After securing a record 20th game without defeat last weekend, and then reaching the DFB-Pokal final in the week, Borussia Dortmund travel to Cologne this Sunday looking to continue a run of form that bears all the hallmarks of a Championship-winning side. In defeating Werder Bremen 1-0 at the Westfalenstadion thanks to an early goal from the in-form Shinji Kagawa, Jürgen Klopp’s side ensured that they entered the 27th round of the 34-game season with a five-point cushion over second-placed Bayern Munich. The Bavarian side, who have a far superior goal difference to Dortmund thanks primarily to their recent thrashings of Hoffenheim and Hertha BSC, will meet Dortmund later on this season in the German Cup final, after they defeated Borussia Mönchengladbach on Wednesday – one day after Klopp’s side put plucky 2. Bundesliga-leaders Greuther Fürth to the sword.
While Dortmund’s season currently has the sweet smell of, well, eau de Cologne about it, Ståle Solbakken’s side have endured a 26-game campaign which emits an odour of anything but roses. Although Cologne currently sit three points above the drop-zone, they have won just two of their last ten games, and during last weekend’s 4-1 loss to Hannover at the AWD-Arena, the visitors looked almost embarrassingly inferior to Mirko Slomka’s seventh-placed side at times. Having said that, goalkeeper Michael Rensing had a rare off-day, and Lukas Podolski – who has allegedly already sealed a summer transfer to Arsenal – was absent through suspension. Thus, a return to form for the former and a return to the pitch for the latter will likely make Cologne a better team this Sunday than the one we saw last weekend.
So, how much is Cologne’s Norwegian coach – who was only appointed in the summer, and has watched on as transfer director Volker Finke left the club a few weeks ago – to blame for the team’s current plight (bearing in mind they’d almost certainly be in the bottom three were it not for Podolski’s goals)? Well, the standout tactic deployed by Solbakken involves Cologne sitting as narrowly as possible when the other team have possession. Resultantly, opponents have been able to put crosses into the box and get in behind the defence at will in recent weeks, and with centre-backs such as Pedro Geromel and Henrique Sereno struggling for consistency, Cologne have been letting in far too many silly goals. Solbakken seems determined to stick to his guns, however, and the board seems to be confident that, given time, the 44-year-old’s methods will transform the club’s fortunes.
Whether Dortmund exploit the width-free defensive game employed by Cologne remains to be seen, although Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 generally involves the wingers cutting inside, and the full-backs providing the width. With the majority of the reigning champions’ good attacking work happening in the centre of the pitch, be it via the rejuvenated İlkay Gündoğan, powerful Sven Bender, masterful Kagawa or multi-talented Robert Lewandowski (Mario Götze has been out through injury these last few months, meaning Jakub ‘Kuba’ Błaszczykowski and Kevin Groβkreutz have played out on the flanks), and Solbakken deploying deep-sitting, defensive-minded centre-midfielders, Dortmund might find it difficult to break Cologne down, and will be hoping that the hosts’ players still have a few defensive errors left in them.
The two teams aren’t exactly a million miles away from one another geographically, and tickets are sold out, so the match will be played to a backdrop of occupied seats and a wall of noise. Florian Kringe once spent time on loan at Cologne from BVB, but the only occasion on which the 29-year-old has played for Klopp’s side this season was in the DFB-Pokal, so don’t expect him to be facing his former club this weekend. No other player in either squad has represented both clubs, but Podolski and Rensing would be doing their former colleagues at Bayern Munich a favour if they manage to get one over Dortmund this weekend.
The only player of note expected to miss out for Dortmund is the aforementioned Götze, while Cologne will in all likelihood be without two key attacking-midfielders of their own, as Adil Chihi still hasn’t recovered from injury, and Mato Jajalo is suspended. When the sides met earlier on this season, Dortmund won 5-0 (if Cologne remain in the top-flight, they’ll at least visit the Westfalenstadion with a stronger defence next season, having completed the summer signing of Fortuna Düsseldorf centre-back Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti earlier this week). That five-goal thrashing wasn’t anomalous either – Dortmund boast a 100 per cent record from the last seven meetings between these two sides.
Cologne versus Borussia Dortmund kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK this Sunday, and can be watched live on Bet365.com. The referee for the match at the Rhein-Energie-Stadion will be Felix Zwayer.