Match Preview: FC Bayern München – 1. FC Köln

Rick Joshua and Randall Hauk get together to bring you a preview of Friday night’s Bundesliga battle between FC Bayern München and 1. FC Köln.

Hinspiel

Rick: The meeting last September at the Mungersdorf (yes, I still call it that) saw Bayern overcome a spirited-but-toothless Köln with two goals, one on either side of halftime. While this wasn’t exactly a game of two halves, it was perhaps a game of two Halfars, with Köln defensive midfielder Daniel Halfar featuring in both Bayern goals. The former TSV 1860 man (oh, how delicious that was!) was robbed of possession by Rafinha in the first half to set up Mario Götze’s opener, and in the second half, the hapless Halfar – a one-time prospect for international stardom – could only bundle the ball into his own net under pressure from David Alaba.

Randall: There is not much to say about the prior meeting that isn’t mostly covered by Rick . . . except for that one awesome chance we got, forcing Manuel Neuer to actually make  a save.

No, but seriously, that was about it for notes of interest from the Köln side.

The result itself came off as acceptable. Köln had surrendered just one goal the prior five matches combined. Losing by two to the defending champions, even at home, seemed reasonable for a promoted side.

After the match, Arjen Robben seemed astounded at a lack of offensive effort from the hosts. Of course, there’s more than a tinge of arrogance there, and if I thought it wouldn’t just delight the Erfolgsfans to no end, I’d compare such jackassery to the Mountain from “Game of Thrones” looking to Tyrion Lannister and inquire publicly as to why the little man doesn’t challenge him to a brawl.

Even the Mountain, who is not portrayed as an intellect, knows why. So does Robben. It’s funny that we have the phrase “embarrassment of riches,” yet those who could be said to possess such never seem even a little embarrassed.

Anyhow, with the EffZeh having now firmly established they are no offensive powerhouse and that they are merely hoping to stay in the league almost exclusively through defensive fortitude, it’s doubtful anyone involved with this match will expect much different from the Rückspiel.

So if Robben again gets smirky after the match with a “I just don’t understand why they don’t attack more,” he’s being disingenuous.

Current Form

Rick: After their post-Winterpause crash-and-burn in Wolfsburg and ten-man slip-up at the Allianz against Schalke that followed, Bayern have been in menacing form in recent outings. A workmanlike 2-0 win in Stuttgart got their show back on the road, but this stodgy showing was followed by a record eight-goal demolition of 80s rival Hamburger SV and the racking-up of six of the best on the road against top-flight new boys SC Paderborn 07. Meanwhile, Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal has been largely untroubled for more than six hours.

Köln’s well-drilled defensive unit will be key to keeping the Bavarians at bay, and Peter Stöger’s men will take some heart that a defensively-minded Shakhtar Donetsk recently managed to shut the red attack right down in their recent Champions’ League encounter.

Randall: Nobody is particularly pleased with the result last Saturday.

Hannover came to town looking like a beatable team, considering they were struggling with the start of their own Rückrunde, not to mention that Köln had largely outplayed them despite losing 1:0 to them in the Hinspiel.

The EffZeh did get their first goal in four matches, but were otherwise unable to do more than equalize the early Joselu score and had to settle for a point, while the streak of home matches without a win was extended to seven.

You could see in the demeanor of the players after the match that they’d put a lot of stock in getting a win from Hannover. The disappointment in the failure there probably is born of the knowledge that the away from that has been keeping the club from dipping into the relegation zone this season is about to face its stiffest test. Bayern has dropped all of two points at home this season and just pasted Hamburger SV by eight goals their last run at playing host. Players and coaches are happy to predict they will not let Bayern unload on them in such a manner, but when it comes to taking points, it’s more of a “well, you never know what can happen” attitude.

The lack of scoring and the gut-punch loss to hated rival Mönchengladbach can’t have instilled a ton of confidence in anyone heading into Friday’s battle. They may not be playing poorly. You can even say they’re playing well enough, considering the type of team they are. But what they clearly are not doing is playing well enough right now to where anyone should expect a miracle.

Offense

Rick: What can anyone say about the Bayern attack? When on form, they have been positively lethal. Sixteen goals in their last three Bundesliga games is more than enough evidence of their potency. Dutch Renaissance man Arjen Robben has been in sparkling form with a total of sixteen league goals this term, including six in his last four outings, but all of the offensive unit have been in the goals, among them Thomas Müller, Mario Götze, and Franck Ribéry.

The final piece in the puzzle, however, has been Polish hitman Robert Lewandowski, who finally looked to have emerged from the doldrums with two clinical finishes against Paderborn. Should he find the lethal form he showed for former club Borussia Dortmund, Bayern will have one of the most fearsome front lines in Europe, let alone the Bundesliga.

When one considers that the likes of David Alaba, Juan Bernat, and even youngster Mitchell Weiser have also been finding the back of the net, Bayern have found it all too easy. With Bernat, Alaba, and Rafinha doubling up with Ribéry and Robben on the flanks, the attacking options for coach Pep Guardiola are almost endless.

