April 24, 2017

Can Köln Contend for a European Place Next Season?

Note: All stats Prior to matchday 34 versus Augsburg

When 1. FC Köln came back to the Bundesliga last season, people thought that manager Peter Stöger and the Billy Goats overachieved en route to Bundesliga safety. This is because they were a newly promoted side who didn’t spend a single week in the bottom three. That was a very impressive achievement, and after losing Anthony Ujah during the summer transfer window, some people thought Köln could be in for a battle this season.

But after clinching Bundesliga safety once again in a 4-1 win over Darmstadt, Köln are farther away from the Bundesliga 2 as ever. And heading into the match with Augsburg, the Billy Goats sat in 8th place, which is close to a European position much less relegation. And after the season that they’ve had so far, there is no reason why they can’t contend for Europe next season.

Young Stars

While there are a lot of differences between every top club, one thing that all of them have is star players who can win you a match. Köln have these “match-winners” as they are referred to, and these players are all young as well. The players i’m referring to are goalkeeper Timo Horn, defender (and occasional midfielder) Jonas Hector, striker Anthony Modeste and the unheralded Marcel Risse. While these players aren’t household names like other Bundesliga stars such as Thomas Muller, Marco Reus and Manuel Neuer, they all have been tremendous this season.

Let’s start with Hector, who is the most famous of all of these players because of his time with the German national team. The German has been fantastic this season, with 4 assists and 2 key passes per game coming from left back. His passing has been vital to Köln’s success this season, as he has been able to create chances for a side that doesn’t score that many goals.

And defensively Hector has been top notch as well, with 2 tackles per game and 2.5 clearances per game as well. Additionally, he’s only picked up 2 yellow cards all season, which has made him a consistent presence in Köln’s starting 11.  His offensive and defensive prowess gives him a Whoscored.com match rating of 7.35 entering the Augsburg clash. His rating is 13th in the Bundesliga and he’s the second highest defender behind Mats Hummels.

Next up is Modeste, who is the main goalscorer for the Billy Goats with 14 goals so far this season. 14 goals is level with Salomon Kalou for 5th in the Bundesliga, and the Frenchman has three assists as well. Modeste has been much better than Ujah this season, and his impressive 7.13 match rating displays how good he has been this season. Köln have relied on him for goals, and after netting his first Bundesliga brace against Darmstadt this past weekend, he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

While Modeste is relied upon to score goals, the goalkeeper Horn is the man who Stöger expects to prevent them. And he has done very well so far this season, keeping Köln in a lot of games so far. His reflex saves from close range and his impressive height allows him to stop shots from close to the goal and from long range. As a result of Horn’s heroics and Köln’s defensive organization, the North-Rhine Westfalia club has only conceded 40 goals this season. That gives them one of the better defensive records in the Bundesliga and Horn has contributed to that in a lot of ways. As a result, his match rating is 6.86, which is very good for a goalkeeper and is tied with Ralf Fahrmann and Ron-Robert Zieler for the second highest rating for any Bundesliga goalie this season.

Besides the three players already mentioned, Marcel Risse has contributed to the Billy Goats as well. Besides Hector, Risse has been the best player on Köln this season with 3 goals and 4 assists. Being a midfielder and defender like Risse is makes his offensive contribution top notch, and his 5 man of the match awards this season shows how much he’s contributed to Köln’s success. With 3 tackles per game and 2 interceptions, Risse has been an offensive and defensive contributor for Köln just like Hector. His contributions have given him a 7.28 match rating, which is fantastic as well. Without his goals and ability to feed the ball into the box, who knows where Köln would be right now.

All of these players have helped Köln get to where they are right now, and the age of these players shows that they aren’t a flash in the pan. Hector and Horn are 23 and 22 years old respectively, which means that the best is still yet to come for both of them. Risse is only 26, and Modeste just turned 28 years old. Risse and the Frenchmen aren’t even 30 and will remain at their current level for at least a few more seasons. The lack of age for their stars makes Köln a side who could improve next season and is unlikely to regress.

Managerial Stability and Trust

Besides having star players, most European sides have stability in the dugout as well. For Köln, they are one of the best teams in terms of managerial stability in the Bundesliga. With Guardiola leaving Bayern, Stöger is one of the few managers who manages the club they managed as recently as 2013-14. That isn’t even 2 full seasons, and Stöger is one of the few managers who has overcome the rapid hiring and firing of managers in the German game today. The stability that Köln have with the Austrian can’t be overlooked, as managerial stability allows the players to click and work as a team.

Since they have a manager like Stöger, who has been with the club for quite sometime now, they have an advantage over the opposition. This is because managerial stability usually leads to success because the manager and players are on the same page. Being able to combine talent and understanding of the manager will be something that Köln have, while a lot of Bundesliga clubs might not have that right away next season. Managers like Ancelotti will take time to get the best out of their teams. As most of the time, it takes managers time to settle into a new club. And while most of the clubs in the top flight will be going through that phase, Köln will be getting better and better.

And part of the reason why they will improve will be because of the summer transfer window, where Stöger and director Jorg Schmadtke will look to improve the squad. After making signings such as Dominique Heintz, Frederik Sorensen and Leonardo Bittencourt made last summer, Köln are sure to add players who fit into Stöger’s system. But what if they lose some of their stars like Hector and Horn? Köln will find the replacement. After all, they replaced Ujah with Modeste and after losing Kevin Wimmer to Spurs, Heintz and Sorensen have done a fine job replacing him. With the track record that the Billy Goats have in the transfer market, they will be upgrading the team with more players who fit into the system that Stoger has established. And after already landing Schalke’s Marco Hoger on a free transfer, Köln are going to improve the squad in the summer window once again.

After clinching Bundesliga safety with a handful of games to go, the future for Köln looks brighter and brighter as the season wears on. Sitting at 8th in the table, the Billy Goats are as far from relegation as ever, and find themselves closing in on Europe. With star players like Horn, Hector, Modeste and Risse, along with the managerial stability and smarts that Stöger brings them, they can contend for European places next season.

With Köln being as close to competing again as ever, memories of trophy contention in the 70’s and 80’s come to mind. If they can get back to that level at some point, everyone in the German game would benefit.

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.