Fortuna Düsseldorf - 2. Bundesliga 2016-17 Season Preview: Can Friedhelm bring the Funk back to Fortuna?

The ESPRIT arena is hoping for a much calmer season than last, but can Fortuna deliver?

Fortuna Düsseldorf - 2. Bundesliga 2016-17 Season Preview: Can Friedhelm bring the Funk back to Fortuna?
Image credit: VAVEL

Following the diabolical showing last season, Fortuna Düsseldorf have a fresh look to the side and are ready to show the 2. Bundesliga that it was a mere blip.

The pressure is on to atone for what was a very forgettable campaign and kick-on to more familiar waters and a top half finish.

One man is aiming to bring back the funk to the Rhein club, and he's doing it with the youngsters.

Sorry season sees Fortuna stave off relegation

The 2015-16 campaign was one to quickly brush under the carpet after safety was confirmed. The 10th place finish the season before was seen as disappointing but there was a huge sigh of relief when the final final whistle went in Braunschweig. Having gone through four coaches in 10 months, second division football was somehow secured.

Aside from the first game of the season, Fortuna never rose above 13th. The majority of their time was spent bobbing in and out of the bottom three, far from where a club of their size should be. Friedhelm Funkel was the man to get them over the line, and he was rewarded with a one-year deal to take him into this campaign.

The veteran coach will be hoping to continue the small spurt at the end of the last season into this one, as a strong start would calm any fears that they could be in for a repeat performance. Anything other than a similar story would be an improvement on the mess that has recently passed through Fortuna, but there are reasons to be positive.

Stability is key

A change in captain this summer to give Oliver Fink the armband - the third switch in as many seasons - seems to have pleased fans. Funkel likes a real mix of experience and youth and hasn't been afraid to make changes, which included plenty of chopping down at the squad and its elder statesmen. It has a young look to it this year.

While that doesn't bode well for consistency and stability on the face of it, it does make sense. Fortuna have some very talented youngsters in their ranks and the wise heads in the squad can help them use that enthusiasm at the right times. Of course, Funkel has been and done this all before and his experience will also do them the world of good.

But where should they be aiming? After last season, a comfortable mid-table finish would be warmly welcomed with no threat of relegation. A few of the youngsters have really shone in friendlies and Funkel will be praying that the defence has finally been shored up. Patience may be the key this term, but it could reap rewards in years to come.

Funkel ponders his options. | Image credit: Fortuna Düsseldorf
Funkel ponders his options. | Image credit: Fortuna Düsseldorf

Out with the old..

It's been an odd window for Fortuna, who have lost arguably their best outfield player in Kerem Demirbay, as well as several other attacking players. The HSV loanee was, of course, scheduled to go back to his parent club but his 10 goals and five assists from midfield will be sorely missed.

Sérgio da Silva Pinto also left the club and promptly went into retirement at the age of 35. Joel Pohjanpalo and Nikola Djurdjic, two strikers on loan, departed and the same could be said of Charalampos Mavrias, who returned to Sunderland after his temporary stay with the 2. Bundesliga club.

Promising youngster, but blighted by injuries, Fabian Holthaus has left on a permanent basis for Hansa Rostock; for his sake, hopefully it's the start of a journey back to the level he was at and not a 'what could have been' story. The young left-back showed immense promise at Bochum, and it would be a huge shame to see it go to waste.

Christian Strohdiek, after just one season away from Paderborn, returned on a free transfer following a torrid time in Düsseldorf. Christopher Avevor has also left the club without a fee to head back to FC St. Pauli, having previously spent the 2012-13 season on loan at the Hamburg-based outfit.

Sercan Sararer and Mathis Bolly have both made the move to Greuther Fürth for nothing, as has Tugrul Erat; only he is heading just up the road to local rivals, MSV Duisburg. Plenty of departures, but it's hard to say how much effect any with have given how poor Fortuna were collectively last season.

In with the new

The average age of Fortuna's new arrivals? A little over 20. An ageing squad has been freshened up with a group of hungry young guns desperate to prove a point, including several from the youth academy. Given that the players who left had an average age of 25.3 - by no means old - the ESPRIT arena side are putting faith in youth.

