FC Köln – Back where they belong?

It was the last day off the 2011/12 Bundesliga season. Köln were sat in the relegation play-off spot and it was either them or Hertha BSC that would unfortunately take the automatic relegation spot. Hertha hosted Hoffenheim while Köln had the tough task of beating Bayern Munich. The Billy Goats couldn’t stop the Bayern machine and they lost the game 4-1, they waited for news from Berlin, did Hertha lose? No they didn’t, the club from the capital ran out 3-1 winners against Hoffenhiem. This meant they moved up into the relegation play-off spot, sending Köln down in the process.

Frank Schaefer spoke to Bundesliga.com about Köln’s relegation: “This is a bitterly sad and dark day. What really nags is that this was an entirely unnecessary relegation. The fact we weren’t able to avoid the drop as a club with our power, determination and these fans, is a bitter pill to swallow.”

Fast forward two seasons, the three time German champions Köln sit comfortably at the top of the 2.Bundesliga as they host Bochum. The fans packed the stadium and were in the partying mood, knowing that a victory for their side on Monday night would mean they’ll be witnessing Bundesliga football at the RheinEnergieStadion once again. Bochum looked like they were going to spoil the party when they took the lead three minutes before the break. However that wasn’t to be, whatever Peter Stöger said at half time worked wonders. Stöger changed things about by bringing on Risse, the switch paid off as the subsitute went on to level things just four minutes after coming on. Helmes put the home side into the lead, despite missing a penalty he was able to put the rebound past Luthe. With nine minutes remaining another substitute found the back of the net, Ujah’s goal sent the whole of Köln wild. They had done it, Köln would be playing in Germany’s top tier once again. But how did they get there?

After finishing fifth in their first season back in the 2.Bundesliga Köln brought in Peter Stöger as head coach, this lead to nine arrivals in the summer. Some of those arrivals were Ujah, Helmes, Risse, Halfar and Peszko (loan), all proving to be key additions to the squad.

Köln started the season with three 1-1 draws against Dynamo Dresden, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Paderborn. Their first win of the season came in front of their fans when they defeated Sandhausen 2-0. Köln didn’t taste defeat until November when they came unstuck after travelling to Bochum. They also lost the week after when they hosted Ingolstadt, those two 1-0 defeats ended a run of thirteen games without defeat. Köln responded by putting three goals past St. Pauli, this sparked a four game winning streak. Paderborn came to town in February as the league returned to action after the winter break, Paderborn were able to travel home with all three points in the bag as Köln tasted defeat for the third and last time in the league.  Since then the Billy Goats haven’t lost in eleven games, winning seven and drawing four.

Köln are one of the highest scorers in the league, they’ve scored forty-eight times which is matched by Kaiserslautern and only beaten by Greuther Fürth and Paderborn. With three games remaining they’ve already beaten their goal tally from last season which was forty-three. The main difference for Köln this season has been they highly impressive defensive record. Last season they shipped in thirty-three goals which was the third best in the league but this season no one has come close to matching the seventeen goals they’ve conceded. The next best defences are Karlsruher SC and Sandhausen who have both conceded twenty-nine goals.

Köln’s success has been largely due to their strong spine. In goal they have the talented Horn, the twenty-year-old has been in terrific form this season and it’s hard to think of a keeper that has outperformed the young German. In his thirty-one appearances this season Horn has kept sixteen clean sheets which is a new clean sheet record for Köln. The previous best fourteen was set three times by Bodo Illgner back in 87/88, 88/89 and 89/90.  The Bundesliga is blessed with fantastic keepers and there’s no reason why Horn can’t join that list.

Köln’s back line has been the driving force this season, they have a good mix of promising talent and experience. Both Maroh and Brečko have plenty of experience, the two Slovenians have spent time in the Bundesliga, Maroh with Nürnberg and Brečko with Köln. Both have been a constant presence in the team, both managing more than thirty appearances this season. Maroh has been partnered with Wimmer at centre back this season, after sitting on the bench for the first six games of the season Wimmer was given his chance against Energie Cottbus, playing at left back Wimmer managed to show his quality to create two of Köln’s four goals. Since he was given a chance Wimmer has regularly featured next to Maroh, he’s only missed two games since his start against Cottbus and that was due to injury. Wimmer has scored twice from the back this season, his goal against St. Pauli was his first goal for Köln. Completing the back line is left back Hector, the German has featured in all but one of Köln’s games this season, contributing with two goals and two assists. Stöger has found the perfect mix of young talent and experience, with their impressive defensive record this season they’ve all deserved a shot against the likes of Schalke, Dortmund Bayern and co.

In midfield Köln have been strong as well, Stöger brought in Risse and Halfar during the summer and he also brought up Gerhardt from the under nineteens. Halfar and Risse have proved highly successful transfers, while Gerhardt has shown exactly why he was moved up into the first team. The trio have been key to Köln’s success this season, between them they’ve contributed fifteen goals and thirteen assists. During the winter Stöger added to the midfield by purchasing twenty-two-year old Nagasawa who’s looked like a good addition to the squad.

Up top Helmes has rejoined the club and currently leads the club’s scoring chart, along with Helmes’ arrival this summer Ujah moved back to the club permanently after his successful loan spell last season. The two have lead the line brilliantly for Köln this season, be it by themselves or together. The two of them have points to prove next season as they look to show they can perform in the Bundesliga. Ujah failed to make much of an impact during his time with Mainz, while Helmes had an up and down time in the Bundesliga with spells at Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg.

Stöger has put together a fantastic team this season and the future certainly looks bright for the Billy Goats. They have a number of promising youngsters along with experienced players in their prime. Köln have a great chance of staying in the Bundesliga next season, they have a good squad, a good coach and fantastic fans, with a few additions in the summer they could be the Hertha of this season or perhaps even better.

Article for VAVEL.com

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