Two assists and a goal from the outstanding Daniel Caligiuri helped in-form Freiburg defeat relegation-fearing Cologne 4-1, meaning that if the visitors lose to or draw with Bayern Munich next weekend and Hertha BSC defeat Hoffenheim, Lukas Podolski & co. will be relegated to 2. Bundesliga. The Germany international striker started up front on his own against Freiburg, and not only did he lack support, the midfield behind Podolski weren’t good enough to create chances against a well-drilled and heavy-pressing home side who deserved their win. Freiburg – who made sure of their place in the 2012/13 Bundesliga last weekend – were in control for most of the match, and looked slice, assured, energetic and penetrative. Christian Streich’s side could even finish the season in the top half of the table if they beat Borussia Dortmund next weekend – not bad for a side who were bottom of the division with a mere 13 points on the board at Christmas.
Meanwhile, as a result of this loss, Frank Schaefer’s Cologne now only have two outcomes from the 34-game season – either they go down automatically (they are currently two points clear of 17th-placed Hertha BSC, who lost at Schalke, though), or they stay in 16th and contest the relegation play-off against whichever team finishes third in 2. Bundesliga (either Paderborn, St Pauli or Fortuna Düsseldorf). It has been an absolute shambles of a season for Cologne, and one fears that things will only get worse, especially with the talismanic Podolski – who scored a fine individual goal this afternoon to briefly draw his side level – set to leave. As for Freiburg, if they take this confidence, tactical discipline and momentum into next season, and manage to hold onto players such as Caligiuri, they surely won’t find themselves in a situation where they’re securing their place in the top-flight in April again.
Freiburg (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Oliver Baumann; Mensur Mujdža, Matthias Ginter, Fallou Diagné, Oliver Sorg; Jonathan Schmid, Karim Guédé, Cédric Makiadi, Caligiuri; Jan Rosenthal; Sebastian Freis
Cologne (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Michael Rensing; Mišo Brečko, Kevin McKenna, Pedro Geromel, Christian Eichner; Martin Lanig, Sascha Riether; Sławomir Peszko, Mato Jajalo, Christian Clemens; Podolski
The match began in a somewhat tame fashion, with caution pervading both sides’ play. With all the pressure on Cologne, Freiburg soon settled into a sit and absorb tactical gameplan. Cologne came higher up the pitch as a team as we neared the ten-minute mark, and this was not something the hosts had a problem with, as it gave Freis – a Cologne striker until January – the chance to run onto clearances or through-passes. In fact, it was through chances like these that actually made Freiburg look the team more likely to score in the opening stages, with Cologne unsettled by the hosts’ energetic pressing, and not having the requisite pace or invention to play telling balls in between the home side’s two tight and rigid banks of four.
However, as we neared the 15-minute mark, Cologne – unafraid to mobilise both full-backs – began to get a bit more change down the right-hand side of the pitch by overloading Freiburg left-back Sorg. Some enticing crosses were swung towards the back post as a result of good work done down the 21-year-old’s channel, but no one was ghosting in to meet them. Ten minutes later, and the home side had been on top for a good five minutes, even calling one of the game’s goalkeepers into action on a number of occasions (Rensing, naturally, proved to be reliable as he has been all season). Streich’s side had grown into this position of command by showing more ambition when it came to using the ball and moving for the man on it, and were finding the majority of space down the flanks, where Cologne’s attacking midfielders weren’t always sharp enough in getting back and assisting their respective full-backs defensively.
On the whole, Cologne’s approach to pressing was interesting. Baumann would always roll to one of the centre-backs – usually Ginter – from the restart, but despite the fact the own-half sideways-passing was wasting the visitors’ precious time, Schaefer’s team steadfastly refused to press until the ball was in their own half. And, even then, it would only be a one-man zonal job. Perhaps because the away side were always poised to surge forward on the break while sitting in their own half (a false and unsecure parking of the bus, so to speak), Freiburg found it easy enough to find space in the corridors, and as we neared the 35-minute mark, the home side were still very much on top, even if their shooting was a tad wayward. So, while it was no surprise to see Freiburg take a 1-0 lead ten minutes before the break, it was somewhat unexpected to see Rensing getting a bout of lettuce hands as Mujdža’s tame toe-poke inexplicably rolled through the former Bayern Munich ‘keeper’s grasp. The Bosnian right-back, on a sprint infield towards the D, was fed by the lively, lung-abusing Caligiuri, whose counter-attacking dribble benefited from Cologne’s poor shape and ball-watching.