Emmanuel IyohaKemal RüzgarTaylan DumanAnderson Lucoqui and Robin Bormuth have all been promoted to the first-team squad. The former looks especially promising and could see his fair share of first-team minutes. All five have managed to find the net in pre-season, and Funkel could be persuaded to throw them into the side.

None of the Fortuna arrivals have shaken the league up, but two have, perhaps, gone under the radar more than most. Arianit Ferati has been loaned in from Hamburger SV, only to pick up a nasty muscle injury and be forced to watch on from the sidelines. Mike van Duinen has returned from his short stay at Roda JC, though his role is unclear.

Maecky Ngombo was recruited from Roda on a free transfer and will be looking to continue the development that has seen him feature in the Belgium under-21 side this year. In his debut season in the Netherlands, he managed five goals in 18 appearances; not a bad return whatsoever.

The final three signings all sit behind the centre-forward, with Fortuna aiming to get more creative. All come from the reserves of Bundesliga clubs, or former in VfB Stuttgart's case, as Özkan Yildirim (Werder Bremen), Marlon Ritter (Borussia Mönchengladach) and Jerome Kiesewetter (Stuttgart) all arrived; plenty of promise, for sure.

Fortuna haven't had it easy with pre-season knocks. | Image credit: Fortuna Düsseldorf
Fortuna haven't had it easy with pre-season knocks. | Image credit: Fortuna Düsseldorf

Pre-season form

As far as friendlies, go, Fortuna couldn't really ask for much more. Goals in every game - an average of four per match - and some very impressive performances and results make for good reading if you're a Fortuna fan. If that wasn't enough, Lars Unnerstall even scored a last minute equaliser against Viktoria Plzen; what more could you want?

Funkel's men began with two comfortable wins over SG Kaarst and SV Straelen, before it kicked up a notch against FC Lorient and Plzen. Both games ended in entertaining draws, as they proved their fighting spirit. Since then, it has been routine wins over lower league opposition. A nice boost of confidence before the start of the season.

Pre-season results in full

SG Kaarst 1-6 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Sarick (45') - Bormuth (38'), Schmitz (47'), Duman (67'), Iyoha (77'), Bebou (80'), Rüzgar (85').

SV Straelen 0-5 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Kiesewetter (22'), Fink (31'), Rüzgar (50'), Ritter (60'), Sobottka (74').

FC Lorient 3-3 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Bouanga (27'), Maseed (54'), Cabot (74') - Kinjo (52', 56'), Bebou (60').

Viktoria Plzen 1-1 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Mateja (24') - Unnerstall (90').

Rot-Weiß Oberhausen 1-3 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Nakowitsch (84') - Iyoha (34', 53'), Ngombo (88').

Kickers Offenbach 0-3 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Kiesewetter (78'), Bodzek (83'), Lucoqui (86').

FC Wegberg-Beeck 1-8 Fortuna Düsseldorf: Zayton (78') - Yildirim (18'), Iyoha (19', 32'), Bebou (20', 45'), Duman (44'), Kiesewetter (63', 76').

Fortuna Düsseldorf - Malaga CF:

VfL Benrath - Fortuna Düsseldorf

Cometh the hour, cometh.. Lars Unnerstall? | Image credit: Fortuna Düsseldorf
Cometh the hour, cometh.. Lars Unnerstall? | Image credit: Fortuna Düsseldorf

Improvement needed all over the pitch

Simply put, last year wasn't good enough and every player - Michael Rensing's heroic season excluded - needs to step up to the plate. The team lack cohesion, belief and sometimes even effort as the mind boggled at just how they had fell to such a low. But, given a second chance, they must avoid a repeat performance and climb up the table.

The signs are very promising from an attacking point of view, especially with the vast majority of the goalscorers in pre-season aged 21 and under. However, the 2. Bundesliga will not afford the same opportunities that friendlies do and it remains to be seen as to whether or not they can replicate that form on the big stage.

As for the defence, that seemed to improve in pre-season. Unlike the attack which has seen players added, the defence was left untouched during the window. There could be valid cause for concern in this sense, given that Fortuna shipped 47 goals last season; the joint-second highest with 1. FC Kaiserslautern outside of the bottom three.

With everything essentially balancing itself out, it does seem that Funkel's men will be in for a mid-table berth. They are very middle of the road at the minute, but that won't be of much concern to the fans who had to wait until the final day to see their team safe.