Bryce Dunn –
Köln had a season to remember last year proving they deserve to represent Germany in the Europa League along with Hertha Berlin. Bryce Dunn looks into the upcoming season for the Billy Goats and after an eventful pre-season.
Köln – Last Season
President, Werner Spinner will be delighted with how his team have progressed over the last few seasons. Promoted back to the top flight after winning Bundesliga 2 in 2014 the side have climbed the table each year without ever being in the Abstiegskampf. After finishing fifth in the Bundesliga last year, Köln have returned to the European stage for the first time in 24 years. No doubt this would be a process newly promoted sides, Stuttgart and Hannover shall attempting to follow.
Effzeh opened their most successful season in recent years by beating Darmstadt 2-0 followed by another seven games without defeat. The highest accolades within these early matchdays were draws against Bayern München and to-be runners-up, RB Leipzig. Peter Stöger and his men lost nine games last season but only two at home which comes as little surprise to anyone aware of the passion and noise at the Rheinenergiestadion, which was a fortress for the Billy Goats. Köln also finished strongly, only losing once in the final six games, battling six other sides around them to gain automatic Europa League group stage qualification.
Köln – Transfers
While Köln may not have had the busiest of transfer windows regarding players in and out, they have one of the most lively for other reasons. Star striker Anthony Modeste had been linked with a move to the Chinese Super League for the best part of a year, and it finally happened and didn’t happen, and then did happen. Confused? Yes, so where we on the Gegenpressing Podcast and no doubt were the people of the city.
Modeste scored 25 goals last season, more than anyone could have predicted, and naturally, it attached interest from other clubs. With the powerful bank accounts of the Chinese clubs, it made it impossible for Köln to hold onto the man who scored nearly 50% of their goals. Tianjin Quanjian made an offer which was turned down, but with little financial restraint, they returned with a more substantial deal. While negotiating the payment structure, the Frenchman then travelled to China without the clubs agreeing on a fee. Modeste travelling to China for a medical was considered a breach of contract and Köln stated that the deal was off. But as often happens in football, if a player wishes to go then he finds a way and eventually it was resolved to the sum of €34.7 million. While this is an apparent loss, it is a lot of money for a 29-year-old journeyman.
The question that follows Modeste’s departure is, who is the man to fill his boots? This is where Jhon Cordoba comes in. When speaking to different individuals about this deal, you get two distinct reactions. Firstly, he is a like for like replacement. Strong, physical, commanding and can lead the front line. He also enters the club like his predecessors did, with a relatively small price by today’s standards (€17 million) from Bundesliga side Mainz. Others question how effective Cordoba has been in the past, having never scored more than six goals in per season.
Last season the centre back position was strengthened with Neven Subotić arriving on loan from Borussia Dortmund, and he featured in 12 games. This summer the side have enhanced the area with young Spanish starlet, Jorge Meré, who made 63 appearances for Sporting Gijon at the still tender age of 20. He has also featured for the Spanish U21 side on 16 occasions. Jorge is known for his composure on the ball, an attribute that is rare in this position but helps calm the players around him. He has the potential to be a significant player for the Effzeh, or if they decide to cash in one day, they will certainly find a safe return after only spending €7 million.
Other additions to the squad seem to be in the same vein, with the club deciding to invest in youth. Left back, Jannes Horn, 20-years-old, played for Wolfsburg on 13 occasions last season while 19-year-olds Portuguese centre back, João Queirós, and German left back, Tim Handwerker, were yet to make first team appearances for their previous clubs.
Despite losing Modeste Köln had a successful transfer window, as the club added youth and depth to the squad. Particularly since the club spent a total of €34m and received €34.95m meaning the books have been balanced, but football clubs are more than just financial spreadsheets, and with these signings, it does leave the question: Is this enough for a side hoping to fight on three fronts, Bundesliga, Pokal and Europa League?
Köln – Pre-Season
Jon Mackenzie mentioned two words that best sum up Gladbach’s pre-season were ‘consistent’ and ‘inconsistent’. If I were to do the same for Köln, it would be ‘draw’ or ‘drew’. Why? Well, for the obvious reason they have drawn five of the seven games. The first two games they won 5-0 and 10-1 against a much inferior opposition. What followed were draws against KFC Uerdingen, Eintracht Braunschweig, Bologna, LASK and TSV Steinbach. How much can we read into pre-season games though? I am in the camp that says the results do not matter too much but would agree draws are better than loses.
