Cologne-Kaiserslautern preview

Round three of the Bundesliga season sees two of the sides yet to register a win square up Saturday teatime. However, Kaiserslautern did at least manage to salvage a draw last weekend at home to unbeaten newbies Augsburg (following an opening day 2-0 defeat to Werder Bremen), whereas Ståle Solbakken has made a disastrous start to Bundesliga life as Cologne coach, losing 3-0 and 5-1 to Wolfsburg and Schalke respectively, and falling out with Lukas Podolski after stripping the temperamental talisman of the captain’s armband.

Despite constantly blaming himself for Cologne’s horror start to the 2011/12 campaign, the 43-year-old Norwegian will be hoping Saturday is the day when the squad finally clicks playing in his new system, and beat Kaiserslautern for the first time since December 2007’s 2. Bundesliga victory (as an aside, on the final day of that same season, Lautern beat Cologne 3-0 to save themselves from relegation to the third tier).

Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz has at least guided his side into the next round of the DFB-Pokal (Solbakken too), and as there aren’t more than three of four new signings to integrate into a team that finished in seventh last season, you’d think that it’s surely only a matter of time before Kaiserslautern start notching up points. Yet right now, it’s clear Kurz and his players are struggling getting to grips for life without striker Srđan Lakić – the goal-scoring, line-leading Serb who joined Wolfsburg earlier this summer. And, those aforementioned three or four players all have to be incorporated into the attack.

Lakić’s replacement, Itay Shechter, did at least score last weekend against Augsburg, but he and fellow new signings Olcay Şahan and Richard Sukuta-Pasu are yet to fully clamber onto the same wavelength as 2010/11 first-team stalwarts such as centre-midfielder Christian Tiffert (one of the most consistent assist-producers in world football last season), infield-veering left-winger Ivo Iličević, and an unchanged defence.

While Kaiserslautern are adjusting to life without Lakić (not to mention other departing on-loan attackers such as Erwin Hoffer, Jan Morávek and Adam Hloušek), Cologne had lost no key players before this week, and only really had one new man to integrate into the first-team in Sascha Riether. Although the club struggled last season, only securing their position in the top-flight during the final few rounds, there is enough quality in the squad to earn Cologne a nice, safe spot in mid-table come May 2012.

Preparation-wise, Solbakken will be hoping his squad hasn’t been affected by midweek news relating to the – yet to be completed – departure of Lebanese centre-back and former club captain Youssef Mohamad to Al-Ahli (Porto defender Sereno looks like being his replacement for a fraction of the €1.8million received, meaning that transfer director Volker Finke can bring in the striker Solbakken craves – rumoured to be Hertha Berlin’s Rob Friend), or trouble caused by a certain section of the fans during last week’s home game against Schalke.

While some may dismiss this as an isolated incident committed by a particular group of numpties, it’s worth noting that relations between the club and its fans aren’t exactly at an all-time high in the football-mad city anyway, with the leading ultra group given a ban from using storage facilities at RheinEnergieStadion after causing trouble during the 2010/11 run-in.

Solbakken is expected to be without midfielders Kevin Pezzoni and Petit, and striker Alexandru Ioniţă for Saturday’s game against Kaiserslautern. But, worse than that trio missing the game, goalkeeper Michael Rensing, who pulled out of training earlier today, has been ruled out for a fortnight, and Podolski (fever) is likely to be on the sidelines too. Kurz, on the other hand, looks like he will have to contend with a similar number of absences to his opposite number, with defenders Jan Šimůnek and Alexander Bugera, midfielders Gil Vermouth, Chadli Amri and Stiven Rivić, and striker Adam Nemec all struggling to make it.

Cologne vs Kaiserslautern kicks off at 5.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com. The referee for the game will be Knut Kircher.

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