CONTROVERSIALLY-promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf travel to last season’s surprise package Augsburg on the opening day of the 2012/13 1. Bundesliga season. Düsseldorf needed a play-off against Hertha Berlin to secure their position in the top-flight after a poor second half to the 2. Bundesliga campaign, and despite winning that tie over two legs, a pitch invasion before the match had finished led to the capital city side protesting the result.
However, it was allowed to stand, and Fortuna now have the chance to show that they merit their place in 1. Bundesliga. Coach Norbert Meier has seen his squad transformed over the summer by sporting director Wolf Werner, who has given the former West Germany international the kind of players needed to help the club stave off the threat of relegation. Augsburg, meanwhile, start the new league season with a new coach, Markus Weinzierl. The 37-year-old – who has impressed in recent seasons with Jahn Regensburg – has replaced the popular Dutchman Jos Luhukay, who surprisingly left at the end of the 2011/12 campaign, and is now at the helm of Hertha Berlin.
This will be the first time these two clubs have ever met in the top-flight, because this is Augsburg’s second ever campaign in 1. Bundesliga. A wonderful end to last season saw the Bavarian side cement their place in the division a few rounds before matchday 34, and the club’s fans will be hoping to see some of that momentum carried over into this campaign. Most of them will recall vividly the belter of a game played out the last time Düsseldorf visited the SGL Arena, as the hosts ran out 5-2 winners. That day, Axel Bellinghausen scored once, and Nando Rafael bagged a brace, but Augsburg fans won’t be celebrating if those two players repeat that feat this weekend – both are now on the away side’s books.
Although the latter’s departure wasn’t too surprising, given the limited game time he got last season, Bellinghausen’s departure was a blow. The left-sided midfielder had a very good year for Luhukay’s side in the 2011/12 campaign, continuing the blistering form he had shown in the club’s 2010/11 promotion season. Joining those players out of the door – all, also, on free transfers, as Augsburg didn’t bring in a single cent over the summer – were Daniel Brinkmann (an attacking midfielder who did play nearly every game last season, but looked out of his depth. He has gone to Energie Cottbus), Andrew Sinkala and Lorenzo Davids (midfielders who weren’t technically good enough for the top-flight, and are now free agents), Marcel Ndjeng (a winger who just didn’t have the pace or stamina to cut it at the top-level any longer. He has joined Hertha Berlin), and Jonas de Roeck (a reserve centre-back, who has moved to Belgian side Oud-Heverlee Leuven). Returning to their parent clubs after loan spells, meanwhile, were Hajime Hosogai (a very good ball-playing defensive-midfielder owned by Bayer Leverkusen) and Akaki Gogia (a Wolfsburg-owned winger who frustrated as much as he delighted).
Compensating for those departures, however, have been the arrivals of nine players who all look as though they could be starters. There’s Jan Morávek (an attacking-midfielder who was on loan at the club last season from Schalke), Giovanni Sio (a striker who arrives on loan from Wolfsburg), Knowledge Musona (a hard-working and versatile attacker who arrives on loan from Hoffenheim), Aristide Bancé (a temperamental striker capable of the spectacular who many will remember from his time at Mainz), Milan Petržela (a winger who arrives from Viktoria Plzeň, as Bundesliga clubs continue their mining of the Czech champions for gold), Kevin Vogt (a promising young centre-midfielder recruited from Bochum), Andreas Ottl (an experienced Bundesliga defensive-midfielder capable of doing a job. The former Bayern Munich man has joined the club from Hertha Berlin), Ragnar Klavan (a centre-back brought in from AZ Alkmaar), and Ronny Philp (a full-back brought in from Jahn Regensburg at the behest of Weinzierl).
Perhaps more key than any of these signings, however, has been the retention of playmaking midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol. On-loan from and unwanted at Wolfsburg, the South Korean is a fan favourite at the SGL Arena after his match-winning exploits during a spell at the club last season.
Not many clubs in Europe’s top divisions have been as busy as Fortuna Düsseldorf this summer, with the North Rhine-Westphalian side bringing in 17 players (with an 18th, full-back Tobias Levels, being signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach after a very good loan spell). However, such recruitment was necessary, because ten players of note – including several key first-teamers – have left the club over the summer.
