1.FC Köln 2018/19 Season: Are the Billy Goats destined for instant promotion?

The Basics

Name: 1.FC Köln (1. Fußball-Club Köln 01/07 e.V)
Nickname: Die Geißböcke (The Billy Goats)
Founded: February 13 1948 (80 Years Old)
Team Colours: Red and White
Rivals: Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Fortuna Düsseldorf (Rhine Derbies)
Fan Friendship: St. Pauli

Rhein Energie Stadion

Capacity: 50,000
Attendance: 829,200 (48,776 per match – 97.5% Capacity) 8th Best in Bundesliga last season

Trophies

German Champions: (3) 1961/62, 1963/64, 1977/78
DFB Pokal: (4) 1967/68, 1976/77, 1977/78, 1982/83
2.Bundesliga Champions: (3) 1913/14, 2004/05, 2013/2014

2017-18 Finishes

Bundesliga: 18th Place
DFB Pokal: Round of 16 (Defeated by FC Schalke 04 1:0)
2017/18 Top Scorers (All Competitions)

  • Sehrou Guirassy (7)
  • Leonardo Bittencourt (6)
  • Yuya Osako (6)
  • Simon Zoller (5)
  • Simon Terodde (6)

Pre-Season Results

Record: 3-2-1
Goals Scored: 11
Goals Conceded: 6

  • Köln 5-2 VfB Eichstätt
  • Köln 0-1 Bonner SC
  • Köln 2-2 Wuppertal
  • Köln 2-0 WSG Wattens
  • Köln 1-1 Watford
  • Köln 1-0 Werder Bremen
  • Köln 5-3 Mainz

Questions with an Expert:

When it comes to 1. FC Köln and fandom, I’ve entailed the knowledge and fan service of Bundesliga Fanatic’s very own Randall Hauk, someone who has endured the ups and downs of the club and was more than willing to answer a few questions about the upcoming season.

MK: It’s been a whirlwind two seasons for Köln, from fifth place and European football to rock bottom and relegated. Can you explain how you felt from the euphoria of playing the likes of Arsenal to the disaster that was last season?

RH: Last season was bizarre in so many ways. By the time the FC masses descended on London to support the club against Arsenal in its first European match in a quarter-century, it was already clear that something was very, very wrong with the team. Even so, that day was a celebration of everything that is “effzeh”. It was amazing to see the fans marching through the streets and reading stories of English fans being inspired by the support (less so some of the negative things that happened and were much more0widely reports). When Cordoba gave FC a lead IN LONDON, OVER ARSENAL, IN A MATCH THAT MATTERED….it was euphoric. Maybe not quite to the level of Yuya Osako’s goal against Mainz at the end of the prior season that helped clinch fifth in the table, but pretty damned good. There was no polar opposite to it. When you fail to win any of your first 16 matches, it’s more like prolonged torture without any moment of ultimate despair. Eventually, we all moved to accept our fate as Köln fans and turned our attention to dreaming of promotion and another celebration at the stadium.

MK: Markus Anfang is the man that the likes of Armin Veh believe can bring Köln back to the Bundesliga, what is your impression of the new manager?

RH: Anfang is very interesting. He automatically gets some benefit from being a native born “Kölsche Jung,” but he arrives also with some fairly impressive football credentials. What he had achieved in getting Holstein Kiel to the relegation playoff with VfL Wolfsburg was impressive, but we should also not underestimate the difference between second and first division. The expectation will be that the FC is promoted. Period. There has been plenty of money spent in an effort to fix what was wrong with the roster last season, and he benefits from having two of his top players from Kiel and three high-quality FC players returning despite the drop. Anfang leverages more attacking than Peter Stöger ever did, so fans are likely to enjoy the style of play much more than in recent years, but if the results aren’t there, what good will that be. All said, I like his chances.

MK: Who is the player fans should keep an eye on this season?

RH: The obvious choices for player/s to watch for FC this season will come in attack. Jhon Cordoba has looked like an entirely different player in recent tests, so that’s a positive. However, I think Sehrou Guirassy may end up being the guy who impresses. If motivated, he has the talent and frame to be a game-changer.

MK: Which player were you happy Köln signed this summer?

RH: I am excited to see Louis Schaub’s contribution to the squad. It’s been years since we’ve seen the FC play consistently through the middle, whether by design or by lack of effective central/attacking midfielders. Anfang seems to want that to be a key element to his play, which should make Schaub’s role a pivotal one. Plus, he seems like a solid kid with a great pedigree. Fans at his old club seemed to adore him & I think he’s going to quickly become a fan favourite.

MK: Which player were you happy to see leave Köln?

RH: When you take the drop, you tend to lose guys who were regular players. It’s a double-edged sword as you think they’re solid, but also were part of a team that set records for futility. Being diplomatic, I’d say Milos Jojic, because I think he makes way for better movement in the midfield. Forgetting diplomacy for a moment, I’ll say Pizarro for his “Thanks for Nothing” antics when cleaning out his locker.

MK: Where do you believe Köln will finish this season?

