The team from the cathedral city recently suffered a first setback. FC Köln lost 5-0 away to TSG Hoffenheim on the last matchday – and keeper Timo Horn did not mince his words after the game: "Hoffenheim took us to the cleaners and gave us a good hiding today," declared the goalkeeper but he simultaneously set out the approach to the next games: "Now it's time to brush ourselves off, not think about it too much and carry on." There is no need for any doom mongering in Cologne as the start under the new coach Steffen Baumgart has been excellent. Up until last Friday in Sinsheim, the team, who just avoided relegation last season in the play-offs, had only lost away to FC Bayern and they received very good reports on their performance in that game. Under Baumgart, FC Köln are playing attractive, energetic and attacking football and have not lost a home game yet ahead of the derby. Seventh place after eight games is an outstanding interim position for the club after last season's difficulties. After the derby against the Werkself, FC Köln have an away game at VfB Stuttgart in the DFB Cup.
The international break has cost Köln perhaps their most important player to date this season. Midfielder Ellyes Skhiri suffered an injury in a game with Tunisia and, after a period of uncertainty, the diagnosis followed this week: The Köln speed merchant has a fracture of the fibula and he will be out of action for several weeks. A really bitter blow as Skhiri was the guarantee for balance in the Köln game with his running and he has also scored three goals in the current campaign. His position in a holding midfield against Hoffenheim was taken by Salih Özcan. There is a strong indication that Dejan Ljubicic will start in the derby. The new signing missed the game in Sinsheim due to an infection but returned to training this week. It also appears possible that Baumgart will move away from a 4-4-2 diamond formation to a 4-2-3-1 line-up with two holding midfielders.
In addition to Ljubicic, Jonas Hector returned this week after the missing the last game due to a cold. And Jannes Horn, his back up on the left side of defence, also trained again after a long injury lay-off but he is not an option for the game on Sunday. There are also question marks over midfielder Niklas Hauptmann and centre forward Sebastian Andersson who missed training due to illness. If Andersson does not play, then Jan Thielmann could move into the centre of the attack from the wing – or Anthony Modeste could play up front on his own in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Baumgart football means power, pressing and presence. The Köln approach to games is always aimed at getting on the front foot but it is also based on high-intensity in working against the ball. FC have made the second most tackles in the league and have a return of 52% won. One special strength of the Köln side is their wing play. Of all the Bundesliga clubs, Baumgart's team have put in the most crosses – knowing full well that two excellent headers of the ball await in the middle in the shape of Modeste and Andersson. It's no surprise that Köln have already scored four goals from headers this term and only Stuttgart (five) have more.
In order to make the attractive attacking system of the new coach work, there is a need for great discipline off the ball, determination in challenges and high concentration levels in possession as losing the ball can quickly lead to problems. All that was missing in Sinsheim, as central defender Rafael Czichos made clear was: "We made too many mistakes, individual mistakes in our game going forwards," he explained. "We were not aggressive enough in challenges, were always a step too late and you can't win like that." It could remain tricky for Köln if the team does not completely absorb the new approach.
Baumgart's plan has worked incredibly quickly at FC Köln and minor setbacks as in Hoffenheim should have been taken into account by the club management in view of the change of philosophy. If the team can remain free of injury to key players then Köln should not get involved in a relegation battle this season – a success looking back at last term. In the short term, the club is obviously looking forward to the derby on Sunday. "We are at home and we will do all we can to ensure this match is different from the one at Hoffenheim and gain a win," said Baumgart.
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