Kaiserslautern-Cologne preview

Two of the sides mired in the 2011/12 Bundesliga relegation battle meet tomorrow teatime at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. Kaiserslautern have only won twice at home all season, while Cologne have registered just two wins on the road, meaning that both teams have a great opportunity to improve on those stats in tomorrow’s game – the final fixture of round 20. The visitors come into the game in 13th spot with 21 points, while Kaiserslautern sit in 16th place with 18 points (but a better goal difference than Cologne’s).

Owing to the fact that his side are languishing in the relegation zone, Kaiserslautern coach Marco Kurz had a number of new attackers brought in for his use during the winter break, with one of them, Jakub Świerczok, partnering Dorge Kouemaha up front in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Augsburg (in which a defender, Florian Dick, got both of Kaiserslautern’s goals). Joining the young Pole at the club in the break were Sandro Wagner (Werder Bremen), and Nicolai Jørgensen (Bayer Leverkusen). This trio will have their work cut out in the remaining 15 games of the 2011/12 season, with Kaiserslautern’s tally of 15 Bundesliga goals – including a mere seven at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion – far and away the lowest number of goals scored by a side in the division. 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 1-0 Nuremberg

The first half formations.

Cologne and Nuremberg looked all but certain to have played out an entertaining and fiery 0-0 draw until Slovenia international Milivoje Novakovič scored an injury-time winner for the hosts at the RheinEnergieStadion.

For the neutral football fan, a Bundesliga battle between the sides in 12th and sixth place respectively may not have forced all other afternoon plans to be cancelled, but there was a fair bit riding on this game, with the hosts knowing that if they lost here and Wolfsburg beat Eintracht Frankfurt in the day’s other game, they would be just two points above the drop zone. Frank Schaefer has turned Cologne’s fortunes around since replacing Zvonimir Soldo, but a 6-2 hammering at the hands of Hamburg in the last round emphasised that this is the same team which the Croatian struggled to push up the table. At least Schaefer had few injuries or suspensions to contend with when it came to selecting his side, although 12 members of the Cologne squad were returning from international duty. By way of comparison, Nuremberg came into this game in fantastic form, and knew they could move into the Europa League spots with a win. Continue reading

Cologne 4-0 Hannover

The first half formations.

A commanding second half performance from Cologne saw them overcome a Hannover side who offered surprisingly little after going a goal behind.

This Friday night round 26 fight saw the teams placed fifth and fourth in the form table come up against one another. With Geromel still absent through injury, Frank Schaefer was forced to use Kevin Pezzoni as an emergency centre-back again. The inconvenience of having to do this was shown when the gangly midfielder was at fault for Dortmund’s only goal in last Friday night’s 1-0 win – failing to respond quickly or intelligently enough to the assisting pass. Hannover, fresh from last weekend’s heroic win against Bayern Munich, were again without top scorer Didier Ya Konan, as well as talismanic midfielder Sérgio Pinto. They knew a win would temporarily lift them above Leverkusen into second spot, and eight points clear of Bayern – with international fixtures allocated to the last weekend in March, three points would even have ensured they remained above the holding champions going into the penultimate month of the season. Cologne, still just four points above the relegation places coming into this game, knew a win would lift them above Schalke into tenth spot: and, more crucially, a win would give them some much-needed breathing space from those sides in the relegation zone. 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 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