RH: I am duty-bound to say I believe the FC will win the league this year, but I also genuinely believe this is a legitimate possibility. The talent is there. We have the keeper between the posts who can allow confidence taking chances in attack. Logically, HSV should be favoured, but I’m convinced by neither their returning players nor their new signings. Whatever the case, I feel like it’s our place as the FC to get a bit of an unwelcome wake-up call in the form of some unexpected struggles (see last season). It’s just how it goes.

But for now, TITLE MARCH IS ON! COME ON EFFZEH!

When We Last Saw Them

Entering the 2017/18 campaign, there was plenty to cheer about for Köln fans, primarily the optimism of replicating a stellar prior season and the opportunity to be on the footballing landscape as they played in European competitions for the first time in 25 years. However, Köln’s season was immediately marred by top scorer Anthony Modeste forcing a move away to Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian. This immediately posed a major problem going forward, with the Frenchman contributing 25 of the 51 goals scored the previous season.

Köln turned to Jhon Cordoba from Mainz and hoped that he could produce at least a double-digit scoring output. However, like Köln’s season, it wasn’t the case, as it become immediately apparent that something was amiss with the squad. Nothing gelled, nothing worked, and unfortunately Köln were forced to move on from Peter Stöger. It took 17 match days for Köln to register their first win of the season against a very uninspiring Wolfsburg side.

Stefan Ruthenbeck was given the unenviable task of rescuing Köln from relegation. As much as he did a more-than-respectable job, the ship was well and truly sunk by the time he was put in place. Whilst in charge, Ruthenbeck did score some impressive results, including a 2-1 win at RB Leipzig, a 2-1 Derby win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, and beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0. The win against Leverksuen would be Köln’s last as they ended the season winless in their last seven fixtures.

It was a major struggle for Köln in all forms, but now is the time for optimism as they prepare to tackle the tricky task of gaining promotion from 2.Bundesliga.

Aspiration

Title: It might seem to be an aspiration, but its more of an expectation, Köln undoubtedly have the best squad in the division, and their intentions throughout the summer showcased that the side from the Rhine doesn’t plan on staying in 2.Bundesliga for long. The likes of Timo Horn, Marco Höger, and Jonas Hector recommitting to Köln shows that the project was more than interesting whilst also underlining a strong loyalty which isn’t always seen when a side succumbs to relegation. The 2.Bundesliga is extremely competitive, but with one of the best managers in the league and the best squad heading into the season it wouldn’t be much surprise if Köln are lifting the trophy come May.

Reality

Promotion: Their aspiration is the title, but Köln won’t always have their way in what is the most-competitive second tier in football. Hamburg are in the same boat as Köln; they will look to win at all costs, and with the managerial excellence of Christian Titz, will very much be a threat.

What about the rest? The likes of MSV Duisburg, VfL Bochum and Ingolstadt are very much a threat, and on any given match day, anyone can beat anyone.

There have been fan rumblings over the type of football Markus Anfang has produced in preseason, but with the recent transfer of Anfang’s star pupil Dominick Drexler, Anfang ball should be restored to normality, even if the setting has changed.  

The Boss

Köln-born Markus Anfang has been entrusted by sporting director Armin Veh to get die Geißböcke back to the Bundesliga. His time in football has extended from his beginnings with Bayer Leverkusen, but it wasn’t very illustrious as he bounced around with the likes of Schalke and multiple stints with Fortuna Düsseldorf as well as Kaiserslautern to name a few. However, Anfang’s true eye was in the managerial field where he climbed up the ranks from the Bayer Leverkusen youth set-up, all the way to the Under-19’s.

At the start of the 2016/17 season, Anfang was due to continue his work as manager of the Bayer Leverkusen U19s, but just five match days into the season Holstein Kiel brought him in to take over caretaker manager Ole Werner. Holstein Kiel had a horror start to the season, but the introduction of Anfang was a stroke of genius as die Störche would lose a total of five games seeing Kiel finish a point off top-placed Duisburg and promoted to the 2.Bundesliga.

Anfang’s short impression with Kiel was a positive one. Yet the task at hand for last season was to keep die Störche away from relegation. He accomplished that in many ways and then some, as not only did Kiel avoid relegation and the playoff against a 3.Liga side, but they were two games away from two promotion in just two seasons. However, the quality of Wolfsburg was too much for Anfang’s side which fell 4-1 on aggregate.

This is undoubtedly Anfang’s toughest test. With the weight of expectation and the players at his disposal, it will be implied that he gets his hometown club back to the Bundesliga.

Philosophy

We have seen two systems utilised as manager of Holstein Kiel and its very likely we will see both for Köln this season. Those are the 4-1-4-1 and the 4-3-3. The former being the popular of the two with the importance of not only having a strong number six holding down the pivot in midfield as well as a number ten who free roams tracking deep whilst creating chances. We saw Dominick Drexler be a focal point at Kiel in their promotion push with 12 goals and 11 assists in 31 2.Bundesliga appearances. Yet prior to his signing, Anfang struggled to find someone to replicate his versatility. Niklas Hauptmann and Louis Schaub were potential options but neither seemed to fit the role like Drexler does.

