Fortuna Düsseldorf overcame 43 minutes of being outclassed by a seemingly inferior 2. Bundesliga opponent to secure what was in the end a comfortable victory. Despite bossing the majority of the first half with their risky attacking play and high defensive line, Ingolstadt paid the price for not taking their chances. After taking the lead seconds before the interval, Fortuna then had the relatively simple task of picking off their crestfallen guests on the break in the second half.
The match began in a competitive manner, each sides giving as good as they got. Therefore, we saw a number of half chances as formations were temporarily abandoned, Andreas Buchner and Max Beister, cutting in from the wings for the away and home side respectively, probably seeing the clearest openings of goal in the opening five minutes. The tempo was being maintained at every restart by virtue of both ‘keepers choosing to go long as quickly as possible. The temptations for both were obvious, with physical, lively players like Sascha Rösler and Moritz Hartmann leading the lines.
Despite the game remaining open and feisty as we entered the teen minutes (the latter quality maintained by some particularly thunderous challenge from Ingolstadt), it was becoming apparent that Norbert Meier’s home side were the more technically accomplished of the two. This was demonstrated by the sheer panic shown by the Ingolstadt back line at the first sign of a man in red pressing the ball, and the fact that Düsseldorf’s players were more adept at using the game’s tussles to spin into a pocket of space and then pick out a pass. As if to emphasise the difference in quality, a mazy Tobias Fink dart to the byline was ruined after he couldn’t get his feet and balance working in tandem, and in the 13th minute, left-sided attacker Caiuby wastefully curled over a left-footed free-kick from the shadow of the D.
Yet, it was the away side who had carved that opportunity out. If anything, they were seeing more of the ball than their hosts because although they looked poorer on it, they were quicker with it. Standing and pressing high regardless of whether they were in possession or not, Ingolstadt were keeping Fortuna penned in their own half, red-shirted players sat on top of one another. This tactic wouldn’t work all game, however, and in the 17th minute, Andreas Lambertz drew his full-back infield, disturbing Ingolstadt’s defensive shape and forcing the three left at the back to follow the diagonally-darting strikers and retreat. This created a space, a corner was won, and from the subsequent delivery, centre-back Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti somehow volleyed over from two yards out!
But then, normality was restored. Ingolstadt got the ball back into their opponents’ half, and camped there for a bit. By ensuring that the centre-backs were always on or just behind the halfway line, the full-backs were pretty much free to bomb down the wings, and both took the opportunity to do so on a number of occasions. In turn, the wingers could push infield with Hartmann and ghosting midfielder Stefan Leitl narrowing the home side even more, not to mentioned pulling the majority of their outfield players back in or around their own box. I’d argue that by the 25th minute, Meier was actually happy with this arrangement, as it did allow his slicker side the chance to surge forward into space on breaks via one or several direct passes. However, his side’s final ball from both through-passes and free-kicks was poor – just like Caiuby’s finishing at the other end, the Brazilian heading off target in the 26th minute, before slicing a left-footed finish wide in the 27th minute. Yet the fact that the Ingolstadt left winger got these chances in the box showed that coach Benno Möhlmann was tactically outwitting his opponent by standing high, encouraging his full-backs to get forward, and piling bodies into the box.
Defensively, Möhlmann’s back four were doing him proud too. A passage of play in the 29th minute was just one example of why, when after catching another wasted Ingolstadt free-kick taken from within the final-third, Michael Ratajczak sprant to the edge of his box to hoof the ball upfield. It was then flicked on for Beister to chase, but the nimble wideman was guided out onto the wing. By the time he ran back towards the box with the ball from the wing, the centre-backs had retreated, and rather than eagerly sticking a foot in, they guided Beister further and further away from goal, not only stopping him from laying the ball on to a colleague, but also making a shot impossible.
Fortuna repeated this mistake on a number of occasions, trying to dribble into the box or looking for a passing option when in it, allowing the Ingolstadt centre-backs to take control. The only logical reason for persevering with this tactic from the home side’s point of view was that Ingolstadt really were flying into challenges with every muscle in their body primed in other areas of the pitch. Malte Metzelder, in particular, seemed to be on the pitch for no other reason than to shoulder charge whoever had the audacity to take the ball off one of his colleagues.
