Wendepunkt: Halfar and Risse Propel 1. FC Köln to top of 2. Bundesliga Table

Just three days after travelling to Coface Arena for a second-round DFB Pokal battle of the so-called Karneval clubs, the 1. FC Köln made its way to Aalen, looking for a proper encore to the dismissal of FSV Mainz from the tournament via a 0:1 road victory for the Billy Goats.

The match’s lone goal came off the foot of Marcel Risse directly after some nifty footwork to get into a dangerous spot from which to launch the shot and several months after departing the employ of FSV Mainz to join the club of his hometown and, apparently, his heart.

Propel your new club past your former club and into the third round of the DFB Pokal and deliver a goal to push your new club into first place in the league? All within the span of 72 hours?

And it’s not yet Risse’s birthday, which comes in December! Nor is it the beginning of Karneval, as that comes on 11.11!

Nope. It turns out to be just another day at the office for the only professional German side not being coached by Pep Guardiola. Peter Stöger did not arrive in the Cathedral City with the buzz that surrounded the new man at FC Bayern München, but while some fans of the Bavarian giant are still questioning the hire because their side is not winning by half-a-dozen nightly, the man the Effzeh hired away from Austrian Bundesliga champion FK Austria Wien is the toast of the town in Köln.

Actually, there aren’t many people associated with the club who are not, in some way, the toast of that town. It turns out there are a lot of thirsty people in Köln, both for a glass or two of Kölsch and an Effzeh club they can get behind.

This weekend, there will have been glasses raised to Stöger, Risse, undefeated status, first place, the third round, and more, but none of that will have carried a moment quite the way Daniel Halfar did when faced with a packed-in VfR Aalen defense at what seemed like a relatively non-critical game moment.

And it went a little something like this…

VfR Aalen established early in the match they were prepared to sit deep in their own defensive end and make things as tight as possible for 1. FC Köln’s offensive movements.

Having executed their game plan fairly effectively, the first half hour was less than exhilarating, highlighted by a few decent shots from distance.

Hence, as the game pushed past the 30-minute mark, we found the ball being kicked around in Köln’s defensive end as they visitors sought a path through the host team’s defenses.

1 Halfar surrounded

In what appears to be yet another probe into the offensive area, Daniel Halfar brings the ball forward, but quickly realizes there are few options continuing forward toward the left corner flag. There is Yannick Gerhardt making a run down the flank, but not much else.

2 Halfar pivots

Halfar quickly reverses course, which gives him a little bit of separation from Leandro Grech, whose momentum carries him back toward his own goal line, which is pretty much okay considering the plan has been to sit deep and look for a counterstrike opportunity. You can see Manuel Junglas looking at Halfar as he cuts back toward the center of the pitch, as well as that Grech will be unable to maintain a close mark on Halfar. Despite that, Junglas passes on the opportunity to offer some defensive help there in favor of dropping back further, again cutting down on space for movement toward goal.

3 defender loops around has help

 

You can see that as Halfar completes his change in direction to again face the goal, he has a little more space in which to work, but there are a LOT of bodies in any immediate patch toward an area from which a truly dangerous shot could be launched. Getting the ball forward to Patrick Helmes or Anthony Ujah could leave the strikers with opportunity to try to create, but there is plenty of help from Aalen’s side to make that a less-than-obvious play.

5 indecision

Halfar opts to use the newly created space to keep the ball while teammates move to try to open something in the Aalen defense. From a different angle, you see Marcel Risse takes advantage of so many defenders on the far side of the pitch, as well as the fact that the man ostensibly responsible for him, Enrico Valentini, is doing a bit of ball-watching.

I officiate (American) football and basketball. Ball-watching can cause a lot of problems for an official because, if you’re watching the ball, odds are you’re not seeing what you’re meant to be seeing.

This would seemingly apply fairly well to playing defense. You need to know, of course, where the ball is, but if you watch it intently, you risk being sucked toward it and away from your defensive assignment.

Valentini is being pulled toward the ball like me toward a currywurst and frites.

Even so, there are a lot of bodies between Halfar and the area to which the ball would need to be played to get it to Risse. Is the streaking winger really an option?

6 needle threading

 

Halfar seems to think so. Given enough space to make an assessment and make precisely the pass he wants to make, Halfar finesses the ball into the box. Pretty sure my thought at this point was, “What are you doing?!”

Disclosure (for those who don’t know): I’m an Effzeh fan.

7 second row cleared

 

Turns out Halfar has a fairly decent grasp of spatial relativity as well as the technical skill to do something about it, because his ball quickly makes irrelevant the many white jerseys who had, moments ago, been poised to keep the opposing attack at a safe distance. The pass also shows better the problems created for Valentini when he let Risse move about while he watched the ball.

9

 

I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “perfect” pass, but what Halfar achieved there was some John Stockton-level wizardry.

If you’re too young and/or don’t know much about NBA basketball, I’ll translate that for you as “the sort of pass that a guy who became a legend for making great passes would have made.”

The ball slides well out of the reach of Valentini as he tries to recover, while also not being played close enough to Jasmin Fejzic so the keeper could help get a clearance. Considering the needle-threading Halfar had to do just to get the ball through the first few meters of it’s journey without being taken away by the opposition, it’s nothing short of beautiful.

Unless you’re Valentini or Fejzic, I suppose.

Risse needs only to complete his run onto the ball and find a good place for it.

10 but enough

 

 

And, as we mentioned before, he’s on a roll.

A pass that great deserves a class finish, which is precisely what Risse delivered, driving the ball into the top of the net and leaving the last line of the Aalen defense completely helpless.

11 having a hell of a week

 

But Risse does not go celebrate himself.

No. To bring another NBA-ism into the room, “game recognize game.”

Risse immediately turns back toward the direction from which the pass originated.

there he is

 

And pays the proper respects.

But not everyone is as ready to concede the greatness of that pass.

the face you make when a pass like that beats you

 

 

 

 

 

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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