Köln have made a name for themselves this season by maintaining a watertight defence, but this reputation will be severely tested in Munich.

Randall: Anthony Ujah’s equalizer against Hannover was Köln’s first goal since the 0:2 victory in Hannover, putting three full matches between scores.

They were able to get two points from those three matches because the team is overwhelmingly defensive in their approach. Köln concedes a lot of possession to the opposition, preferring to rely on counterattacking opportunities for offensive production.

The problem is that they’re simply not very good on the counter.

The midfield is a huge problem for Köln. Marcel Risse and Daniel Halfar have been inconsistent on the flanks, to put it mildly. The search for an attacking midfielder has been fruitless, leaving most Köln possessions to result in long, hopeful passes over the top for Ujah, which for the most part has worked only when a defender makes an error. Ujah, for all his effort, is simply not at his best trying to win balls in the air to create his own chances.

Without better creativity from a central midfielder, the Köln offense is extremely limited. Yannick Gerhardt, despite normally being a defensive midfielder, showed some flashes of brilliance in that role when given a chance late in the Hinrunde, but instead of using his speed and agility to help deliver a sensation in Bavaria, the youngster will continue his battle with mono.

Will Kazuki Nagasawa finally get a chance to shine in the role in which he quickly impressed last season in the 2. Bundesliga? A visit to the champions might be as good a spot as any for a low-risk audition in the big leagues.

Defense

Rick: While the Bayern attack speaks for itself, the defence has been slightly more sketchy. The meltdown against Wolfsburg exposed a number of tactical faults and a susceptibility to the fast break, while discipline, injury, and the coach’s insistence on rotating his defensive unit and switching between a three and four-man defence has created the closest Die Roten have come to any sort of instability. The last four games have all produced clean sheets, but the shipping of four goals at the Volkswagen-Arena and conceding a rather soft equaliser against Schalke means that everybody will remain on their toes.

While incredibly popular off the pitch, Brazilian Danté has attracted the ire of a number of fans for his slack performances on it, while an unfortunate red card consigned Jérôme Boateng to the stands for the matches against Stuttgart and Hamburg. The not-wholly-convincing Medhi Benatia has suffered on and off from injury since his arrival at the beginning of the season from AS Roma, while Holger Badstuber still has to reach peak fitness after his second long layoff. One doesn’t want to admit the fact, but right now the defence is missing the stability and sense of calm provided by absent skipper Philipp Lahm.

In front of the back three or four, the defensive midfield has also been wobbly, with Bastian Schweinsteiger in and out of the side and Spanish veteran Xabi Alonso looking sublime one moment and scrappy the next. Here again Bayern are missing a key piece of the puzzle in the talented Thiago Alcântara.

Even though they will largely be looking to attack on the break, this is one area of the Bayern game that Köln will look to exploit. As for whether Bayern will play a Dreier- or Viererkette and who will start, only the coach really knows.

Randall:  Expect to see pretty near 90 minutes of the Köln defense Friday night.

Köln started the season with three clean sheets and got into added time of a fourth before conceding their first goal of 2015. They surrendered another early last weekend, but even with the team clearly pressing more offensively than they had in a while, the defense refused to yield any more than the first.

The problem is that Bayern can score on even the best defenses in Europe. The numbers say Köln may have one of the top defenses in the Bundesliga, but much of the success is predicated more on organization and discipline than talent, especially when compared to a giant like Bayern.

Stöger sent his crew out in a 4-1-1 last time, but all three of the four players in the midfield row are normally defensive-oriented players, including Pawel Olkowski, who has become the regular right back. The 5-4-1 that was used at Leverkusen is certainly a possibility with Mergim Mavraj joining normal central defense duo Dominic Maroh and Kevin Wimmer behind Köln’s usual double pivot of Kevin Vogt and Matthias Lehmann.

But formation and personnel will not really matter. The talent gap will be to Bayern’s advantage. The defending Friday night is going to be an eleven-man gig, with the only offensive excursions getting the blessings of the coach being those that are clear-cut low-risk endeavors.

That is, any offense for Köln will come as a direct result of defensive work.

Goalkeeping

Rick: The one truly immovable and indispensable piece of Die Roten’s armoury; not much else can be said about Torhüter Manuel Neuer. In fact, many people in the Fußball-watching world are waiting just to see his next party piece as he attempts to make up for what can be boring spells between the sticks counting sheep while his teammates do their thing at the other end. The fact that Neuer can pull off breathtaking saves even after long spells counting sheep is testament to his superior ability and all-round sharpness. How he didn’t actually nod off against Paderborn, heaven only knows.

The Bavarians’ defensive unit may still need plenty of tweaking, but it will always be at the back of every attacker’s mind that they then have to also find a way past the Bayern’s rock – while running the risk of being humiliated as he performs a smart flick, does a flying Robin van Persie impression or smoothly ghosts past them like Franz Beckenbauer.

