Looking at the score line following Sunday evening’s final Bundesliga game would suggest that Bayer Leverkusen eased their way to victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf. However, Fortuna were well and truly in the game, despite the 3-0 defeat. If it wasn’t for a sublime stop from Lukáš Hrádecký to deny Rouwen Hennings when the score was only 1-0, there could have been a completely different outcome.
Leverkusen started the game lethargically probably thinking that Dusseldorf, who had gone bottom of the table after Paderborn’s impressive win away to SC Freiburg, were not going to threaten them. Friedhelm Funkel deployed a midfield three of Sobotka, Fink, and Morales. Adding Sobotka instead of Bodzek gave the midfield a bit more dynamism and energy, which helped to quell the home side. Sobotka has really struggled with injuries since the club gained promotion, and it was good to see him back in the starting eleven.
While the side struggled to trouble Leverkusen in the first half, they came out for the second half and really took the game to the hosts. Hennings had two great chances, while Ayhan couldn’t quite get the ball out from under his feet to get a shot away after a corner fell to him while unmarked at the back post. Unfortunately, as at nearly every level of professional football, if you fail to take your chances, you will be punished.
Poor, old Florian Kastenmeir, who had been credited with the own-goal in the previous defeat against Werder Bremen, was at fault for the second goal. Credit where credit is due, Kastenmeir had pulled off some great saves throughout the match. With Zack Steffen only on loan and clearly able to play at a higher level than Fortuna, Kastenmeir looks like he could be a good goalkeeper for the future. Being only 22-years-old, he has plenty of time to learn from these mistakes.
Funkel appeared to be uplifted despite the defeat. There were certainly plenty of positives to take from the game. As per the Werder Bremen game before, when Stöger comes on, the team just feels more comfortable and looks dangerous. If Fortuna are going to stay up, he needs to be starting games as soon as possible. While he is clearly being held back due to fitness issues, time is against Funkel, and it may be worth a gamble on his fitness. If the club go down, it is unlikely that a player of Stögers quality will be playing in the second Bundesliga.
Following the game, the club announced that Eric Thommy suffered a bruised knee. Steven Skrzybski, the only January transfer for the club, suffered a thigh strain. Thommy has been a bright spark when he has played, so hopefully he will be good to go against Frankfurt on Saturday afternoon. Skryzbski has shown flashes of what he can do. This will be a bit of a set-back for a player who will be keen to prove that he can perform at this level.
If both are unavailable for Saturday, Funkel will likely bring Kownaki and Ampomah into the wide positions. That would be a great chance for Ampomah to really prove to the manager that he deserves to start. If Funkel gambles on playing Stöger, playing Kownaki would be a good ploy. The Polish striker would benefit from a more creative midfield player who can give him more chances. Last season, Kownaki looked like a real prospect, whereas this season his lack of goals looks to have really dented his confidence. He’s barely getting chances in matches, and when the odd one falls to him he is snatching at them. Scoring on Saturday would be a massive boost of confidence to him and the team.
We may only be two games into the Rückrunde, but Fortuna are the only side yet to have scored. Outside of Hennings and Thommy, the latter with two goals, the last player to score a goal for the club was Adams Nuhu against Borussia Mönchengladbach on the 22nd of September. If Fortuna are to beat the drop, other players need to start providing goals. Frankfurt will offer a stern test on Saturday, but Fortuna really need to pick up the three points at home.