Chief among them was young attacking-midfielder Max Beister – probably the hottest prospect in the second division last season, but now back with his parent club, Hamburg. His goals, assists and all-round talismanic attacking displays will be missed, but then if it wasn’t for Beister, Düsseldorf wouldn’t even be in the top-flight. Joining the 21-year-old out of the door were Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti (a first-choice centre-back who was meant to be going to Cologne, but has now joined Werder Bremen), Adam Matuschyk (a centre-midfielder who returns to Cologne after a not particularly productive loan spell), Villyan Bijev (a young American striker loaned from Liverpool), Ranisav Jovanovic (a super-sub striker who was allowed to leave on a free, and is now with Duisburg), Thomas Bröker (a key striker last season, but one not deemed good enough for the top-tier, and who is now with Cologne), Sascha Rösler (a veteran centre-forward who has more than played his part in recent seasons, and who moved to Aachen over the summer), Sascha Dum (a midfielder who featured regularly last season, but who was allowed to depart on a free) and Michael Ratajczak (a goalkeeper who played regularly enough last season, but has now been allowed to move to Greek side Asteras Tripoli).
Arriving alongside Rafael and Bellinghausen in those players’ places, however, are a more-than-capable crop of youngsters, old-timers and those somewhere in between. The most noteworthy of them all, perhaps, is former Ukraine and Hertha Berlin striker Andriy Voronin, who has joined the club on a season-long loan from Dinamo Moscow. Joining him on the striking roster are Stefan Reisinger (a 30-year-0ld acquired from Freiburg), Gerrit Wegkamp (a one-for-the-future 19-year-old signed from 3. Liga side Osnabrück), and Dani Schahin (a young attacker brought in after a noteworthy 2011/12 campaign with fellow promoted side Greuther Fürth). Two 22-year-old goalkeepers have arrived to fight it out for the first-time jersey in Fabian Giefer (signed from Bayer Leverkusen, and the current first-choice), and Nikos Papadopoulos (Olympiacos).
The defence, meanwhile, has been bolstered by the arrival of another Greek player, 27-year-old centre-back Stelios Malezas (PAOK Thessaloniki). Joining him in the Düsseldorf defensive department are Du-Ri Cha (a former Freiburg full-back signed from Scottish Premier League side Celtic), Bruno Soares (a centre-back signed from Duisburg), and Leon Balogun (a centre-back recruited from Werder Bremen II). In midfield, the club has brought in right-sided midfielder Ronny Garbuschewski from 3. Liga side Chemnitz, 20-year-old defensive-midfielder Bastian Müller from Bayern Munich II, 26-year-old Saudi Arabian right-winger Mazin Ahmed Al-Huthayfi (Al-Ittihad Jeddah), 21-year-old Croatian centre-midfielder Ivan Paurević from near-neighbours Borussia Dortmund (albeit their reverse team), and, last but by no means least, 21-year-old left-sided midfielder André Fomitschow (Wolfsburg II).
Augsburg beat Bayer Leverkusen and Lech Poznań in friendly games over the summer, as well as drawing with English Premier League outfit Queen’s Park Rangers, and losing to Kaiserslautern. Last weekend, Weinzierl made his official debut as Augsburg coach, leading the team to a 2-0 DFB-Pokal win over Wilhelmshaven (Bancé and Musona with the goals). The new man at the helm looks like he will be sticking with the 4-2-3-1 system favoured by Luhukay in his time at the club. In the cup tie, Bancé led the line, with Stephan Hain behind him, and Tobias Werner and Musona on the wings. Daniel Baier, meanwhile, played in a deep midfield role alongside Ottl. Sio and Vogt made appearances from the bench, but Petržela didn’t get a look in.
Düsseldorf also scraped through in the first round of the German Cup last weekend, defeating Wacker Burghausen 1-0 (Reisinger). Six players made their debuts for the club, and another of the club’s summer signings could start at Augsburg as Andreas Lambertz is suspended for his part in the nonsense that followed the Hertha Berlin play-off. Meier veered between a number of formations last season, including three-man defence and two-striker systems. However, he played a 4-4-1-1 in the DFB-Pokal, with Australian attacker Robbie Kruse and Bellinghausen on the flanks, and Voronin roving behind Reisinger. Rafael replaced the Ukrainian later on in the match, with Garbuschewski coming on for Bellinghausen. Giefer played in goal, with Malezas partnering Jens Langeneke in central defence.
Weinzierl is likely to be without a number of players for this Saturday’s curtain-raiser, including ankle fracture victim Sascha Mölders (a striker who started the season spectacularly in 2011/12, before fizzling out and becoming an ineffective bench player), defender-cum-midfielder Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker (knee injury), Philp (knee injury) and winger Dawda Bah (knee injury). Along with the aforementioned Lambertz, who is actually injured anyway, the only players of note Meier looks set to be without are Papadopoulos (not included) and fellow defender Soares (hip injury).
Augsburg against Fortuna Düsseldorf kicks off at 2.30pm UK time on Saturday, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com.