Freiburg-Cologne preview

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. Continue reading

Cologne-Kaiserslautern preview

Round three of the Bundesliga season sees two of the sides yet to register a win square up Saturday teatime. However, Kaiserslautern did at least manage to salvage a draw last weekend at home to unbeaten newbies Augsburg (following an opening day 2-0 defeat to Werder Bremen), whereas Ståle Solbakken has made a disastrous start to Bundesliga life as Cologne coach, losing 3-0 and 5-1 to Wolfsburg and Schalke respectively, and falling out with Lukas Podolski after stripping the temperamental talisman of the captain’s armband.

Despite constantly blaming himself for Cologne’s horror start to the 2011/12 campaign, the 43-year-old Norwegian will be hoping Saturday is the day when the squad finally clicks playing in his new system, and beat Kaiserslautern for the first time since December 2007’s 2. Bundesliga victory (as an aside, on the final day of that same season, Lautern beat Cologne 3-0 to save themselves from relegation to the third tier). Continue reading

Cologne 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen

The first half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen conceded the title to Dortmund but secured their spot in next season’s Champions League group stage – despite losing the Rhine derby to Cologne, who now move four points clear of the drop zone.

With Wolfsburg beating Werder Bremen the evening before this Saturday afternoon game, Cologne were once again in the thick of the relegation battle. A disastrous loss of form and the sudden departure of coach Frank Schaefer in the week meant that Leverkusen were the clear favourites for this tie. Dortmund were playing simultaneously, with both they and Leverkusen knowing that a loss for Dortmund and a win for Leverkusen would see the gap at the top reduced to two points. But for Jupp Heynckes’s side, the real goal was simply to win irrespective of how Dortmund got on, as three points here would guarantee the club’s place in the Champions League group stages for next season (even if Heynckes is Bayern Munich-bound). Continue reading

Cologne 4-2 Mainz

The first-half formations.

A Frank Schaefer tactical masterclass and lacklustre Mainz performance lifted Cologne out of the relegation zone and denied Mainz the chance to leapfrog Bayern Munich into the Champions League spots.

The game looked set for a slow opening period when Cologne’s use of the kick-off saw them punt the ball upfield for a Mainz and Heinz Müller restart. However, slick Mainz, keeping a defensive trio deep despite Milivoje Novakovič being the foremost player for the hosts, used the former Barnsley ‘keeper’s goal-kick well, carving out an early chance from it which André Schürrle wasted. True to (very early) form, Cologne hoofed the ball upfield again, this time getting some success by winning a free-kick about three-quarters of the way up the pitch on the right-hand side. Lukas Podolski curled it into the box, and poor tracking and positioning from the away side allowed Martin Lanig to glance the ball in for 1-0 with just 150 seconds on the clock. Continue reading

Cologne 1-1 Hoffenheim

Lanig and Ehret kept the width, while Jajalo and Clemens veered inside to make a three-pronged central attacking-midfield unit.

Round six of the Bundesliga began on Friday night with Hoffenheim travelling north to a ground where they’d never tasted defeat.

Both sides lost in the midweek round of fixtures, but Cologne had sealed a first victory of the season on home soil last weekend, and Hoffe had made a decent all-round start.

The first half began slowly with caution fully in charge of both sides’ operations. Eventually Hoffenheim began to test the waters, and the home side retreated; encouraging their guests to do something with the ball.

Several stabs at ‘something’ saw Cologne’s deep defence put under pressure by the last-shoulder lurking Vedad Ibišević, and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón was forced into a series of clumsy hoofs upfield.

After realising scoops over the top weren’t going to grant the Bosnian room to reach and then use the ball, Hoffenheim decided to let the home side show their hand.

Cynical batches of Hoffenheim melina drew jeers from the partisan RheinEnergieStadion crowd, and Ralf Rangnick’s side only halted it via occasional surges down the right-hand flank. Continue reading

Cologne 2010/11 preview

North on this pitch is Cologne's XI for the 3-2 home loss to Dortmund in January. The lack of width was detrimental, while the position of Maniche was never fully solved. The formation shown in the southern part of this image is the team Soldo sent out for the round 24 clash at local rivals Leverkusen. The lack of width still rendered attacking problematic, but the creation of more banks ensured that Cologne's team linked up more effectively when they did have the ball.

Is Zvonimir Soldo the new Claudio Ranieri? Cologne’s Croatian manager loves to tinker, amending his side’s personnel and tactical layout each week.

Such excess is in part borne from necessity – clubs of Cologne’s middling, relegation-flirting size have to adopt straitjackets when Bayern & co. come to town.

Inevitably, such variety equates leads to vastly contrasting results. Despite corking Bayern and at-the-time table-topping Bayer Leverkusen, the North Rhine-Westphalian side were hammered by both Stuttgart and Hoffenheim last season.

Such thrashings were odd given that Cologne’s inability to score was matched by an ability to render opponents equally impotent. However, the aforecited defeats were at RheinEnergieStadion – their unhappy home hunting-ground.

With more holes to exploit in away games, Soldo’s counter-attack-constructed side were fluid and rampant on their travels. But as hosts, Die Geißböcke couldn’t adjust accordingly.

Embarking on a third successive top-flight campaign, Soldo’s soldiers must achieve mid-table anonymity at a far earlier stage – the 62-year-old club only survived *comfortably* last time out due to the failings of others. Continue reading