Depending on how you look at it, Wednesday’s battle between 1. FC Köln and VfB Stuttgart is either a relegation fight or one of the prime fixtures of the match day.
Or both . . .
As an Aufsteiger, Köln is an automatic candidate for relegation. Even though they’ve not looked the role, for the most part, the team has shown enough limitations that would prevent anyone claiming that even sitting eleventh on 22 points at this point means they’re necessarily on their way to safety.
Stuttgart, of course, looks every bit the relegation-threatened side they were all of last season, in which they managed to stay out of the bottom three despite compiling just 32 points. The VfB currently are 17th, just one point ahead of Borussia Dortmund.
HOWEVER . . . !
Köln has been incredibly poor at home this season, balancing their second-only-to-Bayern in the away table with a second-from-bottom spot in the home table (ironically, just a point ahead of Stuttgart). With just six points from eight home matches, they’re a full five points behind third-worst home side Hamburger SV (you know . . . that Hamburger SV that just lost to Köln Saturday 0:2? Yeah, that one!).
Stuttgart, while not quite the road threat Köln has been, does have twelve points from nine away matches, which is bettered only by their midweek hosts and the aforementioned Bayern.
Simply put, all those numbers add up to the potential for a very close match at RheinEngergieArena. Throw in the fact that Köln have not taken all three points at home against Stuttgart since 2000, balance it with the fact that Köln has taken more points off Stuttgart than any other club (125 points in 83 matches), and then . . . MADNESS!
Of course, all of this is little more than statistics and history. EffZeh coach Peter Stöger is interested only in more-recent events and what he and his squad can accomplish Wednesday.
“We hope that we can take the momentum from Hamburg and, against the VfB, also play for three points,” said the coach about the midweek task. “The team is in the mood for it and has a positive outlook. The match is a duel of equals; those are usually the most difficult matches for us.”
“But we are always good for a surprise.”
One thing that is unlikely to be a surprise is the starting eleven. Though Slawomir Peszko made his debut as a starter Saturday, Stöger does not generally tinker with his team much, especially after a successful venture.
There should be, however, one new face on the bench, assuming the coach wants to have the possibility of taking last-minute transfer-window acquisition Deyverson out for a test drive. After failed attempts at finding a proper “ten” to address midfield-creativity issues and at getting a replacement for loaned-out Simon Zoller, sporting director Jörg Schmadtke brought the Brazilian striker over from Belenenses of Lisbon on a loan deal, reportedly with an option to buy. When Bard Finne and Kazuki Nagasawa arrived last winter, Stöger put both newcomers on the pitch at Müngersdorf.
Both clubs are among the lowest-scoring sides in the league. Stuttgart had several high-profile chances against Borussia Mönchengladbach, but could not push one through, falling 0:1 after a tough effort against a top club. It was the ninth time this season Stuttgart had been held scoreless.
Marcel Risse’s brace helped his club pass Borussia Dortmund in the goals-scored category and close to within one of Stuttgart’s 20, but it’s going to take more than the one multiple-goal performance to convince anyone Köln is on the verge of developing a consistently dangerous offense to pair with the well-organized defense that saw them post clean sheets in each of the first four matches of the season.
The second match of the season was, of course, the Hinspiel of this fixture, won 0:2 by the visitors from the Cathedral City. The goals scored at Mercedes-Benz Arena that day were the only two Köln managed over the first six match days of the season! To make things worse, both were largely aided by poor defending. That’s not to say the victory wasn’t deserved, rather to remind that the connection between how a game is flowing and actual scoring can be very tenuous.
Antonio Rüdiger, who inadvertently headed the ball into Anthony Ujah’s path so he could give Köln their second goal that day, is unavailable due to injury, as are Daniel Didavi and Carlos Gruezo. Daniel Schwaab, whose failed clearance attempt helped Yuya Osako tap-in the first goal, should be available despite some issues with his ankle.
For Köln, only Patrick Helmes will not be an option.