Cologne 0-1 Hamburg

José Paolo Guerrero struck three minutes from time to secure another vital win for resurgent Hamburg. The result leaves Thorsten Fink’s side eight points above the relegation zone and five points behind the Europa League qualification zone: ensuring that everybody associated with the club can now at last start looking up rather than down the table. The Swiss coach set his side out in a bold 3-3-2-2 system, and this ensured that Hamburg dominated possession for nearly the entire match. However, Cologne, who seemed content and tactically geared towards sitting off their guests, defended resolutely, rendering the game a chance-free and not particularly memorable spectacle. Hamburg fans, though, won’t be forgetting their Peruvian hero’s RheinEnergieStadion-silencing strike in the 87th minute in a hurry; the 28-year-old nabbing his sixth goal of the 2011/12 Bundesliga campaign. Hamburg end the weekend in tenth spot, with Cologne two places and two points behind them.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Cologne (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Michael Rensing; Henrique Sereno Fonseca, Pedro Geromel, Ammar Jemal, Christian Eichner; Martin Lanig, Sascha Riether; Christian Clemens, Mato Jajalo, Sławomir Peszko; Milivoje Novakovič

Hamburg (3-3-2-2, from right to left): Jaroslav Drobný; Heiko Westermann, Gojko Kačar, Slobodan Rajković; Dennis Diekmeier, David Jarolím, Dennis Aogo; Jacopo Sala, Marcell Jansen; José Paolo Guerrero, Mladen Petrić

Hamburg looked the better and more comfortable side in the early stages; getting the ball down and looking to attack their hosts with a degree of urgency. There was fantastic width to the away side’s shape, and good movement from the midfielders and strikers in the opening five minutes. Gradually, though, the visitors got stuck in the routine of playing keep-ball, knocking it about from left to right in the second-third area of the pitch. Cologne, meanwhile, who kept a tight and compact shape, barely touched the ball until about the 20th minute. Although they were being voluntarily kept back in many respects (it’s the way coach Ståle Solbakken likes to play), Aogo and Diekmeier were standing nigh-on permanently in the home side’s half from the off, ensuring that Hamburg were holding possession in what was effectively a 3-3-2-2 (or, occasionally, a 3-5-2, 5-3-2, or, when defending set-pieces from Cologne’s half, a 4-4-2): matching up in midfield and keeping the Cologne defence on their toes through the movement and presence of Guerrero and Petrić. Chance wise, however, Hamburg had to wait until the eighth minute to have an attempt at goal, when Jansen was slipped in down the left, and fired an effort across goal that didn’t go too far wide.

Formationally, Hamburg continued to be an intriguing prospect as we approached the quarter-hour mark. The visitors’ were still bossing possession, and still holding their 3-5-2 with Kačar either standing alongside or bobbing just ahead of Westermann and Rajković at the back; Aogo and Diekmeier operating as full-backs. Cologne, who were perhaps getting a little anxious at their lack of even seeing the ball for a second or two, attempted to expose the space on the HSV left by feeding Riether with a long ball. But, despite the former Wolfsburg man’s pace, Rajković – who had a superb first-half when tested – was alert to the danger, and cleared the ball. Like his two fellow centre-backs, the Serb had practically defensive work to do during the first 20 minutes, with Novakovič, much like everyone else in a white shirt, starved of the ball.

On a Cologne goal-kick in the 19th minute, Hamburg again showed their formational flexibility by defending the long ball in a 4-4-2. Although Fink’s side held their three banks when it looked as though Cologne would use the knockdown to come at their guests, as soon as Hamburg won the ball back, the 3-5-2 was once again reinstated, with Aogo wasting no time in galloping down the chalk, allowing Jansen to resume his role as an old-fashioned inside-left (the credit must go to Fink as well as the players here for making his side so tactically well-drilled). In the 20th minute, though, Hamburg might have been temporarily wishing that they had some defensive width. A break down the left – Cologne’s first real spell on the ball, let alone attack – resulted in two blocked shots and a corner, which Hamburg eventually cleared, before resuming their position as possession and territory dominators.

