Two Bundesliga sides who played out one of the 2011/12 season’s most entertaining games meet in the reverse fixture tomorrow afternoon. Going into their original clash back in August, Hamburg and Cologne were joint bottom of the table with a just single point each to their names. Despite Cologne winning 4-3 that day, new coach Ståle Solbakken has not been able to guide his side on a consistent winning run since then. Nevertheless, last weekend’s Lukas Podolski-less 1-0 victory over Kaiserslautern – courtesy of a goal by substitute Odise Roshi – lifted Cologne into the top-half of the table for the first time in years.
Likewise, Hamburg seemed to have turned a corner of late, although it took Thorsten Fink arriving as coach in October for calm to be restored and results achieved in the north German city. Under the former Bayern Munich midfielder, HSV have lost just won one game (a 5-1 home thrashing at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in the first game played after the winter break), and last time out, put in a superb performance to hold Fink’s former club to a 1-1 draw. Neither they or Cologne are out of danger just yet, however, with 13 matches of the season still to play after this Sunday’s clash.
The aforementioned 4-3 stormer played out between these sides wasn’t an anomaly when it comes to high-scoring Cologne against Hamburg games. At the RheinEnergieStadion in October 2010, Cologne beat their guests 3-2. In the March 2011 reverse match, however, Hamburg got their revenge by winning 6-2. In the 2009/10 season, meanwhile, the sides played out a 3-3 draw in Cologne. By and large, though, Hamburg have won the majority of games played between the sides this millennium, although given the relatively reserved tactical styles of both coaches and what is at stake here, my money’s on this particular match finishing as a draw.
There were no real transfers to speak of conducted by Hamburg during the recent winter break, although one of the players sporting director Frank Arnesen recruited in the summer, Jacopo Sala, opened the scoring against Bayern Munich last weekend. Cologne, meanwhile, let a number of fringe players leave in January: Alexandru Ioniţă, Tomoaki Makino and Adam Matuzsczyk won’t be missed too much by Solbakken. In their place, two players were recruited: Swedish striker Mikael Ishak and the North Korean attacker Chŏng Tae-se (Bochum).
Ostensibly, the Japanese-born 27-year-old was brought in as cover for Podolski, who picked up an injury two weeks ago against Schalke (and who will be missing for a few weeks yet). However, Solbakken turned to Ishak and Roshi to earn him all three points last weekend, leaving Tae-se on the bench – a decision that suggests the signing of the former J-League striker, which was all sporting director Volker Finke’s doing, really has irked the former Wimbledon player. Having said that, the 43-year-old seemed to have changed his tune this week: “Chŏng has trained very well over the past few weeks and he is showing good finishing,” Solbakken said. “He has been able to prove his strength in the air again and so, for me, he is an option against Hamburg.”
Cologne right-back Mišo Brečko is the only player in either squad to have played for both clubs, although he’ll miss out on Sunday’s game due to a red card picked up against Schalke. Joining him on the sidelines will be the aforementioned Podolski, plus midfielders Petit and Adil Chihi (both of whom are injured). Sascha Riether, who has been suffering with a virus, should be fit to start. Fink, meanwhile, is expected to be without defender Jeffrey Bruma (knee injury), plus midfielders Gökhan Töre (injury), Tomás Rincón (suspended), Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Romeo Castelen, Marcus Berg and Lam Zhi Gin (none of whom are likely to make the matchday squad).
Speaking ahead of the game, Fink said: “Cologne at home are very compact and operate with two lines of four. We will have more possession, but they lurk waiting for errors.” Solbakken, meanwhile, said: “We can score goals without Lukas, as we showed last weekend against Kaiserslautern,” before adding of his side’s opponents: “The league table does not reflect the level Hamburg really are on. They have improved a great deal since the first half of the season.”
Cologne against Hamburg kicks off at 4.30pm UK time on Sunday afternoon. It can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. The weather has been as low as minus ten in recent days in Cologne, although it’s unlikely the dial will plummet as low as minus two on Sunday. The referee will be Florian Meyer, the same official who took charge of the match between Hamburg and Cologne in August.