One of 2. Bundesliga’s leakiest defences is gearing up to host the division’s leaders this Saturday lunchtime, as eighth-placed Energie Cottbus host high-flying Greuther Fürth. The former’s form has caused a surge in scalp irritation for 2. Bundesliga devotees, with Cottbus following a narrow win here and there by losing games in the most humiliating fashion possible. Myself and many others, therefore, have been left scratching our heads as to how a team which has flitted between the top two divisions over the last decade has reached mid-October having shipped three goals or more in a single match to each of 1860 Munich, St Pauli, Eintracht Frankfurt, Eintracht Braunschweig, Fortuna Düsseldorf and even Holstein Kiel in a humiliating cup exit. The latter match was preceded by two victories, but since then, Claus-Dieter Wollitz’s side have won a paltry three games out of the last nine – a miserly total for a side considered to be one of the promotion favourites in the summer, even with the loss of last season’s top scorer Nils Petersen taken into account.
The club has been rocked this week by the announcement that striker Martin Fenin is taking a few months off from the sport after revealing his struggle with depression. Although this blogger wishes the young Czech Republic striker a speedy recovery, and agrees that his decision to take some time out from the game was the right one, his temporary departure leaves Cottbus shorn of options in attack. Admittedly, Fenin had yet to make an impact at a club he only joined over the summer, but now, Wollitz has little cover for 28-year-old Bulgarian Dimitar Rangelov in his favoured 4-2-3-1 system. The one time the 46-year-old has tried to mix things up formation-wise, he selected Fenin in a 4-4-2 – a system which only served to expose Cottbus’ mistake-ridden defence.
Rangelov, the scorer of seven goals so far this season, returned to the starting XI last weekend after serving a one-match suspension, and he and his colleagues succeeded in defeating a hard-to-beat and physical FSV Frankfurt side 1-0. After the match, Wollitz praised his team’s tactical discipline, and the stats show that individually and collectively, the players ran more than they have done during any other game in the season to date. Added to that, the defence – unchanged from the one that shipped 54 goals in 34 league games last season – had their most effective game of the campaign; a timely lift ahead of the league leaders’ visit. A win on Saturday might lift Cottbus up to sixth, and most of the first-team – about eight of this season’s regular starters were also in the team last season – know what it takes to win a home match against Fürth, with about 9,000 fans watching on as Cottbus beat the Bavarian side 2-0 on their previous trip to Stadion der Freundschaft in September 2010.
However, 13 months on, Mike Büskens’ Fürth are an entirely different kettle of fish. Deservedly sitting top of the league, the south German minnows look strong in every area of the pitch, and their 43-year-old coach knows his preferred starting line-up and system, which benefits everyone. Playing a stylish, mainly floor-based brand of football, Fürth also have the advantage of some effective back-up plans in their starting line-up, with two burly forwards making the long ball an occasionally fruitful attacking option, and two speedy, run-at-their-man wingers stretching opponents and terrorising full-backs. No one conceded less goals than Fürth last year (as the team finished fifth for the second year in a row), and at the moment, only they and Paderborn have a single digit in their ‘goals against’ column. Fürth are one of the few teams who have managed to score past Paderborn, though, defeating them 1-0 back in August.
Büskens’ side defeated Aue 2-0 last weekend in a hard-fought and niggly encounter, ending a run of two draws from their last three games – the nearest the squad has come to suffering a blip in form. The coach has the luxury of a nigh-on fully fit squad to pick from for tomorrow’s game, with the only player of note missing being midfielder Stephan Fürstner. Wollitz, on the other hand, has something of a defensive personnel crisis, with Roger, Markus Brzenska and Alexander Bittroff all set to miss out, along with midfielder Dennis Sorensen and the aforementioned Fenin. Cottbus’ coach, who will have to decide whether to try and shut up shop against the league leaders or keep things open by playing people such as ex-Fürth man Daniel Adlung, said ahead of the game: “We needed to trust ourselves after five winless games in a row as a team because we were facing a situation that has never seen before. The victory in Frankfurt was a step in the right direction, therefore, and from there we must build. The team needs conviction and courage before a home crowd, and then, we can not only exist, but also win this game.”
Energie Cottbus vs Greuther Fürth kicks off at noon tomorrow afternoon in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com.