The advantage of playing wingbacks against a side as defensively tight in the centre of the park as Cologne were was epitomised in the 22nd minute, when Guerrero drifted out to collect the ball on the chalk, before playing a cross into the box which, making light of the Peruvian not being there, contained four of his colleagues (including Kačar, who didn’t have to run very far to reach the box, as he, Westermann and his compatriot Rajković stood as far over the halfway line as they possibly could in a bid to get involved in the play whenever Hamburg were attacking). Although Cologne cleared the danger on this particular occasion, it was clear that if Hamburg kept trying things like this to splice the home side’s defence, a goal wouldn’t be long in coming.

An attack in the 27th minute, on the other hand, demonstrated that Cologne might well need a miracle to beat Drobný. Sereno, getting forward for the first time, fed Novakovič, who had jogged out to the right channel. However, the Slovenian was isolated, and Rajković had followed him every step of the way, easily dispossessing the striker, who has not long returned from a lengthy lay-off. On the 30-minute mark, though, Novakovič looked a little sharper – doing well to even get on the end of a hastily hoofed-ball down the middle, but directing his chest-trap into the path of the ‘keeper.

As we neared the 35-minute mark, it had become less of a certainty that Hamburg would get their goal. For all their ten-player-inclusive possession football, they were increasingly struggling to put a decent ball in behind the Cologne defence, and Rensing had still to be truly tested. It was possibly to identify this sense of frustration in Hamburg’s body language, with some of their passes showing that one or two players were trying too hard, and the swagger which had characterised their play during the opening stages now all-but gone. This, of course, allowed Cologne – who were growing in confidence at the back, giving off a vibe off impenetrability – to creep their way back into the game. Yet, as one leggy Lanig run in the 34th minute showed, there was a lack of spark, creativity and class in the final-third from the home side.

In the closing stages of the first-half, Hamburg did at least seem to re-find some of their spark, with roaming playmaker Kačar looking to inject some urgency back into the visitors’ passing. As touched upon in the previous paragraph, though, Cologne had really grown into the game and their counter-attacking tactical plan, and this meant that a far more open spectacle was unfolding; Peszko, for instance, now getting the chance to stretch his legs down the left flank. It was the visitors who finished the half the stronger, however, with Jansen and Sala’s inquisitive play and movement in the centre of the park allowing the explosive Diekmeier and Aogo the chance to cause Cologne one or two problems. The former won a free-kick in the final-third in the 44th minute, but Aogo’s delivery was poor, and allowed Sereno to break down the right. Despite the on-loan Porto man’s good progress, Rajković was across to deal with the situation, doing so masterfully, and ensuring that we went in 0-0 at the break,

Second-half starting formations

Cologne (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Rensing; Sereno, Kevin McKenna, Geromel, Jemal; Lanig, Riether; Peszko, Jajalo, Clemens; Novakovič

Hamburg (3-3-2-2, from right to left): Drobný; Westermann, Kačar, Rajković; Diekmeier, Jarolím, Aogo; Sala, Jansen; Guerrero, Petrić

There was just the one change personnel wise for the second-half, with McKenna taking the place of Eichner; the 29-year-old struggling against the chalk-drifting Guerrero and overlapping Diekmeier in the first 45 minutes. As a result, Geromel moved to left-sided centre-back, Jemal to left-back and the Canadian to right-sided centre-back (in another change, Peszko was now on the right, Clemens the left). And, it was McKenna’s side who started the second half the brighter of the two sides, nearly scoring on two occasions: Geromel going close with first a volley, and then a glancing header, from a Jemal free-kick and Jajalo corner-kick respectively.

