Fortuna Düsseldorf 4-2 Energie Cottbus

The first half formations.

Fortuna Düsseldorf crawled back to the top of the 2. Bundesliga table thanks to a disciplined and ruthless first half display that took full advantage of three key Energie Cottbus errors. However, despite being reduced to ten men straight into the second half, the visitors nigh-on instantly scored two goals to pull it back to 3-2! However, former BVB striker Dimitar Rangelov stupidly lost his head, and earned himself a red card with 16 minutes still to play. Down to nine men, Cottbus’ chances of taking even a point from the game were gone, but they deserve credit anyway for a much-improved second half showing where they had Düsseldorf on the ropes.

Match preview here.

The visitors got us under way amid a tremendous noise from a highly-populated crowd, and managed to launch the first ball into the box in the opening minute. This came from the long-throw weapon of right-back Christopher Schorch, but Dimitar Rangelov wasted the chance to make something of the invitation through his over-physicality. For the next five minutes, though, the ball belonged to the hosts. They went calmly from their own box to Cottbus’, spreading side to side with confidence and precision. It was becoming a backs-to-the-wall job for the visitors, and with the box blocked off by bodies, this was what perhaps encouraged Andreas Lambertz to try his luck from range in the fourth minute. Thorsten Kirschbaum dropped the tricky – but not particularly fierce – shot straight into the path of Max Beister, who had been allowed to wander freely into the path of a tap-in by the ball-watching Roger. The in-form attacker made no mistake, firing the 2. Bundesliga high-fliers into an early 1-0 lead!

Compact Fortuna pressed (from the front, but only 15 metres or so beyond the halfway line), passed and tackled better than their guests in the aftermath of the goal, although Cottbus managed to string together a nice passage of play in the ninth minute, before wasting the eventual ball into the box. This became a bit of a theme as the sides contested more of the game’s opening quarter-hour, with Schorch particularly guilty of consistent possession turnovers.

However, the East German outfit had worked their way into a position of ball monopolization as we went beyond the 15-minute mark, and even though most of this continued to be in harmless areas of the pitch, they still managed one or two incisions. On the quarter-hour mark itself, 17-year-old Leonardo Bittencourt jinxed infield, drawing a foul just off the D. The free-kick, taken right-footed by Rangelov, crashed off the base of the post. Goalkeeper Robert Almer remained rooted throughout, but luckily for him, the ball bounced wide after its contact with the woodwork.

The reason Cottbus found it so difficult to make constant splices of the hosts’ defence was because the two Düsseldorf attackers were dovetailing impressively when it came to their off-ball pressing duties. One would always go to the man on the ball, and the other would keep tabs on the Cottbus string-puller Ivica Banović – the former Freiburg man persistently bobbing to find the best pocket of space available around the halfway point of the pitch. As a result, the centre-backs’ short passes were hurried, or they resorted to opposition-favouring hopeful hoofs.

One of coach Norbert Meier’s strikers showed that he’s not too bad with the ball at his feet either in the 17th minute, when Energie left-back Alex Bittroff played a horror pass straight across his unaware centre-backs in the first-third of the pitch (a bit of a semi-panic as Ken Ilsø came across to press the defender’s dithering). Sascha Rösler got to the loose ball first, and without waiting to take a trap or slow the pace of the ball, the Fortuna forward wellied it first-time into the bottom corner on his left foot for 2-0!

Normal service resumed after the home side had doubled their advantage, with Cottbus knocking the ball about among their centre-backs, trying in vain to feed one of the midfielders or striker roaming in the final-third. But, a decent incisive pass continued to be a skill beyond the men in black, and what Fortuna were doing particularly well was narrowing the midfield as soon as possession changed hands. With both full-backs instantly on the move to provide width, some quick one-twos or a several-player first-time passing move in the centre of the pitch soon had the high and exposed Cottbus looking even more open than they already were, generating space in which to feed either Tobias Levels or Johannes van der Bergh in the final-third, or lay on one of the two strikers.

Things went from bad to worse for Cottbus in the 25th minute, and once again, they only had themselves to blame. Uwe Hünemeier thought he was all alone in watching a ball go out over the byline, little realising that the high-pressing former Germany U21 international Rösler was in his shadow. The 33-year-old timed his slide tackle to perfection, and was given the chance to go one on one with the ‘keeper (albeit sideways along the chalk, rather than through the box). With the angle rendering a shot impossible, Rösler pulled the ball back to Ilsø, who couldn’t adjust his body in time to blast the ball in on his right foot. However, Kirschbaum’s parry fell kindly to Beister, who, despite facing a six-yard box swamped with five outfield Cottbus players and a ‘keeper, was able to take advantage of a paucity of body-on-the-line pressing to fire in at his second attempt. A 3-0 scoreline to the home side wasn’t exactly undeserved, but all three goals had been preventable, and coach Pele Wollitz’s expression on the bench suggested that he knew that.

The crowd and both sides seemed to be in a state of disbelief after the third goal had gone in, and a bit of the fight and tempo had now deserted the game. Beister, though, was after his hat-trick, and zoomed in off the chalk with the ball at his feet in the 33rd minute, before firing a left-footed strike straight at Kirschbaum. At the other end, Roger nearly made amends for his blunders two minutes later, heading a right-footed Alexander Ludwig corner over the bar.

