Cologne picked up their first point of the new season, but should have taken all three after missing a lorry-load of chances against a mistake-ridden Kaiserslautern side. The hosts looked particularly threatening and creative down the channels throughout the game, whereas Kaiserslautern struggled to even shift the ball into the other half. Yet several players missed some gilt-edged chances for Cologne, thereby ensuring that Ståle Solbakken has to wait at least another week before claiming his first victory as a coach in the Bundesliga.
Kaiserslautern instantly barged their way into the hosts’ half, trapping Cologne there and making them press side to side as they spread the ball about sharply. But, after one passing move was broken down, Sławomir Peszko carried the counter through the centre and over halfway, drawing an inevitable tug. One free-kick led to another in a better position (and a yellow card for centre-back Martin Amedick), but Mato Jajalo curled right-footed into Kevin Trapp’s hands. The goalkeeper then immediately punted the ball upfield for Kostas Fortounis, who clashed heads with Christian Eichner; an ugly accidental bump that saw the pair leaving a trail of blood behind them. Brazilian full-back Andrézinho was therefore called into action far sooner than he or anyone else expected, replacing the bloodied and dazed Eichner after just five minutes.
The early pace of the game briefly lost due to the injuries, Cologne started passing the ball around the halfway mark, as Kaiserslautern sat off in a 4-4-2, leaving the central attackers to press. They made life difficult for Cologne in terms of making a breakthrough, and fouled whenever the home side did find a chink. And when Lautern got the opportunity to break on Cologne in the eighth minute, Israeli striker Itay Shechter launched a jog-dribble, going forward with no pace and no one to feed. But, he got to the byline with ease, as Cologne’s defenders stood off, seemingly too scared to make a tackle – a mental fragility not that surprising given the side’s recent woes on the pitch.
Tiffert’s corner was cleared, and Adil Chihi skipped down the right with the second ball, tormenting his full-back marker. But nothing of substance was created, and the ball was back again with the Lautern defence – passing it about as two Cologne attackers pressed them while banks of four stood in their own half. However, these banks were neither close together or narrow, allowing a simple killer-ball to be slipped through to Shechter’s relatively obvious diagonal run. The striker then sought to square the pass across the edge of the box to Richard Sukuta-Pasu for a simple tap-in, but that initial pass was weak, and the chance went to waste.
Sensing blood against a very nervous defence, Kaiserslautern began to press higher up the pitch. However, their own defensive shape also left a lot to be desired, and when Mišo Brečko slipped a clever through-ball into space on the edge of the box not covered by the ball-watching Oliver Kirch, Jajalo scooped a pass over to Peszko coming in on the left-hand side of the box (with no right-back or right-sided midfielder covering the zone). The Pole had time and space, but his composure let him down and ensured that the score remained 0-0. It appeared that any nerves the Cologne defence could show, the attack could show, well, better.
In the 16th minute, the Pole Peszko was made to pay for his wastefulness by a Croat. Taking a safe to-feet throw ten yards or so from the corner flag, taker Florian Dick received the ball back from Fortounis, despite the fact that the receiver had been surrounded by three white-shirted players. Dick absolutely pelted the ball as straight as you like into the box, where two yards to the left of the penalty spot, Ivo Iličević had strolled into position. The young winger took the pass first time, volleying into the bottom left-hand corner leaving Miro Varvodić with no chance. 1-0 to Marco Kurz’s Kaiserslautern!
But a mere two minutes later, Cologne were level. A through-ball was scooped diagonally over to the left-sided byline, with Peszko reading the idea and chasing it with no Kaiserslautern defender in sight – the only men back were a narrow trio protecting the D. The Polish right-winger therefore had time to trap, assess his options, and place the cross – wasted, seemingly, as first-man Amedick got his head on it. But the connection was weak, and as Kaiserslautern didn’t have time to leave their deep in-box positions, the ghosting Jajalo trapped the ball, and placed a volley into the bottom left-hand corner for 1-1! Two goals in two minutes by two Croats.
Nothing really changed after the equalizer, as proceedings remained end to end – a pattern maintained by the fact that the defences were generally lingering very deep, and the positional sense wasn’t as tight as the respective coaches would have liked. But other factors that kept it so open and frenetic included the direct dribbling of players such as Adil Chihi, who was a constant menace on the break, and who managed to get another Kaiserslautern defender into the book in the 24th minute – left-back Leon Jessen – after launching a blistering break with Peszko from a corner.
Three minutes later, Tiffert’s first decent set-piece delivery of the game allowed Rodnei to tower and bounce a header at Varvodić. The young ‘keeper, who looked frightened and was more often than not glued to his line, awkwardly parried the half-chance away. The visitors had won a number of set-pieces in the opening half-hour, mainly by pressing Cologne thoroughly (Shechter on the ‘keeper and full-backs especially – as an aside, he contributed far more than Milivoje Novakovič had at the other end in the opening half-hour; the Slovenian striker found it difficult to evade Rodnei’s clutches), and arguably by looking to win set-pieces when they did go forward.