Anfang has a clear plan, here is what he had to say heading into his first training camp with Köln:

“The playing philosophy will be a key topic in camp. How will we play against the ball? How will we play with the ball? How do we fill holes? The players should get an idea of how we intend to play. Then they will have to gain experience with our playing philosophy. We will need plenty of friendly matches and training sessions to do that. But first, we need to know what we are playing for. This will be the theme in camp.”

It may not have not been easy going through preseason, but once the players have grasped the philosophy, they will be a very tough side to beat.

Transfers (All Figures in Euros)

Out:

  • Anthony Modeste to Tianjin Quanjian (29 Million)
  • Leonardo Bittencourt to TSG Hoffenheim (6 Million)
  • Yuya Osako to Werder Bremen (4.50 Million)
  • Dominique Heintz to SC Freiburg (3 Million)
  • Lukas Klünter to Hertha Berlin (2 Million)
  • Milos Jojić to Basaksehir (2 Million)
  • Pawel Olkowski to Bolton Wanderers (Free Transfer)
  • Sven Müller to Karlsruher SC (Free Transfer)
  • Claudio Pizarro (Released)
  • João Queirós to Sporting Portugal B (Undisclosed)
  • Dominic Maroh (Released)

In:

  • Dominick Drexler from FC Midtylland (4.5 Million)
  • Louis Schaub from Rapid Vienna (3.5 Million)
  • Rafael Czichos from Holstein Kiel (1.8 Million)
  • Niklas Hauptmann from Dynamo Dresden (1.7 Million)
  • Benno Schmitz from RB Leipzig (1.5 Million)
  • Matthias Bader from Karlsruher SC (Free Transfer)
  • Lasse Sobiech from FC St. Pauli (Free Transfer)
  • Jan-Christoph Bartels from 1.FC Köln U19 (Promoted)
  • Yann Aurel Bisseck from 1.FC Köln U19 (Promoted)
  • Christ Führich from 1.FC Köln II (Promoted)
  • Brady Scott from 1.FC Köln II (Promoted)

Strengths

What was a major issue for Köln last season is set to be a real strength for them this season, and for me that will be their defence. Last season, they conceded 70 goals with Timo Horn copping the brunt of the attacking onslaught. This season is likely to be a different story with a stronger defensive core through the addition of another one of Anfang’s ex-Kiel players in Rafael Czchos. Lasse Sobiech, who has been one of the best defenders over the past couple of seasons in 2.Bundesliga, also comes from St. Pauli, whilst Jorge Meré and Frederik Sörensen currently remain despite the relegation.

Benno Schmitz and Matthias Bader are interesting options at right back, but the key for me is what they do with Jonas Hector. Last season, Hector played many games at defensive midfield, but his true home is at left back. He plays in that position for Germany and to get the best out of Hector, it only makes sense that Anfang uses his talents only the left hand side.

Weaknesses

Goals?

Well, they were in short supply last season with Köln managing just 35 goals in Bundesliga with only Hamburg and Freiburg scoring fewer. The biggest question heading into the season is “Who will score their goals?” Will Jhon Córdoba repay his heft price tag? Köln payed a fortune to Mainz for a striker who had only managed ten goals in two seasons. Are we in store for another scintillating campaign from two-time 2.Bundesliga Torjägerkanone winner Simon Terodde, as he returns to his goal-scoring home? Or will we see Drexler replicate his superb previous campaign? Plenty of questions to be asked going forward.

Critical Stretch

Köln will face a variety of challenges throughout the season. The start of the season being cruciaal may seem obvious, as we saw the likes of Darmstadt and Ingolstadt start poorly after their relegation from the Bundesliga. However, I believe the fixtures between match days six to ten will be very important for Köln and could shape their season. Sandhausen away begins this stretch, and  Kenan Kocak’s side is very strong defensively. Breaking down this side will cause plenty of issues for Köln.

Match days seven to nine feature Ingolstadt, Armenia Bielefeld, and MSV Duisburg, three teams who believe that they can fight for promotion and for Köln to ensure their place amongst the promotional places, getting points against these three will be key. The final fixture will be an emotional affair for Markus Anfang as he makes his return to the dugout against Holstein Kiel. His former employers mightn’t be as strong as they were last season, but those who used to play under Anfang will be more than motivated to prove themselves as better than his new side.

Verdict

1st Place

Köln have spent like they expect a short spell in 2.Bundesliga. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Die Geißböcke’s time second tier concludes at the end of this season. Markus Anfang has proven his attacking style of football can work at this level. With the amount of talent he has at his disposal, Köln are primed for a celebratory season. Like I mentioned in the Hamburger SV preview, football isn’t played on paper, however. Köln enter the season as an overwhelming favourite, but they will be tested. If their players can stay healthy, we shall see Köln making their return to the Bundesliga come May 2019.

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Matthew is currently partaking in a Bachelor of Management (Marketing) at the University of South Australia and has been a RealSport’s writer since December of 2016 He predominately devotes his fandom to German football where he’s a passionate Schalke 04 supporter, and competes as a goalkeeper for the Rostrevor Old Collegians Soccer Club in Adelaide’s Collegiate Soccer League. Follow @MatthewKaragich

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