Cottbus brought the ball forward and made their passes into the other half quicker in the final ten minutes of the half, but they were still either too scruffy or too long and hopeful. Fortuna were now playing with more tactical defensive discipline, and more concerned with holding onto the ball and pulling the black-shirted players out of their half than surging forward in an instant on the break. Players such as Sascha Dum excelled at this point in the game, never looking flustered in the face of pressure, and always making sensible passes that tended to force Cottbus into sprints elsewhere, or found the colleague with the most space. Every outfield player was making it look easy with the ball at their feet, though, and after toying with their visitors, the eventual final ball was always canny and played at the perfect time to catch Cottbus by surprise.

Wollitz’s side, still sticking to their 4-1-4-1, were by and large only really pressing in their own half at this stage. The problem was that when the hosts’ centre-backs had the ball at their feet and the other outfield players in red were bobbing in the Cottbus half, their movement was just too good to risk leaving any gaps in the banks. Nevertheless, technically slick and speedy of thought Düsseldorf always seemed to find a way through, and Rösler was still doing a particularly adept job at dragging the centre-backs out of position.

Unsurprisingly, Meier had little to say to his players during the interval, and they returned for the second half way before Wollitz’s presumably shouted-at troops. The referee was seen giving Wollitz a talking-to in the tunnel, the coach’s poor time-keeping seemingly the subject up for debate. That was all a bit silly, but what happened in the 47th minute was a million times more farcical. A hopeful punt upfield resulted in a dangerous bouncing ball for Roger to deal with. The Brazilian defender was all alone in terms of Cottbus players, but had Ilsø for company. Roger made a meal of taking the ball down, and the Dane managed to engineer the opportunity to go one on one with the ‘keeper. However, on his way past, he needlessly pulled the defender out of the way some more, something Roger chose to express his displeasure at by giving the striker a kick.  The man in the middle clearly saw the incident as more than just a bit of handbags, and sent Roger off!

the visitors’ right winger Ludwig was immediately replaced by Daniel Ziebig, as Wollitz looked to reshape his side and relocate certain players (Schorch to left-sided centre-back, Ziebig to left-back, Müller to right wing, Bittroff to right-back). Perhaps it was something about that one end of the pitch, but the game’s fourth defensive error saw the visitors claw a goal back in the 52nd minute. Rangelov won the free-kick out on the right wing in the second-third of the pitch, and Ziebig swung it into the box as a cross. It came to the back post, where, under no pressure, Jens Langeneke booted air with his clearance, catching Almer out and allowing the ball to bounce in for 3-1!

Four minutes later, the game was turned on its head, as Cottbus grabbed another! A second Ziebig free-kick from the right wing saw yet more uncertainty in the Fortuna rearguard, and Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti became so occupied with manhandling Hünemeier, he lost track of where the ball was, steering the Cottbus defender into a position where he could sideways-header the ball into the corner for 3-2! Two free-kicks from Wollitz’s substitute – who drew the foul for the second assist himself – had changed the complexion of this tie!

The formations in the closing stages.

The home side had gone from looking far superior to their guests in the first half to totally inferior – despite having the one man advantage. They were now sluggish in possession, and lacked energy and fight. The busy Rangelov drew a free-kick in the 65th minute after chasing the too-slowly assessing Lambertz, robbing him of the ball, and then winning a panicky hack. However, the Bulgarian proceeded to curl the right-footed set-piece way over the bar. The Cottbus full-backs were now providing the attack with the width they’d be screaming out for in the first half, and with the midfielders bobbing intelligently and eagerly infield, Cottbus were reminiscent of the Fortuna in the first half.

As we entered the final 20 minutes, both sides made like for like changes on the left wing. Meier replaced the now anonymous Dum with Robbie Kruse, while Bittencourt saw his spot on the flank taken by Rok Kronaveter. However, this was a bit of a desperate period of the game, with both teams committing too many fouls, or, in Fortuna’s case, basing their game plan on looking for them. Rangelov, being one of the most experienced players on the pitch, should have been a bit more careful than to play straight into the hosts’ hands, and two yellow cards in the space of three minutes saw him given his marching orders in the 74th minute. As if playing with ten players hadn’t been bad enough, Cottbus were now down to nine men.

With more space available on the pitch, Düsseldorf finally rediscovered their ability to hold onto the ball and use it sharply and intelligently. They once again got their full-backs camped out in the opposition half, and resumed their first half-winning tactics of knocking the ball about from chalk to chalk and making Cottbus run – an even more effective tactic against eight outfield players. Ilsø had been replaced by Adriano Grimaldi for the final quarter-hour, and the Italian striker definitely made a difference. His lay-offs required just the one touch and were neat, and his runs to get himself into the positions to make these passes were always sly and very well-timed.

The final five minutes were as frantic and bonkers as one might expect from a tightly-poised 11-vs-nine game. With the highly mobile Martin Fenin now leading a Cottbus attack bolstered by the full-backs becoming full-time wingers, and the technically-accomplished and visionary Kronaveter pulling the strings behind the Czech striker, the visitors always posed a threat in the closing stages. If only they had shown the same sort of physical, athletic and fighting spirit attributes when they had 11 men on the pitch in the first half, who knows how this game might have turned out. Certainly better than a defeat by a two-goal margin, you’d have thought – the scoreline made 4-2 with the final kick of the game by Grimaldi, as he and Rösler launched a two on two break, with the latter cleverly drawing both defenders towards him before laying on his young colleague, who finished coolly.

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