But Cologne offered just as much a threat, primarily thanks to the creativity of Jajalo and Chihi. They were given a huge helping hand by the schoolboy positional sense of the Kaiserslautern defence, who, when pressing the man on the ball in packs of two or three, seemed to stay together alarmingly rigidly, closing no angles. A few more moments arising from defensive sloppiness such as these and Cologne were on top as we approached the 35th minute, pressing a Kaiserslautern side – slow to start shifting the ball about when they won it back – with confidence and energy.
And it was this combination of home side pressing and away side lethargy that so nearly saw Cologne make it 2-1 in the 35th minute. Peszko easily burned by the high and exposed Dick, having the freedom to pick and choose where he made any subsequent cross or square from. The Pole chose his moment perfectly, and the execution was just as good. Novakovič slid in, getting just ahead of Rodnei for the first time: but, incredibly, Trapp’s leg managed to deflect the ball over the bar from near-enough underneath his own crossbar!
To correct their sloppiness and paucity of pace in the centre of the park when on the ball, Kirch and Tiffert started shuttling back to collect possession from the centre-backs. However, the latter’s Route One hoof up to Shechter in the 38th minute highlighted the fact that despite all the assists the set-piece specialist notched up last season, he really isn’t the most inventive of players from open play.
Perhaps Tiffert’s idea was just to get the ball as far away from his clumsy defensive colleagues as quickly as he could, because Novakovič spurned a glorious opportunity to make it 2-1 in the 40th minute. After Amedick was sucked out and looked like a headless chicken in his attempts to tackle the man on the ball, a pass was scooped over into his abandoned space. Partially covering the hole, Jessen spoilt his good work by not looking where he headed the ball clear. It landed at the feet of the Cologne striker, who leant back and sliced a volley sky-high.
To be fair to Jessen, Amedick & co., they weren’t being helped by the away side’s attacking midfielders in any shape or form. Sukuta-Pasu was wasteful and quiet, Fortounis’ decision-making left a lot to be desired, and Iličević had done nothing besides scoring. As a result, the defence was under far more pressure than was necessary, and when Fortounis underhit a cross to set in motion a Cologne attack, Martin Lanig, of all people, skipped and jinxed down the left on a mazy dribble. Unfortunately, the centre-midfielder took way too long to make the final ball, and although Chihi drew a parry from Trapp, Novakovič was offside when slotting in the rebound.
Then, in first half injury time, it was Chihi on the dribble, jinxing diagonally from the right into the left-hand side of the box, before driving a left-footed shot at Trapp with the goal at his mercy. That attack preceded Chihi being at the heart of things again during the last bit of action of the first half, as he timed a through-ball to Brečko’s burst to perfection (although neither of the four full-backs were fully involved, being held back due to the end to end nature of the game, Cologne did deploy their’s far more effectively when given the chance). Alas, the Slovenian right-back’s cut-back was met by a swarm of maroon-shirted players, and the referee blew up for the interval.
The hosts’ wing threat ensured they carried on where they left off at the start of a second half, tearing the visiting defence to shreds with their channel-based unpredictability and penetration. And in the 52nd minute, Jajalo should have ensured this domination was reflected in the scoreline: but, one-on-one with the ‘keeper, he passed a right-footed shot wide! Nevertheless, as we approached and went beyond the hour mark, it was the Croatian attacker’s side who were on top, punishing any Kaiserslautern dawdling with their high-octane pressing game.
Cologne’s back four, meanwhile, seemed to be sharpening up. Andrézinho, for example, was making some decent tackles and Sascha Riether was mopping up well in front of Geromel and Kevin McKenna. Yet on the hour, Sukuta-Pasu should have punished them by getting on the end of a cross – luckily for the despairing Cologne fans, the former Bayer Leverkusen man’s response time was poor and the opportunity went begging.
Poor decisions and mistakes continued to litter the game of Solbakken’s team too – such as Chihi putting in a dreadful cross with time and space to play with in the 62nd minute, or Varvodić somehow managing to lose an easy catch from a free-kick one minute later. But their shape was much better in the second half, with the two defensive-midfielders and centre-backs not separated by as huge a corridor, the wingers lingering on the chalk ready to thunder forward, and Jajalo something of a box-to-halfway line bridge behind Novakovič.
Cologne’s players also looked technically superior to those sent out by opposition coach Kurz, and this meant that on a number of 50:50 bouncing balls, the players in white could twist and keepy-uppy their way through. Peszko’s skill, for instance, proved far too much for Dick whenever the Kaiserslautern full-back got tight, but the Pole made way for Christian Clemens in the 71st minute in a like-for-like switch. At this point of the game, Cologne were spurning chance after chance – be it through bad finishing, delayed final balls, or needless unselfishness. They created a number of these chances simply by pressing a weary-looking Lautern defence, at least – Kurz still imploring his back four to start short and draw the pressers on.
The Kaiserslautern coach took off Fortounis in the 76th minute, replacing him with Olcay Şahan. Despite playing as a support-striker in last week’s 1-1 draw with Augsburg, the former Duisburg attacker went onto the left wing, as Iličević went over to the right. Four minutes after his arrival, the league’s most yellow-carded side now had both their full-backs in the referee’s book too, ensuring that neither Şahan or Iličević would be able to as much tackling as they would have liked in the closing stages. Nevertheless, they kept their banks close together and relatively high, looking to get four men pressing Cologne’s defenders in their own half. They wanted the game to peter out, and that it did.