European Championships and Lukebakio will almost certainly be one of the first names on the teamsheet in Italy and San Marino next summer.
When January 2018 came around, Lukebakio found himself with interest from England. It was Watford who lured the Belgian to the bright lights of the Premier League and snapped him up for approximately €5million on a four-and-a-half-year deal. Upon signing for the Hornets, Lukebakio commented:
“I’ll learn here at Watford. The Premier League has a high intensity and I’m ready. I hope to score many goals and help the team.”
Unfortunately, it was another six months of frustration. Bar an odd feature on the bench, his involvement took the shape of 15 minutes against West Ham United. Lukebakio was once again lost in the shuffle.
However, another opportunity soon arose, seemingly out of nowhere, during pre-season this year. A day after featuring for Watford in a friendly against Fortuna Düsseldorf, Lukebakio was announced as signing for a season-long loan with the Bundesliga new boys.
Lukebakio was eased into life at the Merkur Spielarena, appearing for the final 11 minutes of matchday one in the 2-1 loss to Augsburg. It was matchday three when he made his presence felt. Coming off the bench against Hoffenheim, Lukebakio was quickly plunged into the deep end when he was handed spot-kick duty. He confidently beat Oliver Baumann from the penalty mark to score the winner. In the process, he secured Düsseldorf’s first win in the top-flight since February 2013.
Since then, Lukebakio has been a regular in Funkel’s squad. He’s appeared twice in the Pokal and is currently joint-top scorer in the competition, after notching braces against both Koblenz and Ulm.
Although results in the league haven’t been going Düsseldorf’s way, Lukebakio has shown promise by operating on both wings and he scored his side’s single goal in the 7-1 humiliation in Frankfurt. During the past two matches, he has occupied a more central advanced role and this surely contributed to his outstanding performance on Saturday. After the match, Lukebakio commented:
“We knew that we were playing against the best team in Germany. We knew it would be a really tough game, and it’d be difficult to get anything from it. But we came here believing we could get a result, and we didn’t give up. It was a fantastic performance.”
His hat-trick is the first that Neuer has ever conceded in the Bundesliga and the first time a player has hit three past Munich since Ebbe Sand for Schalke in 2001. The pressure on Kovač must be nearing boiling point now.
A few months ago, Gábor Hanák conducted an interview with the winger for the Fanatic. Lukebakio told Gábor that he wanted to “contribute to keep Fortuna in the Bundesliga”. Contribute he certainly has, could this massive point against the defending champions be the start of Düsseldorf’s renaissance?
Düsseldorf will be more than keen to hang onto their new starlet as they continue their quest for top-tier survival. However, should his performances continue in Saturday’s manner, Lukebakio may be recalled to England sooner rather than later. Watford manager Javi Gracia will surely be keeping a keen eye on the youngster. The performance hasn’t gone unnoticed and the Spaniard spoke briefly about the hat-trick following Watford’s defeat to Liverpool at the weekend, saying he was “very pleased” for his player.
Under Gracia’s guidance, several young players have already broken into Watford’s match day squads this season. Lukebakio has shown he certainly has the potential to be the next.
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