No one would have expected Fortuna Düsseldorf to replicate their remarkable first season back in the big time entering the 2019/20 season. Freidhelm Funkel had masterminded a top 10 finish with a side mostly without any Bundesliga household names. Yet, many felt that Fortuna should have had enough to at least survive again this season, even with the loss of Benito Raman and Dodi Lukebakio.
Fast forward a few months and the side dropped into the second division with a whimper. Funkel was outed shortly after the winter break, replaced with Uwe Rösler, whose last job had been with Malmo in Sweden. Despite an upturn in performances, Rösler ultimately fell short in his quest for safety. The side were in the driving seat for the relegation play off yet offered a limp display against Union Berlin which sealed automatic relegation.
The previous time Fortuna were in the Bundesliga they only lasted one season, so in some respects this is an improvement. However on that occasion they had come up through the play off and were expected to struggle, whereas this time they had won the Bundesliga 2 and were looking to establish themselves. It took five seasons for them to return, with a few relegation battles in that time. Fans will hope that the rebuild will be quicker and less stressful this time around.
Beating Köln 2-0 will be the biggest and probably only highlight of this season. Rouwenn Hennings scored probably the best of his 15 goals in that match, while Erik Tommy’s counter-attacking goal to seal it sent the home fans into delirium. Fortuna should have done the double over their rivals, being 2-0 up again in the return fixture, only to crumble in the last few minutes and draw 2-2, a result that in the long run had severe ramifications.
At the time, the 3-3 draw with Schalke 04 back in November seemed an impressive result. Obviously in hindsight Schalke are a completely different team to the side that started the season. Hennings again was instrumental, scoring a hat-trick which included an 85th minute equaliser.
Another highlight would probably be the recent comeback against RB Leipzig. This time it was Fortuna who were 2-0 down with minutes to go, until a fortunate goal for Steven Skrzybski and a last minute header from Andre Hoffman rescued a point. Many at the time felt this point would push the side onwards towards survival, but it wasn’t to be.
Clearly the 3-0 defeat to Union would be the biggest disappointment of the season. Fortuna barely troubled the Union defence and went down without much resistance. Add to this throwing away the game against Köln and a pattern of not doing it when it really mattered starts to show.
Losing 1-0 to Werder Bremen back in January was also a huge lowlight for the side and the fans. There was hope that after the winter break the side would come out with purpose and look to push on following a good result prior to the break.
Among the plethora of disappointing results was also the cup upset against Saarbrücken. Making the semi-finals would have at least papered over some of the cracks in the season, yet it took a late equaliser for Fortuna to make it to extra time, before they fell to pieces in the penalty shoot-out. Many a neutral enjoyed the incredible fairytale that was Saarbrücken, but for Fortuna fans it was bitterly disappointing way to lose.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 6-12-16 (0.88 PPG) 19th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 18 points (4-6-7 ) Away Record 12 points (2-6-9)
Goals: 36 (0.94 per game) Goals against: 67 (1.97 per game)
Fortuna were the lowest scorers in the league this season with only 36 goals. 15 of these goals came from Hennings, who had a fantastic season in front of goal. Erik Thommy and Kenan Karaman contributed six apiece, which may have been more had Karaman been injury free for more of the season. Outside of these three players goals were sparce and a real problem for Fortuna and one of the main reasons they found themselves relegated in the end.
Defensively the side struggled, especially during the early portion of the season. They were shipping goals far too easily and looked vulnerable to any sort of opposition attack. Struggling to score at one end, while leaking goals at the other proved a real problem. This somewhat improved as the season went on, and by the end Fortuna had conceded less goals than Paderborn, Werder and Köln. It’s anticipated that there will be major changes in defensive personnel going into next season, which isn’t surprising given the problems they faced.
Who lined up in the centre of midfield was a lottery. Both Funkel and Rösler seemed to prefer a three-man central midfield. When finally fit, Kevin Stöger was the mainstay. Yet before he returned, any variety of midfield line ups were used. Oliver Fink, Adam Bodzek, Alfredo Morales, Lewis Baker and Marcel Sobotka were all juggled while Funkel searched for the ideal combination during the early season. Valon Berisha arrived in January to add another equation to the mix.
Bodzek was an interesting test case for the season, prior to the COVID-19 enforced break he looked well past his prime, yet after the break he suddenly seemed to have rediscovered his top form. Captain Fink had been sensational in the 2018/19 season, yet this year he looked like age had finally caught up with him and could no longer be relied on. However, what ultimately cost Funkel was his reliance on these two players, which frustrated those above him who wanted to see younger players coming through.
Like the defence, the midfield will look different next season, with Stöger gone, Fink moved into a different role at the club, Baker (prematurely) and Berisha having returned to their parent clubs as well.
We have already looked at the pretty poor transfer windows for Fortuna here. Bar Thommy, most transfers failed to really help keep the side succeed. Given that in the final game against Union only three of the many players brought in over the summer and winter started, with two of those being substituted during the game, tells the story of a pretty dismal transfer policy.
With so many loans, the side will look very different going into next season. So far none of the options to buy have been activated by the club, perhaps due to clauses regarding staying in the league. Sorting out recruitment will be a big priority for the management, as getting it right this summer will be crucial to returning to the Bundesliga.
Player of the season
Picking a player of the season is always difficult in a year where the side has been relegated. Many will go for Hennings, and its hard to ignore his incredible goal tally this season. The veteran striker finished 5th overall, above plenty of more expensive strikers.
However, for me the player of the season should perhaps be Mattias Zimmerman. Zimbo as he is referred to always gave 110% on the pitch and was incredibly consistent in his performances. No matter what the score was he played with his heart on his sleeve and gave everything for the club. By no means the best player technically in the side, he was a reliable option that played every single game for the side in the league. It would not be surprising to see newly promoted teams look to sign the right-back.
While Paderborn were expected to struggle, Fortuna should really have done better. They threw away far too many points from winning positions which ultimately cost them. Players and staff will certainly be looking back at too many “what if” moments. Coming into the final game they had the opportunity to give themselves a second chance at survival, which they ultimately bottled. The table doesn’t lie after 34 matchdays, but Fortuna’s season should have been far better.