While France has already decided its relegated sides based on current standings and points per game, the Bundesliga will decide its relegation through games played without fans. While this will take away some of the drama and excitement of the relegation battle, the tension will remain, especially for Fortuna Düsseldorf fans.
Fortuna return to Bundesliga action in what is a must win encounter with bottom side S.C Paderborn. Earlier in the season, Fortuna gifted Paderborn their first win in the Bundesliga and can ill afford to allow Steffen Baumgart’s side to leave the Merkur Spielarena with even a point. Fortuna remain only four points above Werder Bremen, who have a game in hand. They are also four points off Mainz 05 in 15th with an inferior goal difference.
What makes this Paderborn game so important is the upcoming fixture list for Fortuna. They still must play Schalke 04, Bayern Munich, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, all of whom are either pushing for the title or European football. Their other remaining fixtures are a derby match away to FC Köln following the Paderborn match, with Augsburg and Union Berlin as their last two games.
That run of five games against the stronger sides in the league puts extra importance on the next two matches. Failure to take three points from Paderborn and at least a point from Köln could leave Fortuna too far from safety going into the winnable matches to end the season.
Relegation rivals Mainz 05 have fixtures against Köln, Leipzig, Union Berlin, Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt, Augsburg, Dortmund, Werder, and Bayer Leverkusen. These fixtures are similar to Fortuna’s and could see them collecting a similar amount of points. Ironically, Fortuna need a favour from rivals Köln this Sunday to help them bridge the gap.
Bremen’s game in hand is against Frankfurt, who while only 6 points above the relegation zone, should have more than enough quality to avoid the drop. Being mid table with little to play for could be seen as either a bonus or a worry for Werder, as Frankfurt could either play with complete freedom or alternatively not be up for it. Werder’s other games are Bayer Leverkusen, SC Freiburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Paderborn, Bayern Munich, Mainz, and Köln.
On the face of it, Werder have the slightly easier run in as they get to play Mainz and Paderborn, two of the seriously relegation threatened sides. However, Werder have shown that even in the games against the weaker sides this season they do not have the quality to win.
To stay up, Fortuna will need a few favours from other Bundesliga sides to ensure Werder do not catch them and that Mainz do not pull away. On top of that, certain key players will need to perform.
Kaan Ayhan will need to rediscover his form of the previous season. The Turkish international is by far the best defender in the side and is a real leader at the back. So far, Fortuna have one of the worst defences in the league, conceding 50 goals in 25 games. If they are going to stay up, the side needs to avoid giving up two goals per game. Goal difference is vital in a relegation battle and can be the difference between going down and staying up.
At the other end of the pitch, Fortuna need Hennings to find the form of earlier in the season. Despite his 11 goals so far this season, the experienced forward hasn’t found the net since the 22nd of December against Union Berlin. While the return of Karaman has certainly helped the side, Hennings is still the main striker for the side and his goals could be crucial in the run in.
For Hennings and Karaman to get the required goals, the midfield needs to create chances. For this, Austrian midfielder Kevin Stöger is key. Despite being out of contract in the summer, Fortuna can ill afford to look to the future and try an alternative player from inside the squad. While Stöger is almost certainly going to leave at the end of the season, in the short term he is the key to Fortuna staying up. He is the most creative midfielder in the squad and also one of the most underrated players in the Bundesliga. His passing ability means he can unlock almost any defence and he will be crucial in unlocking Paderborn on Saturday.
One player who has really developed this season is Eric Tommy. The winger on loan from Stuttgart has chipped in with 5 goals and 4 assists in 25 matches. His direct running style works well with the passing ability of Stöger, who can get Tommy into positions where he is more effective.
While the Bundesliga is known for its fans and atmosphere, everyone will have to get used to watching games without the wonderful tifo’s and chants of the ultras. There is no denying that this will take away from the spectacle. However, relegation is still very real for Fortuna and those around them. Saturday’s game against Paderborn is absolutely pivotal for their season. Win and they can look up to Mainz and trying to get out of the relegation play-off spot. Fail to win, and they will be looking over their shoulder at Werder Bremen.