It’s boiling down to the business end of the Bundesliga season and with four matches remaining after this weekend’s action, some teams are now really beginning to feel the heat at the bottom. None more so than Fortuna Düsseldorf who saw a golden opportunity pass them by in their game against Europa League hopefuls Hoffenheim on Saturday afternoon. Despite being a goal up inside the first five minutes and playing with an extra man for 80 minutes after the dismissal of Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Hübner, Düsseldorf still couldn’t take all three points after another fairly disappointing home performance.
Beginning the weekend still stuck in the relegation play-off spot, Fortuna Düsseldorf were looking for three massive points at home to Hoffenheim in their bid for Bundesliga survival. Both teams have struggled for form since the resumption of Germany’s top-flight in May, however both sit in very different positions heading into the final stage of the season. Whilst Düsseldorf are lurking third bottom of the pack, opposition Hoffenheim are still in a fierce battle to finish sixth this term and secure European football qualification for the first time since their Champions League group-stage campaign of 2018.
As far as starts go, Fortuna couldn’t have dreamed for a better one as within the opening five minutes the home side were ahead. Top scorer Rouwen Hennings grabbing the early go-ahead goal as he calmly slotted home an easy header from a deep Kevin Stöger cross. The former Burnley striker is Fortuna’s top scorer this season but this goal was far too easy, the Hoffenheim defence was nowhere to be seen and goalkeeper Oliver Baumann was understandably livid at the woeful attempt of defending. It got better for Fortuna and much worse for Hoffenheim less than five minutes later. Just prior to the taking of a Hoffenheim corner in the 9th minute, defender Benjamin Hübner was given his marching orders for an apparent lash out at Düsseldorf’s Kaan Ayhan. In truth the red card looked weak, but VAR did not intervene and the away side’s captain was dismissed on his return from injury.
It would have been easy for Hoffenheim to fold under the early pressure but with recent wins against FC Köln and Mainz in the Bundesliga, spirits are now much higher and the away side were soon back on level terms. Munas Dabbur opening his Bundesliga account as the striker reacted fastest to Stefan Posch’s rebounded shot. It didn’t take long for Fortuna to find the back of the net again but this time, Hennings effort was ruled out for a foul in the build-up. The match heading towards the half-time whistle was open, Fortuna seemingly constantly in control but Hoffenheim offering the quality to counter-attack when the hosts gifted them the chance to do so. The main problem that Flingeraner have suffered with this season is that they have lacked the real composure to take advantage when most needed, this half of football just another case of that as referee Sören Storks blew for half-time with the teams still level.
The start of the second half resembled much of the first as Fortuna continued to dominate possession but still offered little quality in front of goal, rarely threatening Baumann between the away side’s sticks. Ultimately, then came the sucker punch that the home side really could have done without given their precarious position in the Bundesliga table. Robert Skov playing the ball to Steven Zuber who made no mistake for the visitors from the edge of the box. Even without the fans, the sighs from the crowd almost seemed audible, moments like this have plagued Düsseldorf’s season and it could realistically see them relegated come the end of the season.
In reaction to Hoffenheim’s strike, Fortuna boss Uwe Rösler made four substitutions in quick succession. Ultimately the home side would find an equaliser, thanks in part to the fresh legs but the question still has to be asked in terms of why Rösler didn’t make any changes at the interval to really go after all three points when Fortuna had the away side on the backfoot. Rösler himself in his post-match press conference would point out that a draw was not good enough at this stage of the season for Fortuna. “We didn’t start so well in the second half. We left Hoffenheim too much space on their counterattack. A defeat would have been a disaster, so it was important that we at least made up for it. Nevertheless, the point is not enough for us” said Rösler.
Nevertheless, the home side did mange to grab an equaliser heading towards the later stages of the match. Rouwen Hennings again the scorer as he converted a penalty won by winger Erik Thommy who in turn was fouled by Hoffenheim’s Havard Nordtveit.
Despite the late equaliser this is two points lost for Fortuna in their battle for safety. On another day, the home side may have got the winner their second half pressure deserved but again they missed a golden opportunity to grab all three points. Defender Kaan Ayhan summed up the home side’s feelings after the match: “We left two points behind, not gained one. We were the better-off team right from the start, but we didn’t do well when we conceded. It was important that we at least made up the gap.” The result further compounded by Mainz’ huge win on the road against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Hoffenheim themselves were looking for a win in their bid to secure Europa League qualification for next season but manager Alfred Schreuder was content with the draw his side battled for.
With two huge relegation six-pointers left against Augsburg and Union Berlin as well as difficult matches against Dortmund and Leipzig, Uwe Rösler and his Düsseldorf side will have to greatly improve over the final weeks of the season if they have any chance of securing Bundesliga safety.
1 | Robert Lewandowski scored his 44th goal of the season to help Bayern Munich on to their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title. The Pole’s 30th league goal of the season was a beautifully timed header past Lukáš Hrádecký in a 4-2 victory at Bayer Leverkusen. Lewandowski is now just 10 goals behind Gerd Müller, a Bundesliga record. But picking up his fifth yellow card of the season means he misses the game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, giving the 31-year-old just three games to break Müller’s record. Thomas Müller also picked up a one game suspension, of which Hansi Flick wasn’t too pleased about: “It’s annoying but we cannot change it and we have to accept the situation.”
2 | RB Leipzig could only manage a 1-1 draw against Paderborn on Saturday. Patrik Schick gave Julian Nagelsmann’s side a 1-0 lead inside 30 minutes before Christian Strohdiek’s 90th minute equaliser casted doubts over RB Leipzig’s Champions League challenge. Just three points separate Leipzig, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen in the battle for two places in next season’s Champions League. Perhaps RB Leipzig had been distracted by reports suggesting Timo Werner is on his way to Chelsea, who are ready to pay his release clause whilst offering the Germany international a five-year contract. It looks as though the 24-year-old striker is finally on his way out.
3 | Shambolic Schalke could only muster up a 1-1 draw at Union Berlin on Sunday afternoon. David Wagner’s side have picked up just five points from a possible 36 since their win against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Jan 17. The Royal Blues with their early season form to thank, otherwise they’d be battling against relegation with the likes of Werder Bremen and Mainz. Wagner’s side have looked unmotivated, lacklustre and whilst injuries could be to blame, they’re just not the team we thought they could be under Wagner.