Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Fortuna Düsseldorf – Matthew Marshall, BayArena
Bayer Leverkusen stayed within touching distance of the Bundesliga leaders after a 3-0 home win against Fortuna Düsseldorf. The result leaves Friedhelm Funkel’s side rooted to the bottom of the table with relegation now a real possibility.
Kevin Volland slipped as he fired into the side netting and Karim Bellarabi’s shot was cleared off the line by Markus Suttner, but Leverkusen’s wingers were wreaking havoc and continually threatening Fortuna’s fragile defence. The breakthrough came in the 40th minute with Bellarabi’s cross finding Kai Havertz who headed past Florian Kastenmeier.
It could have been 2-0 before half time, Volland blocking Jonathan Tah’s shot and Kastenmeier producing a fine save from Julian Baumgartlinger’s deflected header. The hosts were dominant after the break with Moussa Diaby and Volland going close, Fortuna creating their best chance of the match with Rouwen Hennings’ effort saved by Lukas Hrádecky.
The Werkself resumed their dominance however, unlucky not to score from a corner but making it 2-0 through that avenue in the 78th minute as Lars Bender got the better of Andre Hoffmann to finish at the back post. Leon Bailey had chances to score but Lucas Alario put the icing on the cake from the penalty spot after a clumsy challenge from Matthias Zimmermann on Nadiem Amiri.
Leverkusen attack looking settled
Moussa Diaby scored in his first start for Bayer Leverkusen on 23 November and forced his way into the starting side. Leon Bailey’s inconsistency and lack of discipline has seen the Jamaican overtaken by the 20-year-old Frenchman who is rising in confidence.
Diaby’s combination play with Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland is improving after each match. Karim Bellarabi was impressive against Fortuna, the attacking quartet including Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland producing some fabulous football that is keeping Lucas Alario, Nadiem Amiri and Bailey on the periphery.
Kai Havertz has punished inferior opposition to start 2020, a goal and an assist at Paderborn and the opening goal against Düsseldorf. It is still hard to believe he is just 20-years-old with the youngster afforded the freedom to play a free role under Peter Bosz.
Havertz has been paid far more attention by opposition analysts, managers and players after the departure of Julian Brandt. That has largely been the reason for a reduction in goals this season but he is continuing to adapt, find space, bring teammates into play and is frequently the classiest player on the pitch.
Daley Sinkgraven started the first game of the year due to Wendell’s suspension and has taken his chance. The 24-year-old played his best match against Fortuna and is looking composed, confident and comfortable at left-back.
Purchased from Ajax for just €5m last summer, the Dutch defender played under Bosz for the Dutch champions where he suffered a serious knee injury in 2017. Sinkgraven could be a sharp improver under his former manager.
Paderborn’s 2-0 win at Freiburg saw them overtake Fortuna Düsseldorf at the bottom of the Bundesliga table. Funkel’s side avoided relegation last season due to 10 goals each from Belgian duo Benito Raman and Dodi Lukébakio, goals that haven’t been replaced.
Fortuna have scored 18 goals in 19 Bundesliga matches this season, five fewer than Paderborn and Köln. Rouwen Hennings has scored 11 of them, Erik Thommy with two and no other player scoring more than once.
You don’t have to be a maths genius to calculate why Fortuna are in such a perilous position. Their current predicament was predictable after some poor recruitment, but Funkel’s tactics and team selections are worth discussion.
Friedhelm Funkel is part of the furniture at Fortuna having taken over as head coach in March 2016. Only Freiburg’s Christian Streich has been in charge of a Bundesliga club for longer, but talk of the 66-year-old being under serious pressure is real and understandable.
It’s a delicate balance between squad talent and depth alongside managerial ability and there is little doubt he has a weak squad to work with. Just €12.2m was spent this season on Dawid Kownacki (€7.5m), Nana Ampomah (€4m) and the loan signings of Erik Thommy and Steven Skrzybski.
Kownacki has been played in a number of positions, mainly out wide and not in his preferred striker spot. He hasn’t scored a goal this season. Funkel clearly doesn’t rate Nana Ampomah who has hardly featured after scoring in the DFB Pokal in August.
Kevin Stöger has hardly played this season after being Fortuna’s most creative player in the previous campaign but analysing Fortuna’s squad and Funkel’s use of it requires a separate article.
Fortuna are among a group of Bundesliga clubs that have limited financial resources, but they haven’t used them wisely or effectively and are paying the price.
Funkel deserves some criticism after one win in nine Bundesliga matches and failing to score in five of their last six. He was optimistic after the defeat in Leverkusen, “I don’t always judge my team’s performance by the result – and today I’m really happy with my team’s performance. As we have performed here, I would like to see it in the next few weeks. We performed with a lot of courage and attacked early in phases. If we continue to play with this passion and aggressiveness, we will score again in the next few weeks and overtake other teams in the table. I am more convinced of this than ever after today’s appearance.”
Time will tell…