But, although Ingolstadt were creating and having the opportunities, the score was still 0-0 as we passed the 40 minute mark with three consecutive corners wasted by the visitors. Nevertheless, for 43 minutes, they had given a masterclass in how to make the most of limited resources (relentless pressure, a wholehearted belief in the risky tactic of standing high and playing the offside trap a few inches before the halfway line, and attacking, no nonsense-style via dribbling full-backs).
But, they fell on their own sword in the 44th minute. Part of Möhlmann’s game plan was to essentially man mark the Fortuna strikers all over the pitch – following their every move, and arching over whoever was on the ball. But when Bröker used this to engineer space behind himself in the final third, Beister seized the opportunity, easily burning Moise Bambara to the byline, and dinking back across goal for Rösler to head in unattended (Marvin Matip was ball-watching two feet away). With only their second chance of the half, Düsseldorf had scored and entered the interval with a 1-0 lead!
Now facing a side having to chase rather than boss the game with a ‘who cares’ attitude, Fortuna looked far more relaxed. The away side still saw most of the ball at the start of the second half, but, they now seemed to be putting more thought into how they should use it. This was never going to work, and backed by a typically raucous home crowd, Düsseldorf dealt with anything that came into the box calmly and confidently. Yet, they had seemingly decided to keep things direct in attack, and when Ratajczak punted the ball upfield in the 50th minute, Oliver Fink was left to place a headed through-pass on to Bröker, who, against an uncharacteristically retreating Ingolstadt defence, poked the ball past Sascha Kirschstein for 2-0!
However, just three minutes later, Ingolstadt finally put one of their many set-pieces to use. Taking a second ball after the set-piece itself failed, Leitl crossed for Hartmann, who showed why he’s keeping Edson Buddle out of the team by outmuscling several players and heading in for 2-1! But, incredibly, Fortuna scooped a ball over Bambara from kick-off for Oliver Fink, who crept round the side of the dozing right-back to home in on goal, before cheekily lobbing a stunned Kirschstein for 3-1! Meier had deployed his Fink to a more advanced position for the second half, and the home team were reaping the benefits as a result.
Despite finding it more difficult playing against the home side’s 4-1-3-2, one which did a better job pressing the ball in their own half too, Ingolstadt were still winning set-pieces. Caiuby should have scored from one in the 61st minute, trying to trap a corner that dropped to the floor, thereby inviting the slide tackle block on his eventual shot. Ahmed Akaïchi came on his for debut shortly after; he and José-Alex Ikeng replacing Leonhard Haas and Andreas Buchner. Möhlmann changed to a 4-2-2-2, his debutant Tunisian offering energy and height up front alongside Hartmann, with Leitl moving out to the right wing and Ikeng the driving force in the middle.
But this switch backfired, as with the full-backs relatively restrained due to the resurgence and increase in presence of Fortuna, it was up to Metzelder to set the attacks in motion by picking out passes from deep – something that was always going to fail. And in the 72nd minute, his side were caught with a gap between midfield and defence, Lambertz was given the time and space to square, and at the second time of asking, Bröker, let through by the ball-watching centre-backs, made it 4-1.
There followed a raft of changes and the dilution of the game’s pace. Robbie Kruse, Sascha Dum and Ken Ilsø all came on to offer fresh impetus to the attack, as Fortuna settled into a 4-4-2 – Oliver Fink ostensibly the insurance option in front of the defence (perhaps there to knock a quick pass over the top of the defence to Ilsø, who looked just as comfortable holding the ball up and laying off to the dribbling Dum or speedy Kruse), with Adam Bodzek offering the up and down runs needed to pressure the pondering Ingolstadt defenders on the ball. They had been joined on the pitch by Edson Buddle, but the away side had grown increasingly limited and erratic in attack, resorting to hopeless pot shots. They knew that the game had ultimately been lost in those opening 43 minutes.