Former VFL Bochum midfielder Kevin Stöger joined Fortuna Düsseldorf following their promotion to the Bundesliga in 2018. During his first season in the top flight, he became a pivotal player in their success. Unfortunately, an injury at the back end of the 2018/19 season kept him out for the majority of the 2019/20 season.
Following the winter break, he made his return to the side, and it quickly became evident what Fortuna had been missing. His range of passing, as well as his almost lack of a fixed position, benefited the side. Since his return, he has developed into a key player for a side whose only real standout player has been teammate Zach Steffen, on loan from EPL side Manchester City.
Whilst uncertainty remains around the current COVID-19 situation, the Austrian’s contract is up in the summer and it would not be surprising for other Bundesliga, or even other European sides from Italy, Spain or France to look to sign him despite the injury hit season.
This tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, will analyse his ability as a long-range passer, as well as how his positional play allows him to influence the game and Fortuna’s tactics, as he creates the space he needs to then provide the team with attacking opportunities.
Long passing: stretching the play
Passing is the main strength of the Austrian midfielder’s game. He averages 56.49 passes a game at an accuracy of 84.5%. This includes a range of passes, which this analysis report will cover.
While the long pass is by no means Stöger’s “go-to” passing option, it is certainly one of his key attributes. The Austrian is attempting 7.46 long passes per game, just under half of his 16.54 forward passing average. While the accuracy of these passes is only at 56.9%, when we analyse it on a game-by-game basis we see the effectiveness of these passes increases when Fortuna is in the ascendency.
Despite being one of the weaker teams in the Bundesliga and rarely being in the ascendency, the recent fixtures against both Hertha Berlin and Mainz 05 saw Fortuna dominate for large periods of the game. Stöger’s stats within these two games during the periods his side dominated reflect how his long passing played a part.
For example, against Hertha Berlin, Fortuna went 3-0 up in the first half. During this period, Stöger attempted 10 long passes, with a 90% accuracy rate. This included a key pass to Kenan Karaman for the opening goal.
For this goal, the midfielder picks the ball up deep and seems to have few forward options, apart from Turkish striker Karaman. What Stöger sees is the entire back four all looking in his direction, while the striker is already starting to make the run as he anticipates what his teammate will do.
Stöger’s pass punished the high line of Hertha, as well as their lack of concentration on runners. The only player looking at Karaman isn’t close enough to catch him, allowing the striker to latch onto the through ball and open the scoring.
Karaman is by no means the quickest of strikers, yet it is the accuracy of the pass which means he doesn’t need to be. As the below image shows, the pass is inch-perfect to allow him to slot the ball away before the defender gets to him, and without even having to take a touch.
In the next fixture against Mainz, Fortuna once again dominated the first half. This time Stöger only attempted three long passes in the first half, but with a 100% accuracy rating. This dropped significantly in the second half to 38% on eight attempts as Mainz got back into the game. This suggests that in the second half teams adapt in order to shut the midfielder down. The game against Hertha would also suggest this, as in the second half he only attempted one long pass which was not successful.
Again, Stöger picks the ball up in a similar position to the Hertha game, just in front of centre back Ayhan. As before, Karaman anticipates what his teammate will do, and trusting his ability, makes the forward run. Once again, the pass forces the defenders to turn and drop back, allowing Fortuna to move up the field.
As this clip shows, the defender highlighted in the first image has retreated to pretty much the edge of the box, allowing the away side to move towards the Mainz box. Unfortunately, Karaman was unable to find his teammate to his left, who had outsprinted the centre back and would have been in on goal.
Stöger’s long passing ability allows Fortuna to stretch the play and get in behind defences at times. For a team that isn’t blessed with blistering pace, it allows the clever movement of Karaman to be utilised in moving the side up the field. Given that this also isn’t a go-to pass for Stöger, it can be used to take the defence by surprise, as it certainly did against Hertha to good effect.
What helps Stöger’s passing is his position or lack thereof. He usually operates as part of a midfield three, in these two games with Berisha and Bodzek, which allows him to freely move around the pitch to create. Bodzek is the defensive midfielder protecting the backline and breaking up the play, while Berisha is expected to push on and support the strikers. While many would typify Stöger as the advanced playmaker, he is much more of a roaming playmaker. As the two passing maps below show, he pops up all across the pitch in order to make what are usually accurate passes.
This makes him harder to pick up for the defending side, as he could be hitting long cross-field balls from just inside his own half, or pushing forward to pick up the ball closer to the opposition’s box. This also explains why he appears to be in space a lot of the time, as he is constantly moving around the pitch to dictate the play, making him hard to man-mark and track.
What these two images suggest is that when Fortuna is on top, he is happy to sit deeper and make the passes from there, as the below first half image against Hertha shows. With Fortuna taking an early two goal lead, he was able to sit back and operate from the halfway line.
On the other hand, when Fortuna are pushing for a goal, like against Mainz, he gets forward and tries to dictate the play from inside the opposition’s half. This second half image from the Mainz game also shows more inaccurate passes from the midfielder, as he is attempting riskier passes into the final third. While the Austrian averages 9.09 passes to the final third with a 66.7% accuracy, he is only managing a 35.5% accuracy on his passes into the box. Again, the second half pass map below highlights this, with only two of his five passes into the area being successful.
As this scout report has highlighted, Stöger is a key member of the Fortuna midfield, and we can almost work out the state of the game for his side by where he positions himself on the field. Furthermore, his long-range passing accuracy means he can stretch the play by getting Fortuna in behind the backline and pushing the side forward. As a roaming midfielder, he is harder to pick up for the opposition as he appears to have no set position. It’s the flow of the game which dictates where he operates from, as when his side is winning he’s happy to sit on the halfway line and link the play, whereas if they need a goal he will push forward and attempt more difficult passes from inside the opposition’s half. If the season is able to restart, it will be interesting to see whether his performances catch the eye of bigger clubs in the league, who would be willing to afford him as much creative freedom as Fortuna do.