The problem during these games doesn’t seem to be the creating of chances but the shots on target. Two of the games they failed to hit the target. Mind you they were able to grab a goal in each, but still, the results do not bode well.
I mentioned in the previous section that a lot of pressure would be heaped on new man Jhon Cordoba. He shall have to hit the ground running for Köln to stand a chance of having a season like last year. He scored in two friendlies, hitting the back of the net three times but his first competitive game came in the Pokal against, Leher TS, and once again he was on the score sheet. Sure they were lesser opponents compared to the German elite that they’ll face each week, but you can only score against who you come up against.
It would feel wrong not to mention Artjoms Rudnev at this point. The Latvian has had a very active summer, scoring on four occasions. The 29-year-old also looked positive when coming off the bench during the game against Leher TS. Shall he be the man to fill the void of Modeste? I would not imagine so, but Peter Stöger will be delighted to have some healthy competitiveness for a place in the starting eleven—particularly since lively secondary striker Yuya Osako is out for another few weeks with an ankle ligament issue.
Köln – Prediction
Peter Stöger will go with a 4-2-3-1 He played this most of last season and the Pokal game.
Horn – Hector, Heintz, Sørensen, Klunter – Lehmann, Höger – Bittencourt, Jojic, Clemens – Cordoba
Player of the season:
This has already been an article focusing heavily on Jhon Cordoba, and the reliance on his goal rate will make it make or break for die Geißböcke season. I expect if he is not the player of the season it will be combative left back Jonas Hector. This will be his sixth season in the first team; his debut season was back in Bundesliga. He and Timo Horn are the clubs prize assets and ones that most Bundesliga sides would like to have in their ranks. Köln fans will be happy they have been able to hold onto the 33-time German international as no doubt there have been enquiries about his availability. I suspect with the World Cup in under a years time Hector will be more determined than ever to prove German national team coach Joachim Löw he is worth a place in Germany’s starting eleven
The Signing of the Season:
As I said Jhon Cordoba previously could be included in this category but time will tell. It is the potential of young Spaniard, Jorge Mere that excites me. As mentioned, he has 56 games to his name and is only 20-years-old. If he can prove to Peter Stöger, he is worthy of a spot in the first eleven or gets a chance when Heintz or Sørensen are injured he may show to everyone what he’s all about, and with every minute he will be looking to learn and improve. As a Bundesliga correspondent, I am very excited about this signing, after all, it was only two months ago he was being linked with a move to Barcelona.
The Disappointment of the season:
With a positive pre-season, Artjoms Rudnev could be set to live up to his potential for Köln finally, and with Modeste’s departure, they will need all the help they can get in front of goal. But another disappointing season would no doubt see the Latvian being shown the door out of the club. If he does produce the goods, then the disappointment may be for Osako and Jojic as only one shall come on top when it comes to playing behind Cordoba.
After visiting the Rheinenergiestadion, I realised just how important football is to the community of Köln and European nights are going to be very special—though I feel those occasions as glorious as they will be a detriment to their final league position. Many of the sides they beat to the European spot have been investing in immediate squad improvement, and this will not make things easy. Bayern, BVB, RB Leipzig shall all be expected to finish in Champions League spots again. Followed by sides like Hoffenheim, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Werder Bremen and Schalke.
Everyone enjoys a cup run; the fans, players and staff alike. But I have a feeling this will not be the cup they all wish to have run in. In previous years it was not a priority, and with the addition of the Europa League to their calendar, I doubt the Pokal shall be. I would imagine Stöger to use these opportunities to give a run out to the youth players especially the new signings. A second or third round exit would be less than surprising. In the Europa League, getting through the group stages will be an achievement, and no side will fancy visiting the noisy Rheinenergiestadion.
Bryce Dunn is a Northern Irish football writer and Podcaster. Bryce hosts the popular Bundesliga – Gegenpressing Podcast, which is the most in-depth English-speaking Bundesliga Podcast available and Golazo an English-speaking Podcast covering Mexico’s Liga MX on the Futbolgrad Network. He is an avid Liverpool FC supporter, who enjoys researching German and Mexican football clubs whether they are part of the elite or the lower divisions. Follow Bryce on Twitter @BryceDunn11.