May 20th of this year was a moment of massive joy for everyone connected with 1.FC Köln after a 2-0 win over Mainz combined with other results saw them jump to fifth place in the league on the final matchday an secure a place in European competition for the first time in 25 years. Pure ecstasy!
A mere 68 days into the new season and everything that could go wrong has for die Geißböcke as they’ve made the worst start to a Bundesliga season in the history of German top flight football. Pure agony!
No wins from their first nine Bundesliga matches, just two points on the board (both from goalless draws), a paltry three goals scored, seventeen conceded, three successive losses in the Europa League, injuries to key players and now the resignation of Sporting Director Jörg Schmadtke. (For a little more on that subject, listen to our Randall Hauk’s take on Talking Fussball)
What else could go wrong? It’s all a far cry from the success of last season and a mystery to many as to how the club has gone from hero to zero in the space of a few months. So what has gone wrong at the Rhein-Energie Stadion?
Put quite simply, Köln are just not taking their chances. In fact Peter Stöger’s side have a league low conversion rate of just 3.5% which shines a big light on their current woes. The Billy Goats have created 85 chances (8th best in the league) but have converted just 3 of them (worst in the league).
The loss of Anthony Modeste, who was their go-to guy last season with 25 goals last season, was always going to leave a big gap, but it has been shocking just how poor the rest of the attacking players have been so far this season. Nobody seems capable of stepping up and taking on the scoring burden (or even some of it).
Jhon Cordoba was the summer signing eyed to fill Modeste’s boots, but the former Mainz striker is not a Modeste clone. Last season for the Nullfünfer he only scored five so it is a big ask for the Colombian to replicate the goals of the departed forward. Cordoba only has a 24% shot accuracy with 5 of his 21 shots finding the target.
Yuya Osako and Simon Zoller have also not contributed an awful lot to the cause, while the performance of Frenchman Sehrou Guirassy at the weekend against Werder Bremen was just symptomatic of Köln’s failings in attack this season as he wasted the club’s two best chances of the game (the second has to be seen to be believed).
Köln have also been looking far from secure at the back- something that wasn’t the case last season. Only five teams had a better defensive record than them last season, but this time around they, along with Freiburg and Mönchengladbach, have the worst record currently having conceded seventeen.
It took them 20 games last season to concede 17 goals, compared to this season’s 9 games. All 17 of the goals they’ve conceded have come from inside the penalty area. They have conceded three penalties this season already (compared to four all last season) all of which have been converted.
Dominik Heintz has made six errors leading to goals while Dane Frederik Sörensen has made four. Keeper Timo Horn has a shot save percentage of 63% so far, whereas last year it was 10% higher.
The sale of Modeste to China brought in a club record €35 million, but questions need to be asked whether the cash was reinvested wisely. Spending €16 million on Cordoba seems steep and Jannes Horn has had little impact so far on the back of his €7 million move from Wolfsburg and you have to wonder why he not competing with Constantin Rausch for a place in the starting XI. Jorge Meré has struggled to make an impact and is injured, while Joao Queiros was only really intended for the second team this season.
Tim Handwerker, a free signing from Bayer Leverkusen has been the only real success story from the summer’s transfer activity. The goals of Modeste last season covered up somewhat for some deficiencies in Köln’s squad and that is now coming to clear realisation. Did this play a role in Jörg Schmadtke’s decision to step down?
While all teams have to cope with injuries, Köln have been without both Jonas Hector und Marcel Risse for a large portion of the season so far it can’t be denied they are key players in Peter Stöger’ set-up. Claudio Pizarro then pulled out during the warm-up against Werder, when it looked like the stage was set for him to come to Köln’s rescue against his former side.
You can plan for many eventualities in football, but you can’t always plan for Lady Luck. There have been numerous instances this season where Köln just haven’t had the rub of the green and the VAR has had a role to play in that.
There was the controversial game against Dortmund when the referee blew his whistle to stop the game, only to then allow the goal scored by Sokratis at the end of the first half to stand. 1-0 became 2-0 and the second half saw BVB rack up another three goals.
Against Stuttgart it appeared that finally a win was on the cards following the award of a 91st minute penalty with the score at 1-1. Controversially referee Benjamin Cortus reversed his decision and denied Köln their moment of glory. To make matters worse Chadrac Akolo then sensationally grabbed a 94th minute winner for the Swabians.
Then against Bremen at the weekend only a mind-boggling miss from Sehrou Guirassy in the 87th minute prevented them from taking all three points in the basement battle.
The search for a new Sporting Director will need to start, but first they have the prospect of being dumped out of the DFB Pokal on Wednesday as they travel to Hertha Berlin in the second round.
In the league they face a Rheinderby against Bayer Leverkusen away from home before facing Hoffenheim at the Rhein-Energie Stadion. In between those games they have the added distraction of a Europa League group match with BATE Borisov.
Köln are clearly a club is crisis. But just how much worse will it get before it gets better? Or will it get better?
No wonder Hennes the Goat looks worried- these are troubling times.
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