Desperate for points, Köln enter the home of Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund as heavy underdogs.
To say that 1. FC Köln have been a disappointing side so far in the 2017-18 season would be a massive understatement. Only four months ago the Billy Goats qualified for Europe for the first time in a quarter century. Let that sink in. For one of Germany’s historically most successful clubs, 25 years is truly a painfully long wait to have to endure, only to be able to once again play in a continental competition. Köln had better make the most of it, as a repeat trip into Europe already looks to be a steep challenge.
Köln entered this season on a euphoric high. The schedule was unkind to them as the club faced their arch-rivals Borussia Monchengladbach in the season-opener. After losing the Rheinland Derby however, things would get much easier as dates with Hamburger SV and FC Augsburg awaited. Both HSV and FCA are both considered relegation candidates this season. Things did not go as planned for Köln, losing both matches. These results have left Effzeh fans scratching their heads and the team itself in a massive cloud of frustration and doubt.
So what has happened to the side that finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season? The simplest answer from many Köln supporters appears to be: “Anthony Modeste.”
Jhon Córdoba was purchased from Mainz 05 this summer to replace the Bundesliga’s third-best goal-scorer from 2016-17, Anthony Modeste. Córdoba created a healthy amount of chances in the match against ‘Gladbach, but failed to convert them into goals. Since that time, he has delivered two underwhelming performances against Hamburg and Augsburg. Still, Dortmund must respect Córdoba’s creative ability. Additionally, Dortmund would be wise to keep a close eye out for Yuya Osako in attack for the Billy Goats.
The opportunities have certainly been there for Köln. The side is averaging 15.3 shots per match (7th in the BL) and have been dominant in possession as well (58.3% possession, 4th in the BL), though, this is quite untypical of a Peter Stöger-managed Köln squad. For all of this, they have one goal to their credit through three matches.
More astonishing perhaps, is the decline of Köln’s defence so far this season. Peter Stöger has built a solid foundation around his side’s ability to play gritty football and keep the opposition off of the score sheet. Currently, after three matches, Köln have conceded an embarrassing seven goals, the second-worst total in the league. Since re-joining the Bundesliga in the 2014-15 season, Köln has been below-average in attack, including last season, when they relied almost exclusively on Modeste for the vast majority of their goals. Defence has been an altogether different tale for Köln. Stöger’s sides have been an exemplary unit the past three years. The Goats have shown they do not necessarily need to score goals to avoid the relegation zone, though, if their defence fails them, as it has these first few weeks, they will not remain in the German top tier come season’s end.
Dortmund enters match day four having endured their most frustrating match in recent memory. Against SC Freiburg, BVB had a mind-blowing 83% possession and totaled 27 shots. Statistically-speaking, one might expect that Dortmund exited the Schwarzwald-Stadion with a 5:0 win. You would be incorrect. Christian Streich’s lads, even after being one man down for 60 minutes, frustrated Die Schwarz-Gelben, taking them completely out of rhythm. Impressively, while Dortmund did manage a healthy amount of shots, only three were actually on target. This was a brilliant effort in defence for the Breisgauer.
It is becoming more apparent that Borussia Dortmund desperately miss the talents of Julian Weigl, Marco Reus, and Raphaël Guerreiro. Things got worse for BVB as Marcel Schmelzer, fresh back from injury, was in re-injured in the first half at Freiburg. He will now miss multiple weeks due to ankle ligament damage. Newly-acquired Jeremy Toljan is available as an option to fill Schmelzer’s role during his recovery, taking pressure off of youngster Dan-Axel Zagadou, who had been starting at left-back in Schmelzer’s absence. Also missing from the back four will be Marc Bartra who exited the match early because of an adductor injury. Ömer Toprak is the likely replacement for Bartra at centre-back.
BVB’s midfield, Gonzalo Castro in particular, looked completely lost at times against Christian Streich’s nine-man wall in front of goal. His lack of creativity prevented Dortmund from creating quality chances. The time has come for Peter Bosz to give Mahmoud Dahoud an opportunity to start. The timing is quite perfect as BVB will be coming off of a mid-week Champions League match. Dortmund acquired Dahoud for the future however, with so many injuries and Castro’s uninspiring play, the future may be now.
Expect Peter Bosz to make one adjustment in attack, replacing Maximillian Philipp with the now match-ready Ukranian sensation, Andrey Yarmolenko. It is also possible that with his recent workload (Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, Champions League, US National Team duty), Christian Pulisic could be rested against Köln, meaning Dortmund’s attacking positions would be occupied by Yarmolenko, Philipp and of course, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Borussia Dortmund missed a prime opportunity to move three points ahead of Bayern München last week. It is a rare occasion when Bayern loses a match in the Bundesliga, but when they do, the other clubs, Dortmund especially, must take advantage of this if they are serious about winning the league. That said, Köln are a wounded animal. The Billy Goats have managed a disastrous start to the 2017-18 season, despite having one of the easier schedules through the first three weeks. Köln desperately need points. Despite the fact that Dortmund have not lost a home match in the Bundesliga since April, 2015, look for Köln to be more aggressive than usual. If neither side is able to score a goal by the 60th minute, look for Köln to take a similar approach as Freiburg, focusing all of their efforts towards securing a draw.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 1:0 FC Koln
Note: Both clubs will be coming off of mid-week matches in the Champions League and Europa League respectively.
Dortmund: Bürki – Piszczek, Sokratis, Toprak, Toljan – Dahoud, Sahin, M. Götze – Yarmolenko, Aubameyang, Philipp
Manager: Peter Bosz
Koln: T. Horn – Klünter, Sörensen, Heintz, Rausch – M. Lehmann, Jojic – Risse, Bittencourt – Cordoba, Osako
Manager: Peter Stoger