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8.11.2022Bundesliga

Our next opponents: Captain back on board

When FC Köln welcome the Werkself to the derby on Wednesday night, 9 November (kick-off: 18.30 CET), the fans from Cologne can hope for the return of their skipper. Captain Jonas Hector will probably be back in the squad after recovering from a foot injury. The lowdown on next opponents.
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Position

It was not a very successful week for FC Köln. It started with a respectable 1-1 draw against TSG Hoffenheim – just over 48 hours before the rearranged match in the Europa Conference league away to FC Slovacko. Given the circumstances, Steffen Baumgart was clearly proud of the energetic performance of his team against TSG. "They've left their hearts on the pitch," praised the head coach. Thomas Kessler, head of first team football, was also moved by the group: "They battled all resistance. Hats off to them all."

In the final and crucial group match in the Conference League against Nice four days later, FC Köln came back into the match after being two goals down. But the final score of 2-2 was not enough to progress in the competition. Last Sunday brought a 2-0 defeat away to SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga, which saw the Cologne team drop to eleventh in the table. Baumgart was primarily annoyed by the mistakes that led to the two goals just before half-time. "We were caught out by a counter-attack before the opening goal and then we didn't manage to prevent the cross that led to the second," complained the FC Köln coach who did not want to be too tough on his players. "It's not a disgrace to lose here. We've got a very young team that still needs to develop." A team that made a good start to the season.

The Cologne club were seventh in the Bundesliga after ten matchdays with a 3-2 win against FC Augsburg and, at that point, they were just three points behind second placed Bayern Munich. The rest of the season so far has seen Baumgart again and again forced to manage without several key players due to injury. It was impossible to make up for that given the recent commitments. FC Köln have only picked up one point from the last three Bundesliga matches.

Personnel

The Red and Whites had to manage for weeks without defender Julian Chabot and the midfielders Jan Thielmann and Mathias Oleson. Those three are now back on board. However, captain Jonas Hector missed the last four games due to a cut on his foot. Striker Florian Dietz injured a cruciate ligament against Nice, has now been operated on and will be on the sidelines for several months. And the midfielders Dejan Ljubicic (knee), Dimtrios Limnios (rehab training), Tim Lemperle (ankle) and Mark Uth (groin) and striker Sebastian Andersson (rehab training) have been out of action for some time. Holding midfielder Ellyes Skhiri played with a protective face mask against Freiburg due to a cheek injury.

The injury problems have required young talents to again and again fill the gaps. Players like central defender Nikola Soldo, the midfielders Eric Martell and Denis Huseinbasic plus winger Linton Maina. "We have confidence in everybody in our squad," said coach Steffen Baumgart. Above all, the right attitude and high commitment has been able to help the team overcome a large number of losses. "If everything is against us then we'll show the people what happens here. And there's always something for us in a home game," said Timo Hübers after the 1-1 draw against Hoffenheim. The key defender, who has played in nearly every match to date was left out of the squad for the Freiburg game at his own request as he asked the coaching staff for a break. "He was all done in. Totally kaput," said Baumgart in explaining the absence of his usually indispensable central defender. As the FC Köln coach announced on Tuesday, Hübers was ruled out of the Nice match and the game against the Werkself due to a dead leg. Baumgart did have some good news at the press conference: Captain Jonas Hector is back on board for the game against the Werkself having recovered from his foot injury.

Performers

FC Köln have shown their bouncebackability in the league having gone behind in ten Bundesliga matches and ending up with twelve points (three wins, three draws). The ability to come back into games is also due to 14 goals being scored in the second half (out of a total of 20). No team has scored more often after half-time. That is also proof of the strong physical condition of the team. From the absolute commitment demanded by Baumgart through not giving up, fighting and battling has helped the Cologne team build their identity. The mentality at Köln is unsurpassable. The way Steffen and his colleagues deal with difficult situations and the many injuries is incredible." That praise for Baumgart and Co. came from Freiburg coach Christian Streich.

In a repeat of last season, a lot of the FC Köln game goes down the flanks. The 212 crosses to date are an expression of that style of play and currently the highest number in the league. Florian Kainz, with five goals and five assists, and the pacy Linton Maina provide the danger on the wings. The latter was signed from Hannover 96 in the summer and has already provided three assists and scored one goal. The former Dortmund player Steffen Tigges has developed well up front with the 24-year-old scoring three times to date. And the Werkself will have to be on their toes for FC Köln set pieces: They are currently in the top six in Germany's top flight with seven goals from set plays.

Problems

FC Köln can hardly play like a well-oiled machine at the moment given the many injuries. Steffen Baumgart has often had to rejig his line-up. In terms of football: Although his team put in so many crosses, there is a lack of accuracy – and up front there is a lack of a poacher like Anthony Modeste who moved on to Borussia Dortmund having scored eight goals at the same point in the season last term. He ended up with 20 goals. "I think we have to live with not having any lads who are clinical and ice cold," said Steffen Baumgart. At Freiburg, Kainz and Maina were not able to exploit two big blunders by the SCF keeper Flekken. FC Köln have lacked penetration in the final third up to now. "I think we need a bit more power," said defender Kristian Pedersen after the match in the Breisgau.

Prediction

Just like the Werkself, FC Köln went out in the first round of the DFB Cup with a 4-3 defeat on penalties at SSV Jahn Regensburg. And as the Red and Whites are no longer in the Conference League, the Baumgart team can now completely focus on the Bundesliga. "We'll put everything into the next two games, try to win them and then have a holiday, which we’ve earned," said goalkeeper Marvin Schwäbe looking forward to the next two matches before the World Cup break against Bayer 04 and away to Hertha Berlin. Before the season it was clear to coach Baumgart: "Our target is not playing in Europe. The most important thing is to keep the club in the Bundesliga and out of all trouble." Three points in the derby would be very welcome in that respect.

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