Fortuna Düsseldorf began what has become the most-important few weeks of the season with a vital 2-0 away victory over SC Freiburg. Andre Hoffmans first Bundesliga goal in seven years, alongside a fine individual goal from Eric Tommy, was enough to give Uwe Rölser his first Bundesliga win. Despite last week’s 4-1 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach, this win had been coming. Rösler has got the team looking more cohesive, helped in part by the return of Kevin Stöger, who was instrumental against Freiburg.
While Christian Streich’s team may not be replicating their incredible early-season form, they are still a difficult team to beat at the Schwarzwald Stadion. By no means a classic game of football, the first half saw neither side really get on top until a lapse in concentration from a Fortuna corner allowed Stöger to pick-out Hoffman.
Fortuna’s second was almost the spitting image of a goal scored earlier in the season against rivals 1. FC Köln. It came directly from a Freiburg corner, which was cleared to Thommy on the edge of the Fortuna box. The winger ran the entire length of the pitch before slotting past Schwolow. Thommy has been a real positive for Fortuna this season with his boundless energy and willingness to attack.
Stöger was popping up everywhere. The Austrian midfielder was always able to find space, linking up well with Lazio loanee Berisha. Rösler opted to insert Adam Bodzek alongside the two more-dynamic midfielders. While Bodzek has struggled this season, this was one of his better games, as he allowed both Valon Berisha and Stöger to operate further forward.
Another important returnee was Turkish forward Kenan Karaman. He provided Rouwen Hennings with the support that the striker had been lacking in recent months, as well as another target for the team if they needed to go long. Karaman has missed the majority of this season, and it is good to see him back on the pitch. Last season, he chipped in with some vital goals, and his versatility to play either as a lone striker, second striker, or inside forward is something Rösler will be able to use going forward.
Special mention also has to go to young goalkeeper Florian Kastenmeier. He kept his first clean sheet since replacing Zack Steffen and is looking more confident with every week that passes. With Steffen expected to return soon, it will be interesting to see what direction Uwe goes. The American international has been brilliant for Fortuna this season, yet he is also only on loan till the end of this season.
Reports circulated at the beginning of January that Fortuna were looking to renew the loan deal. However, this was a deal forged by Sporting Director Lutz Pfannensteil, who has since announced that he will leave the club due to personal reasons. Without Pfannensteil, and with Steffen likely to be interesting clubs who are bigger than Fortuna, it would be a surprise if Manchester City agreed to a renewal. Therefore, Rösler may think that giving Kastenmeier more exposure to top-level football will help his development and therefore the club in the long run.
What is of worry for Fortuna fans is the number of yellow cards key players such as Kaan Ayhan are picking up. Ayhan is clearly the team’s best defender, but is also very good at building attacks from the back. He is confident on the ball and can pick a pass. However, he is also liable to be booked in what feels like every match. Ayhan currently has 9 cautions, just 6 away from a 3-match ban. This could come at a vital time for Fortuna near the back end of the season.
Looking ahead, Fortuna face Hertha Berlin in the Friday night game. Hertha are coming off a drubbing by Köln, so this may be a good time for a confident Fortuna team to face them at home. Following Hertha, Rösler’s men face Saarburcken in the cup, Mainz away, and Paderborn at home, before derby day in Köln. These are all games that Fortuna can realistically win. Mainz were, like Hertha, humiliated by Wolfsburg this weekend and face a tricky game at home to a Paderborn side who gave Bayern a real run for their money.
Victory over Freiburg pulled Fortuna within two points of Mainz, while extending the gap to Werder Bremen to three points and Paderborn to four. Victory over both Hertha and Mainz in the next few weeks will drag both back into the relegation scrap and give Fortuna a great chance to beat the drop.