The penultimate round of the 2011/12 Bundesliga season sees a desperate relegation-battling Cologne travel to Rückrunde heroes Freiburg on Saturday afternoon. Cologne, four points behind Augsburg in the relegation play-off place, have to win at Freiburg – and hope Borussia Mönchengladbach defeat or draw with Augsburg – in order to keep up their hopes of avoiding the drop. A draw at the MAGE SOLAR Stadion simply won’t be good enough, as Cologne are 16 goals worse off than Jos Luhukay’s Bavarian side. Despite being bottom of the league at the conclusion of the first half of the season (Hinrunde), Freiburg have been the fifth best team in Germany’s top-flight since the winter break, and last week’s 0-0 draw away at Hannover secured their place in the 2012/13 Bundesliga.
Lest we forget, this is a Freiburg team who sold their best player and primary goalscorer, Papiss Demba Cissé, to Newcastle in January. However, the powers that be in Freiburg im Breisgau also made another key decision during the winter break, replacing coach Marcus Sorg with long-serving youth coach Christian Streich. Since then, Freiburg and their increasingly youthful XI haven’t looked back, and have shown exactly the same kind of team spirit, defensive discipline and tactical nous that Cologne have lacked. What the two sides do share, however, are two extremely good goalkeepers. If it wasn’t for Michael Rensing (Cologne) and Oliver Baumann (Freiburg), these two sides would have far less points on the table than the 30 and 37 totals they currently boast.
Although new coach Frank Schaefer brought an improved performance out of Cologne during last week’s 1-1 home draw with Stuttgart, he was at the helm during the team’s disastrous 3-0 loss and performance two weeks ago against local rivals Mönchengladbach. This weekend’s match against Freiburg is likely to be the last-but-one game the likes of Lukas Podolski play for Cologne, so Schaefer will be relying on such players to give everything they’ve got this weekend against a Freiburg side with nothing to play for. One player in particular who might be keen to impress against the hosts is Cologne midfielder Sascha Riether, who was born and raised little more than 35 kilometres from Freiburg, and played 140 games for the club before joining Wolfsburg in 2007. It is a striker for the home side who will probably have the most to prove, however. Sebastian Freis was allowed to leave Cologne without a fuss in January, and since then, the 27-year-old from Karlsruhe has put in a number of hard-working performances in the Freiburg attack.
When these teams met at the RheinEnergieStadion shortly before Christmas, Ståle Solbakken’s Cologne hammered their guests 4-0. Only three of the Freiburg players who played that day are likely to feature this weekend (Baumann, Jonathan Schmid and Cédric Makiadi), although that number might have been five were Johannes Flum and Julian Schuster not injured. Henrique Sereno, meanwhile, played for Solbakken’s home side that day, but he is unlikely to make the return fixture this weekend due to injury. The on-loan Porto man is likely to be joined by Adil Chihi on the sidelines.
Speaking ahead of the game, Schaefer noted that “SC are definitely the team of the moment in the second half of the season,” before going on to praise their passion, willingness to run and unity, and “saluting” the work Streich has done at Freiburg. However, he added: “We’re going to Freiburg to get three points, and despite all the pressures, we go with optimism and enthusiasm into the game. We need to put in a 100 per cent performance, and we need to focus on us, and want to deliver a good game.”
Freiburg against Cologne kicks off at 2.30pm UK time on Saturday, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. The referee will be Wolfgang Stark, and the weather is expected to be dry and not particularly windy.