Two of the sides mired in the 2011/12 Bundesliga relegation battle meet tomorrow teatime at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. Kaiserslautern have only won twice at home all season, while Cologne have registered just two wins on the road, meaning that both teams have a great opportunity to improve on those stats in tomorrow’s game – the final fixture of round 20. The visitors come into the game in 13th spot with 21 points, while Kaiserslautern sit in 16th place with 18 points (but a better goal difference than Cologne’s).
Owing to the fact that his side are languishing in the relegation zone, Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz had a number of new attackers brought in for his use during the winter break, with one of them, Jakub Świerczok, partnering Dorge Kouemaha up front in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Augsburg (in which a defender, Florian Dick, got both of Kaiserslautern’s goals). Joining the young Pole at the club in the break were Sandro Wagner (Werder Bremen), and Nicolai Jørgensen (Bayer Leverkusen). This trio will have their work cut out in the remaining 15 games of the 2011/12 season, with Kaiserslautern’s tally of 15 Bundesliga goals – including a mere seven at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion – far and away the lowest number of goals scored by a side in the division.
Despite sitting two points from safety (the team above them being Hertha BSC, who have lost all three of the games they’ve played under new coach Michael Skibbe in 2012), Kurz will take comfort from the fact that his side have conceded less goals than three of the teams in top six (Schalke, Bremen and Leverkusen). Despite this, another defender and defensive-midfielder have been brought in to add extra cover and quality – former Bochum centre-back Antar Yahia and 20-year-old Polish international Ariel Borysiuk the men in question. Leaving the club during January were a handful of squad players, including Iliyan Mitsanski, Adam Nemec, Clemens Walch, Gil Vermouth and Martin Amedick.
Cologne, meanwhile, also let a number of fringe players leave in January: Alexandru Ioniţă, Tomoaki Makino and Adam Matuzsczyk won’t be missed too much by coach Ståle Solbakken. The only players brought in during the window, meanwhile, were Swedish striker Mikael Ishak and the North Korean attacker Chŏng Tae-se (Bochum). Ostensibly, the Japanese-born 27-year-old has been brought in as cover for Lukas Podolski, who picked up an injury last weekend. As if losing their talismanic frontman wasn’t bad enough, Cologne have lost both of the matches they’ve played so far in 2012 (1-0 away at Wolfsburg, then, last weekend, 4-1 at home to Schalke, despite Solbakken’s side taking the lead).
Mišo Brečko, sent off – much to Solbakken’s annoyance – in last weekend’s match against Schalke, will miss tomorrow’s game through suspension, joining the aforementioned Podolski, Petit and Adil Chihi in the stands. Ammar Jemal, linked with a move to Monaco during the transfer window, is still at the African Cup of Nations with Tunisia. Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, are expected to be without injured duo Kouemaha and – Cologne-born – Pierre de Wit. No one in either squad nor Solbakken and Kurz has any ties with the team they’ll be calling opponents tomorrow afternoon, although the home side have a collective incentive in winning this game as three points would see them move above Cologne in the standings (not to mention lifting them out of the relegation zone at long last).
In the reverse fixture, played at the RheinEnergieStadion back in August, Cologne and Kaiserslautern played out a very even 1-1 draw. It was a familiar result, as five of the last nine games played between these two sides have ended as draws, with Cologne winning a mere one of the remaining four (a 2-1 2. Bundesliga triumph back in 2007).
Speaking ahead of the game, Solbakken said: “When the pressure is greater from the outside, you have to stand together as a team even more closely. We will resolve the current situation with calm and not panic.” The Norwegian added: “With pressure situations, I can cope well, and I work every day as best as I possibly can.” Kurz, meanwhile, said: “We will meet a highly-concentrated enemy that have a good quality up front and in their movement.” As for Podolski’s absence, the Stuttgart-born coach added: “If we do not get our own quality right, it does not matter who is up front for Cologne and who is not.”
Kaiserslautern versus Cologne kicks off at 4.30pm, for UK viewers, tomorrow afternoon. The referee will be Wolfgang Stark, who took charge of Kaiserslautern’s 3-1 victory against Mainz earlier this season. About 37,000 seats have been sold in the home end for this game, with Cologne fans snapping up 2,000 tickets.