There was far more urgency to the away side’s play after the goal, but Podolski was so isolated, as an incident in the 41st minute highlighted. The Arsenal target chested a high ball down and turned his man superbly, but had no one to lay it off too. Clemens had veered infield, but stood there – as if waiting to see what the prince of Cologne would do, rather than making a decision/move for himself and demanding a pass. Podolski carried on with the ball towards the flank, exasperated, before eventually crossing to an alone-by-the-penalty-spot Brečko, who headed wide despite the fact it looked easier to get the ball on target.
The formations that started the second-half
Freiburg (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Baumann; Mujdža, Ginter, Diagné, Sorg; Schmid, Guédé, Makiadi, Caligiuri; Rosenthal; Freis
Cologne (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Rensing; Brečko, McKenna, Geromel, Eichner; Riether, Jajalo; Peszko, Podolski, Clemens; Milivoje Novakovič
Schaefer made an extremely attacking substitution for the second-half, replacing defensive-midfielder Lanig with Slovenian striker Novakovič. This was a clever move from the coach, as now Cologne’s most creative player was in a part of the field where the visitors were crying out for invention, and the World Cup 2006 star now also had passing options – something he was starved of in the first-half. Not even Cologne’s coach, however, would have expected to be rewarded for his change just two minutes into the new half, as Podolski drew the sides level with a fine individual goal. Dropping deep for a throw-in, Podolski trapped the ball back-to-goal, before masterfully spinning his two markers. Veering infield, he feigned a shot/pass on several occasions, before finally getting into a position which gave him more of the goal to aim at. On his trusted left-foot, the 26-year-old drilled into Baumann’s bottom left-hand corner for 1-1!
They were level for all of six minutes, Freiburg’s Togolese-Slovak box-to-box midfielder making it 2-1 in the 53rd minute! It was a really rather simple goal – Mujdža sent a high long-diagonal out to the left corner-flag, where Caligiuri was in space thanks primarily to Brečko’s inability to judge the flight of the ball. Without waiting for a bounce, Caligiuri cushioned the ball to the back-post, and, ghosting i, as he had been all game – all season, in fact – was Guédé, who made no mistake on his volley into the net!
Freiburg centre-back Diagné made way for Immanuel Höhn in the 58th minute, and after ten minutes on the pitch, the youngster will have been surprised by just how little he had had to do. After falling 2-1 behind, the spirit and energy brought about by having restored parity was sucked out of the visitors’ game, with confident, possession-keeping Freiburg barely needing to get out of second gear. A desperate Schaefer made his second substitution with 22 minutes left on the clock, replacing the lifeless Peszko with Christopher Buchtmann in a like-for-like change. Streich followed suit a minute later, replacing Mujdža with Anton Putsila, meaning that Schmid moved to right-back, and Putsila to the right side of midfield.
As we neared the 75-minute mark, the game had become much more open, with chances galore (Makiadi being denied after a last-ditch interception from Geromel; Podolski and Novakovič scuffing wide). Streich made another change in the 73rd minute, sticking rigidly to his 4-4-1-1 all the while, replacing the hard-running Rosenthal with Erik Jendrišek. The Slovakian had the chance to put the game to bed two minutes after entering the field of play when he was fed just off the D in a three-on-three counter. However, he leant back, sending the ball high into the stand behind the goal at the MAGE SOLAR Stadion. The 25-year-old was involved again a minute later, when missing an open goal by sending a shot from the joint of the left-hand side of the six-yard-box back across the face of goal.
Playing against a Cologne side who had to stand high and who looked utterly zapped, it had become embarrassingly easy for Freiburg to get into and make chances in the final-third during the game’s final half-hour. Seeking to get Streich to drag his players back into his own half, Schaefer used his final option from the bench in the 83rd minute, replacing left-back Eichner with Swedish striker Mikael Ishak. But, just a minute later, Freiburg attacked again, and Caligiuri scored to put the result beyond doubt. If it looked as though Cologne’s defence had given up by that point, they definitely had done so in the 89th minute, when Freis was the only player to respond to a cross in the box! In making it 4-1 – the former Karlsruhe striker had enough time to miss one effort before scoring with the rebound – Freis had the last touch of the game, and Schaefer will be relieved, because Cologne boast the worst goal difference in the top-flight, and could easily have shipped one or two more in injury time. They really were that bad.
The formations that finished the match
Freiburg (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Baumann; Schmid, Ginter, Höhn, Sorg; Putsila, Guédé, Makiadi, Caligiuri; Jendrišek; Freis
Cologne (4-1-3-2, from right to left): Rensing; Brečko, McKenna, Geromel, Riether; Jajalo; Buchtmann, Podolski, Clemens; Ishak, Novakovič