Fortuna Düsseldorf: Avoiding Second Season Syndrome

Fortuna Düsseldorf surprised everyone last year with their incredible 10th-place finish in the Bundesliga. Fast forward a year, and it looks like Friedhelm Funkel’s men could suffer second-season syndrome that got both Hannover 96 and VfB Stuttgart relegated last season. If Fortuna are to avoid relegation, this January transfer window could be crucial, with the club needing to address problems both in attack and defense.

Last season, the play of both Dodi Lukebakio and Benito Raman was key. Their directness and ability to find the net on a regular basis allowed Funkel to play on the counter. Of the 49 goals Düsseldorf managed last year, 20 were provided by Raman and Lukebakio. Over the summer, the club brought in Erik Thommy of Stuttgart, Nana Ampomah from Waasland-Beveren, and Bernard Tekpety of Schalke, following his contribution to Paderborn’s incredible promotion while on loan there. All have shown glimpses of ability, but only Thommy has managed to find the net. While the form of Rouwen Hennings has been a welcome surprise for many Fortuna fans, the over-reliance on the veteran is a concern. Of the 18 goals the side has scored this season, 11 of these have been from Hennings.

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With second striker Dawid Kownaki clearly lacking in confidence, bringing in goals in January will be vital to survival. Joel Pohjanpalo was on loan with the club back in 2016 and could be an option. The Finn has only managed one appearance for Leverkusen this season due to injury, and there may be an opportunity to loan the striker till the end of the season which allows him to regain match fitness. This would allow Kownaki to operate out wide when Hennings isn’t on the field, a position he scored goals from last season.

At the other end, the defense has been nothing short of shambolic in many matches. Zac Steffan has been getting plenty of plaudits for his performances, yet even he must be concerned with the amount of shots he is facing every game. Only 1. FSV Mainz and SV Werder Bremen have conceded more than Fortuna, and this is purely down to Steffan. With Fortuna having scored the joint-least amount of goals this season, they are not finding the net regularly enough to mitigate how many they concede, highlighted by Fortuna having the joint-worst goal difference in the Bundesliga.

Over the summer, the club loaned Adams Nuhu from Hoffenheim to replace Marcin Kaminski, who returned to Stuttgart. Funkel has chopped and changed the back line, sometimes sticking Nuhu, Kaan Ayhan and Andre Hoffman together, while at other times choosing just two. There is rarely a week where the defense is the same as the previous game, suggesting that the coach is unsure of the strongest line-up. Another center back is a must. Perhaps they could explore bringing former loanee Kevin Akpogoma from Hoffenheim. Despite a disappointing loan spell at Hannover last season, a return to a familiar environment could bring out the best in the player.

Where the defense hasn’t been helped out is in the midfield. Despite bringing in Lewis Baker, who impressed in a defensive midfield role while on loan at Reading last season, he has struggled to cement a place in Funkel’s line-ups. This has meant that Adam Bodzek has featured heavily in front of the back line. Bodzek has been a fantastic servant for Fortuna, however this season has appeared off the pace in the Bundesliga. Captain Oliver Fink, despite being in his late 30’s, was incredible last season and one of the best players at the club. Yet, like Bodzek, he is showing signs of slowing down. With Sobotka constantly injured, a defensive midfielder is required before the transfer window shuts.

So far in January, the club have brought in Steven Skrzybski from Schalke. The former Union Berlin winger struggled to make an impact in Gelsenkirchen last season and has joined Fortuna on loan. Another winger could be useful, especially in ensuring Hennings doesn’t end up isolated as he has been so far. The return of Kenan Karaman from injury could also feel like a new signing for the club. Karaman scored some vital goals last season, and his ability to play both out wide and as a lone striker gives Funkel another option to help support Hennings.

One area the club should really focus on is finding a creative attacking midfielder. Last season, Kevin Stöger filled this role brilliantly, yet he has been injured all this campaign. Without Stöger, Fortuna’s central midfielders have struggled to provide similar levels of creativity. Even though Stöger returned to action in a recent friendly against Basel, the club should really be shopping around for someone who can create in the final third in case he gets injured again. Many of Hennings goals this season have been of his own doing, so having a supplier would benefit him massively. Fortuna were linked with both Hertha’s Ondrej Duda and Slavia Prague midfielder Josef Hušbauer, however both have gone elsewhere.

Kevin Stöger in winter break action

Herein lies the problem; Fortuna do not have the funds to go out and get household names. The club can’t compete financially with most clubs, with only Union Berlin and Paderborn having lower income. Lutz Pfannenstiel, in an interview with Forbes in October, talked about having to think outside the box when it comes to transfers. Picking up players who have a point to prove in the Bundesliga, like Skrzybski, could be the correct avenue to go down. Either way, Fortuna certainly need to address some glaring issues this month if they are to avoid relegation come May.

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