July 24, 2017

Season Preview 2016-17: 1. FC Kaiserslautern Seeks Bounce after Last Season’s Disappointment

Since being relegated from the Bundesliga following the 2011-12 season, 1. FC Kaiserslautern has been very close to breaking back into the top division. A third-place finish followed by two fourth place-finishes has provided enough heartbreak for the club and its fans.

But last season would have to be considered a disaster for the club.

The side started strong, but quickly collapsed and replaced manager Kosta Runjaic after match day eight. The Red Devils never recovered and finished in a disappointing tenth place.

A key for the side this season will be improving their at Fritz Walter Stadion, where they won just five matches and scored 18 goals.

Who has left?

Kaiserslautern is going through more turnover than what is probably ideal for a side hoping to challenge.

Last season’s number one keeper, Marius Müller, was sold to promoted club RB Leipzig for €1.7 million. The 23-year-old displayed great consistency in his 33 starts, conceding 43 goals and earning nine clean sheets, good for fifth among 2. Bundesliga goalkeepers.

Also moving on was right back Jean Zimmer. The promising 22-year-old signed with VfB Stuttgart for a fee of €2.5 million. Left back Chris Löwe also departed, moving on a free transfer to Huddersfield Town of the English Championship.  Both Zimmer and Löwe found a way to boost the offense, assisting six times each. This put the duo second place among all league fullback tandems for assists.

Ruben Jenssen has also found new challenges, moving on to Groningen in the Netherlands on a free transfer. The left-sided midfielder was the club’s joint-leading scorer with seven goals.

Most recently, Iceland international Jon Dadi Bödvarsson was sold to English Championship side Wolves for €3.2 million. It is a bit of a disappointment to see him move on, considering his form in the European Championships this summer where he scored against Austria and assisted on the game-winning goal versus England.

Who has arrived?

Kaiserslautern has done a decent job so far of finding talent they think will slot in for the players who have moved on.

Goalkeeper Andre Weis arrived from FSV Frankfurt, where he started every match last season, earning six clean sheets. So far, he has earned the majority of starts in the preseason.

Albanian International Naser Ajili moved to the club this summer after the Red Devils signed him from Swiss giants Basel for €175,000. The 22-year-old displayed a similar offensive ability as both Zimmer and Löwe last season, assisting five times in 22 matches for the Swiss champions.

The club also brought in central midfielder Christoph Moritz, signing him from 1. FSV Mainz 05 for €250,000. The 26-year-old has made 96 appearances in the Bundesliga through his career, but found playing time hard to come by last season, earning just 389 minutes across all competitions.

In another move to add depth to the midfield, Marlon Frey was brought on loan from Bayer Leverkusen. The 20-year-old made nine appearances last season, but was always going to have difficulty seeing playing time for the Werkself this season considering the talent Roger Schmidt has at his disposal.

The Coach and Formation

Tayfun Korkut arrived this summer to lead the squad for the coming season. The former Turkish international last managed at Hannover 96 for one-and-a-half seasons ending back in June 2015.

In 48 matches for the 96, he won 15 and drew another eleven. These stats aren’t awe-inspiring, but he should have better talent compared to many of the sides in the Bundesliga 2 this coming season. Looking at his time in northwest Germany, it appears he can be quite adaptable in terms of formation. He tended to favor a 4-2-3-1, but according to Transfermarkt also used a 4-4-1-1, a 4-1-4-1, and a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders. He even once went with a 5-3-2 against Bayern, with less than spectacular results.

While some may see these frequent changes and say Korkut lacks a specific direction, I look at it and say the man was looking for a style that would best suit his squad. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the squad start out in some variation of a single-striker formation considering the sale of Bödvarsson means that the club doesn’t necessarily have a proven striker to partner with Kacper Przybylko at this point.

Key Player

Last season, the Red Devils were led in scoring by two players, Polish attacker Kacper Przybylko and Norwegian midfielder Ruben Jenssen, each with seven goals.

While Jenssen has moved on to the Netherlands, Przybylko will be expected to carry the load next season. For the Rote Teufel to have a chance at promotion, the 23-year-old will likely need to at least double his scoring haul from last season.

Last season’s captain, Daniel Halfar, will also be integral to any success the club will have. Halfar notched one goal and five assists while playing at multiple midfield positions. Finding a position in which the 28-year-old can flourish will need to be one of the first tasks for Korkut to complete.

Osayamen Osawe could also provide a spark, as the newly signed striker from Hallescher has shown he can get goals in their preseason friendlies. However, this is a new level for the 22-year-old with both English and Nigerian roots; expecting him to contribute right away could backfire.

The Schedule

The opening five matches have a good mix of opponents who are expect to challenge for promotion, as well as sides looking simply to secure mid-table safety. The Rote Teufel will host both relegated sides Hannover and Stuttgart early on, as well as Fortuna Düsseldorf who finished 14th last season. Their early road matches see the side travelling to newcomers Wurzburger Kickers and SV Sandhausen, who landed in 13th last season. That balance should allow the club to get some early confidence, while also seeing if they really do have what it takes to finish in the promotion places.

The back end of the season continues the balance, as Kaiserslautern will face some clubs that were in the promotion conversation in St. Pauli and Nürnberg, with the benefit being that they’re home matches. They also will host 1860 Munich in the end of season run-in. Their final away matches have them travelling to local rival Karlsruher SC and heading to promoted side Erzgebirge Aue.

I was very hopeful of the season Kaiserslautern was going to have up until I saw the transfer of Bödvarsson, as I originally wrote about him in the key players section. The pressure for goals will fully be on Przybylko; with no goals from the four preseason friendlies, the questions will grow as to whether he can carry the load.

If the club uses the transfer fees from Bödvarsson, Zimmer, and Müller wisely to bring in a talented striker and other key pieces, then the club can return to challenging for promotion. However, looking at the squad as it is currently set up, it appears to be one that will struggle for goals and will settle into mid-table security.
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Andrew Smith

Born in Indiana, Andrew is a 27-year-old Social Studies teacher who has traveled to Germany on multiple occasions. He enjoys learning more of the tactical side of the game and can be followed on Twitter at andsmith_46.