It’s third against seventh on Saturday afternoon in 2. Bundesliga as high-flying Fortuna Düsseldorf host Jekyll & Hyde side Energie Cottbus. The last time Cottbus travelled to the Esprit Arena (back in January for a league tie), a goal from Nils Petersen wasn’t enough to stop the East Germans falling to a 3-1 defeat. However, Claus-Dieter ‘Pele’ Wollitz’s side finished higher up the division come the end of the season, although neither of these clubs ever really posed a big challenge for promotion in 2010/11. This time round, though, Düsseldorf’s start indicates that they’ll be in or around the top three positions come the end of the season, while you can never rule out Cottbus (especially as even after an erratic start, they’re only five points off top spot).
Saturday’s hosts have had a fantastic start to the season, and are unbeaten in the nine games played coming into this clash. That run includes Düsseldorf knocking KSV Hessen Kassel out of the DFB-Pokal, while even draws away at the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt are not to be sniffed at. Norbert Meier’s biggest problem last season was the lack of a goal-scorer, but that issue has now been resolved in some fashion – despite Australian international Robbie Kruse, purchased from Melbourne Jets for €50,000, and Ken Ilsø, snapped up after scoring seven goals in a 14-game loan spell at the back end of last season, rarely featuring in the starting line-up, let alone among the goals, other players in the squad have stepped up to the plate and taken on the scoring burden.
Fortuna, who are bidding to return to the top flight for the first time since 1997, have scored three goals or more in a game on five occasions so far this season, and have won their last two games by a 4-2 scoreline (against Karlsruhe and Aue respectively). Max Beister (two goals, two assists), Sascha Rösler (five goals) and Thomas Bröker (five goals, one assists) are the players particularly on fire at this moment in time, although 4-4-2 man Meier will be worried by the fact that key holding-midfielder Oliver Fink looks set to miss the Cottbus clash with a knee injury. His side haven’t always looked like world-beaters, and it is primarily thanks to those aforementioned prolific finishers and the on-pitch leadership skills of Fink that they sit just one point behind league leaders Greuther Fürth and St Pauli.
Despite starting the campaign impressively with two league wins and not a point dropped, Cottbus were then humiliated in the first round of the DFB-Pokal, losing 3-0 to lower-league side Holstein Kiel. Although on-loan BVB man Dimitar Rangelov has led the line with energy and experience, the Bulgarian’s presence isn’t entirely compensating for Petersen’s defection to Bayern Munich, and Wollitz has seen his team’s form become alarmingly erratic in the wake of that cup defeat. Although defeats such as the 5-0 drubbing at the hands of 1860 Munich can be written off because of an early red card (although Cottbus really were awful before and after that dismissal), Saturday’s visitors to Düsseldorf have been especially disappointing in their last two games, throwing away 2-0 and 3-1 leads to draw 3-3 with Eintracht Frankfurt, before losing 3-1 to Eintracht Braunschweig last weekend.
In the build-up to the Düsseldorf trip, Wollitz has been paying tribute to his opposite number, Meier. He said: “Düsseldorf have good experience in tricky situations, and can rely on a setting where there are no whistles from the crowd, and always undivided support. That makes them stronger, and this team knows how to do second division football.” The 46-year-old then went on to speak about Cottbus’ opponents unbeaten run, and noted: “Each series comes to an end, and it is our goal, even though we’re in Düsseldorf, to push through our game and lead the rhythm.”
Wollitz will have to make do without defender Uwe Hünemeier for the lunchtime tie, and has hinted that he may move Christopher Scorch in alongside Roger at centre-back, with Alexander Bittroff and Daniel Ziebig deployed as full-backs. Other Cottbus players set to miss out on the six-hour trip to the Esprit Arena include key midfielder Daniel Adlung and Dennis Sørensen, and former Borussia Dortmund defender Markus Brzenska. Meier, meanwhile, has a nigh-on fully fit squad to choose from, with Fink only expected to join the suspended first-choice goalkeeper Michael Ratajczak on the sidelines.
Fortuna Düsseldorf vs Energie Cottbus kicks off at 12pm on Saturday in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.