From Robbie Kruse to Stefan Reisinger: A goal that will live long in the memory of Fortuna Düsseldorf

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It marks a dramatic return to the Bundesliga, following a 15-year absence, which was a traumatic period for the club. A decade ago last Friday, Fortuna were thrashed 6-0 by Wuppertaler SV in the fifth-tier of German football, as they made small steps on their ascent to become the only side to be demoted to the regional leagues and return to the top-flight.

Seven days that will be monumental in Fortuna’s Bundesliga history starting with a routine 2-0 home win against Hamburg SV, three weeks ago. A well-earned draw would follow in Dortmund in midweek before an impressive 4-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt on the following Friday.

Years of financial difficulties and licensing problems has marred one of the most traditional clubs in German football. Like many in the 1990s, Fortuna were hit hard by the financial problems widespread in German football and in the end, they plummeted to the regional divisions – participating as low as the Oberliga Nordrehin. Commercially, the club was in dire straits and it took a local punk rock band, Die Toten Hosen, to bail them out for two year’s worth of sponsorship revenue.

Fortunately for ‘F95’, a blend of short-term success, the commercial benefits of their new home, the ESPRIT Arena, and good financial governance at the club has allowed Fortunen to return to the Bundesliga platform. The likes of SV Waldhof Mannheim, KFC Uerdingen and FC Hansa Rostock – all of whom demoted for failing to meet the DFB’s licensing requirements in previous years, after being in the top-flight – will be looking to emulate the rapid rise of the Düsseldorf club.

That will be a tough ask, of course, for those respective clubs, because Fortuna are the only side ever to have been demoted, or relegated, to the fourth division and still been able to return to the Bundesliga.

The Bundesliga landscape has changed ten-fold in their hiatus from the league. It is an unforgiving environment and many raised an eyebrow at Fortuna’s extensive changes in the summer – 21 players coming in, 18 out, to be exact. Interestingly, though, head coach has preferred to stick with the same nucleus of the side that gained promotion in the summer.

The 54-year-old is an integral factor in Fortuna’s reasonably bright start to the campaign. Meier’s side are in the middle of an incredibly congested area of the table between European positions and the last remaining relegation spot. The Düsseldorf club are five points off Europe, yet just nine away from the relegation zone – a sign of the bizarrely competitive nature of the Bundesliga.

Last Tuesday evening in a bitterly cold Dortmund was a tactical victory for Meier, over the much-acclaimed Jürgen Klopp, who can be perhaps excused given the number of absentees from the regular starting eleven.

In the majority of their league matches, Fortuna have invited teams into their own half with possession, deploying a very deep defensive line, to deny space in behind for the likes of Dortmund’s quick attackers to exploit. It was a crucial element in the game last week; forcing indecisive passes from Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszcykowski that would, generally, be played into spaces behind the backline.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of Meier’s setup, Fortuna’s best form has come away from home this season – leaving them eighth in the ‘Away Form’ table with ten points from eight games.

The danger for the high-pressing Borussia Dortmund was the attacking intent of Fortuna’s most advanced players. It seemed like a masterstroke from Meier in his use of Kruse and latterly, Dani Schahin effectively on the shoulder of the last defender. The Australian forward was caught offside quite often in the second-half – but it should have been appreciated by the BVB head coach that Fortuna were looking to penetrate in behind.

An attacking player by nature, Kruse is quite appreciative of the acclaimed Catenaccio system implemented by Meier and he knows the importance of his own attributes when Fortuna are on the road in the Bundesliga.

Speaking exclusively to A Football Report:

“When we go to Borussia Dortmund we are quite realistic about the sort of style we can play. Naturally, they will have the overwhelming majority of possession – and they did on Tuesday. The aim was to go there, be compact, and be able to catch them on the break. It’s worked for us away from home recently. 

“Normally, for me, I like to play in the ‘number 10’ position when we play with a main centre-forward. The game plan was to try and spring some counter-attacks in behind using my pace. We had three or four really good breaks – and managed to take one of them.”

And it was one clumsy slip from the usually-reliable Lukasz Piszczek which prompted the first excellent opening for the visitors, with Kruse tearing down on goal against the erratic Roman Weidenfeller, only to lay the ball off to eventual goalscorer, Reisinger whose shot cannoned against his own team-mate, Ken Ilso.

Dortmund failed to take the warning from Meier’s counter-attacking side and the scores were level on 78 minutes. The 24-year-old Kruse swiftly spinning into the right-hand channel to beat the offside trap, crossing inch-perfectly for Reisinger at the back-post who nodded in his second goal in consecutive games for F95.

As much as the clinical attacking prowess is impressive, Fortuna’s defensive resilience certainly looked like a system which had been perfected on the training ground. Even with midfielder-by-nature Adam Bodzek in the heart of the defence, Fortuna were competently able to form a deep line with a bank of four ahead. Thus, allowing the home side almost five times the number of passes as Fortuna – but closing space in the final 25 yards to force aimless through passes from the attackers that would be gleefully swept up by the impressive Fabian Giefer between the sticks.

Despite a timid opening half, the dismissal of Eintracht’s Karim Matmour titled the balance of attacking intent towards the home side, who shuffled 15-20 yards higher up the park and looked to overpower the visitors with penetrative runs from deep. The absence of Eintracht captain Pirmin Schwegler – a gritty, industrious midfielder – was another key reason for flooding that area of the pitch to pressure the talented 20-year-old, Sebastian Rode.

It was another sign of Fortuna’s tactical adaptability, with Kruse missing from the startling eleven and Danish midfielder, Ilso, taking the responsibility of playing just behind main striker Nando Rafael. With Bellinghausen and Reisigner – both on the scoresheet at the ESPRIT Arena – playing as narrow wide-midfielder, the main responsibility of the duo was to make deep runs in behind advanced attacking full-backs, Sebastian Jung and Bastian Oczipka. 

“It was a great performance,” Kruse enthused.

“We’ve got some momentum now which is really important and this will help us going into the winter break. That’s seven points in three games which is absolutely outstanding. We played some really good attacking football on Friday night. I think we worked really hard, especially in their half and that made things difficult for them.”

Fortuna were in 13th at the close of play two weeks ago and remarkably just two points behind Hannover 96 in sixth place. But a two-goal defeat at the Frankenstadion to FC Nuremburg last Saturday had seen them falter and drop into 15th position in the table, before overcoming Hannover this weekend and moving back up to 13th – a symbol of the harsh nature of the Bundesliga.

For a side who only reached the 2.Bundesliga play-offs on goal difference – and given the incredible extent of Meier’s summer signing spree – the Düsseldorfers are making the most of their first season in the top-flight in 15 years. As much as things look rosy at this stage in the hinrunde, Fortuna will be delighted as long as they can safeguard their position in the league for next season.

The 24-year-old concludes honestly: “Things are looking good for us. Before the last three games, it wasn’t going as well for us. Of course, the main aim is to stay up – anything higher than that in the ladder is a success.

This article is by our German football expert Ross Dunbar, who you can follow on Twitter at @rossdunbar93. Comments below please.

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