Five minutes into the second-half, however, it was all change again for Cologne. Jemal had to leave the pitch with an injury, allowing last weekend’s match-winner Odise Roshi to take his place. The Albanian striker, unsurprisingly, joined Novakovič up top, meaning that Riether took over at left-back – a decision that left Lanig as the sole defensive-midfielder, as Solbakken went 4-1-3-2. Despite this change, Cologne initially retained the energy and belief they had begun the second-half with, although as we approached the 55th minute, Hamburg were beginning to get on the ball more often again.

In the 59th minute, Fink made his first change, partly forced on him by the fact that Kačar was limping. The Serb’s place on the pitch was taken by Robert Tesche, who took up the same role as the 25-year-old. He and his team-mates immediately found themselves on the back-foot, with Lanig scoring a goal that was ruled offside within minutes of Tesche’s arrival, before Roshi’s trickery down the right allowed him to send a fierce ball across the six-yard box, which nobody in either red or white managed to reach. At this point in the match down the other end, although Hamburg were still seeing a lot of the ball, they only occasionally managed to breach the final-third. As epitomised by Diekmeier’s burst onto a Tesche through-pass and subsequent ball into the box in the 68th minute, Cologne hadn’t forgotten how to keep their mean defensive shape (having said that, the two HSV strikers were static and already in the box, and no midfielder had made a much-needed surprise dart onto the chipped cross through the D).

The hosts were putting in a good shift when out of possession, although they still lacked subtlety and intelligence when reaching the dangerous zones of the pitch with the ball. By and large, the main culprit was Lanig, who, in the 72nd minute for example, shot from 30 yards at Drobný despite having colleagues alongside and ahead of him.

Fink was still deploying the 3-3-2-2 system as we reached the final 15 minutes, not being distracted by the fact that his centre-backs now had two opposition players pressing the ball high up the pitch. Of course, this actually worked in the visitors’ favour, as there was one less man to pass through in the Cologne midfield. Thus, in the 74th minute, Diekmeier was again fed on the overlap, and got a ball into the box. Linking up with Guerrero, a chance eventually fell to Petrić, who volleyed the ball into the ground and wide when he should really have done better. Two minutes after that, the away side went close again – a clever, training ground set-piece saw Aogo drag a corner-kick back to the edge of the D, where Jarolím shaved the top of the cross-bar with a volley.

The hosts kept coming, though – looking more than ever to use the flanks, with Jansen and Sala now doing most of their ball-work outside rather than inside. Despite getting a number of crosses into the box, Rensing and his defence stayed solid. Solbakken made his final substitution accordingly – bringing on the tall Kevin Pezzoni for Lanig. But, in the 87th minute, Hamburg finally broke the deadlock. After thwarting two Roshi-led breaks (sandwiched either side of two HSV breaks during an end-to-end final few minutes), Hamburg went at their hosts down the right. This time, Diekmeier carried the ball infield, before threading a diagonal forward pass to Petrić, who had made a sprint back towards the D. First-time, the Croatian international flicked the ball over the heads of several Cologne defenders. Running onto the pass by spinning the man he was standing on, Riether, and being played onside by Sereno, Guerrero reached the ball ahead of Rensing and some desperate white-shirted players, scooping it over the goalkeeper into an empty net for 1-0!

To waste time, Fink made two substitutions within the space of a minute: first replacing Sala with Heung-Min Son, and then bringing on Michael Mancienne for Jarolím. But, the visitors’ held the ball up in the corner easily enough, ensuring that they took all three points. They host Werder Bremen next weekend in the north German derby, while Cologne travel to Bavaria to meet Nuremberg.

The formations that finished the match

Cologne (4-1-3-2, from right to left): Rensing; Sereno, McKenna, Geromel, Riether; Pezzoni; Peszko, Jajalo, Clemens; Novakovič, Roshi

Hamburg (5-3-2, from right to left): Drobný; Diekmeier, Westermann, Tesche, Rajković, Aogo; Son, Mancienne, Jansen; Guerrero, Petrić

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