Randall: Timo Horn is not about to be battling Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo for Ballon d’Or honors, but for 90 minutes at a time in the Bundesliga, Köln’s young stud between the posts takes a back seat to nobody. Pay attention, you fans of the German national team. The short-term future of Germany goalkeeping will be on one end of the pitch watching a match under the Friday night lights, but a contender for the DFB’s future will be on the other end trying to be a human wall against Bayern’s attack.

There is but a very slight chance that Manuel Neuer will the the difference for Bayern in whatever the match result it, but Horn will definitely be provided opportunity to be the determining factor for Köln. Horn may regularly be asked to make more spectacular saves in either half Friday night than Neuer will see in a month.

In many tangible ways, the more-valuable keeper in this match will be the youngster in Köln’s goal . . . though let’s hope Horn’s outfield players put the world’s best keeper to work at least a little bit, too.

Coaching

Rick: Like his famed chef friend and fellow Catalan Ferran Adrià, Pep Guardiola continues to divide opinion, and like Adrià’s molecular gastronomic creations, the Bayern coach’s tactics continue to amaze, enlighten, and baffle in equal measure.

The long trail of injuries has meant that Guardiola has never really had the strongest selection of players at his disposal at any one time, but every time there is a whiff of criticism his team steps up and delivers. Meanwhile, the unflappable designer-stubbled Catalan remains calmly suited and booted on the touchline.

At home against a side sitting in the lower half of the table, expect the Bayern coach to have his team press hard from the start and step on the gas. If all goes to plan, expect to see at least one of the younger squad members get a decent second half workout.

Randall: Both Peter Stöger and Pep Guardiola won league titles their first season in Germany last season.

Pep arrived to a treble winner and managed to repeat in two of those three competitions, though many choose to focus on the one he did not win, which is part of the deal when you take a job like the one at Bayern.

What Pep also did was immediately begin to institute his preferred style of play and philosophy.

Stöger arrived to a second-division side that made a run at promotion the year before, but came up a bit short. He came with a reputation for being an offensive-oriented coach from his championship run with FK Austria Wien. He led 1. FC Köln to a 2. Bundesliga title with an historically strong defense, which has proven to be the plan for avoiding a return to the second division.

However you choose to feel about Stöger’s conservative approach, you have to recognize that he’s at least flexible enough to play different styles, which has to make you think that he’s the sort to look at the personnel available to him and his competition and make football decisions based on what he thinks is sustainable.

So while the Köln game plan can look a bit like the scene from Shaun of the Dead when the protagonist and his pals hole themselves up in their favorite pub and end up defending themselves from zombie attacks on all sides, you just get the feeling Stöger’s going to find a way to come out the other side.

Will that lead to him having Arjen Robben on a dog lead out behind his house for the occasional Xbox session? Maybe not by the end of this weekend, but . . .

Intangibles

Rick: Not so much intangibles, but a little off-field news. Skipper Philipp Lahm and young talent Thiago are back on the training field after long layoffs, Arjen Robben has praised Pep Guardiola for bringing the best out of him, and Thomas Müller has taken a gentle swing at all of those critical of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xabi Alonso, describing the detractors as “superficial” – though the German word, oberflächlich, sounds a whole lot better. Never short of a word, unsere Thomas.

Randall: Köln have some surprisingly decent results in München over the years, considering the gap in fortunes between the two clubs otherwise. The Billy Goats come home with points more frequently than you think.

Beyond that, hoping that the club is being overlooked and underestimated? Maybe Köln plays loose knowing they are huge underdogs and ends up playing out of their heads under the Friday night spotlight?

It’s a lot of grasping at straws, but an overmatched Köln side has taken points out of Allianz Arena before. That’s why they play the games!

Prediction

Rick: Taking into account both Bayern’s strike rate and Köln’s inability to find the back of the net (just three goals in their five matches since the start of the Rückrunde) one cannot see beyond a Pflichtsieg for the Bavarians. The real question is how many they will actually score.

While Köln have found it hard to puncture opposition defences, they themselves have only conceded two goals in those same five Rückrunde matches. Meanwhile, Bayern have thrashed the back of the Maschen eighteen times in their last five games. If Stöger’s men do a Shakhtar and maintain their discipline, it could be tight – with Bayern taking it by the single goal or perhaps matching their score earlier in the season. However if Die Roten score an early goal and take the bull (or rather the billy goat) by the horns early in the piece, we could see an opening of the floodgates.

I’m going for a comfortable 4-0 win; two goals in each half, with Robben netting at least once.

Randall: When I make my weekly predictions for an online Tippspiel with fellow fans, I almost always pick Köln to win 2:0. I always believe it’s a possible outcome, though I feel better about it sometimes than at others.

This is not, of course, a Tippspiel. Ostensibly, I’m meant to be delivering something that shows I have valid insight into how my club is playing.

So while I too will be awaiting the same “sensation” of which so many in red and white has spoken this week, my prediction will be grounded in a bit more pragmatism than that.

0:3 – Lumps taken, go home and get ready for the next round of the DFB Pokal.

 

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