1. FC Köln settle for split with Wolfsburg after conceding late

Some thoughts from 1. FC Köln’s 1:1 draw with VfL Wolfsburg to open the home segment of the season.

What it Means 

In the end, 1. FC Köln needs to be content, if not overjoyed, by snatching a point from a club as highly regarded as VfL Wolfsburg. The reigning DFB Cup winner, Bundesliga vice-champion, and Champions League participant are favored to be the team to bring drama to this year’s title race, if any drama is brought at all.

But because of the way the match played out, it’s going to take some work to get past feelings of disappointment.

During the majority of the game in which the effzeh were, by far, the more-energetic side and definitely looked the more threatening, everything seemed grand.  Once the home side was put in front in the 30th minute by Simon Zoller, fans both in the stands and online were enjoying themselves by exclaiming the club’s top-of-table status with “Spitzenreiter.

The hosts continued to look the more-engaged side and pressed for a second goal, but it was not to be despite several big opportunities.

Even as some of the steam steemed to be taken from the Köln effort, the club was defending well enough to maintain dreams of carrying the single goal to a three-point result.

And then the luck of the Lord intervened.

Niklas Bendtner had Timo Horn’s deflection of the ball roll right to his feet, right before a wide-open goal, and two of those three points evaporated.

After that, Wolfsburg was closer to winning even more points than Köln was to regaining those they let slip away late. In fact, a pair of huge moments from Horn were all that kept a point for the home side over the final minutes and copious added-time.

Ultimately, fans got to see some of the high-energy game the effzeh had seemed to promise in the summer, providing for exciting football and dreams of doing more than preserving scoreless draws.

Takeaways

Peter Stöger did revert to a 4-2-3-1 against a team laden with offensive weapons, but the presence of the two holding midfielders did not prevent the team from showing the aggressive closing on the ball in the opposition’s half that seemed to be a big component in the summer test match’s.

And it worked! Not allowing the Wolfsburg backs to bring the ball up the pitch uncontested led to multiple turnovers of the ball in Wolfsburg’s own half, thanks to sloppy passing under pressure and two-fights (I’m REALLY not going to call Zweikämpfe ‘duels’) in which the Köln midfielders enjoyed an advantageous rate of success.

Because the 4-2-3-1, against a stronger opponent, delivered more the type of play Stöger seemed to want than did the 4-1-4-1 the weekend before, you have to wonder whether how long it will be before we see the 4-1-4-1 again. Kevin Vogt had a strong match today paired with Matthias Lehmann, and the trio of Bittencourt, Zoller, and Risse showed plenty, so if the appealing style and successful pressing can be effected even with the addition help in defensive midfield,  there won’t be much reason to replace Vogt again with Osako, Jojic, or Gerhardt other than coach preference.

Stock Watch

Rising – Simon Zoller

Yes, again.

Zoller, a striker by trade, successfully slotted into the center of the midfield in place of another striker playing out of position, Yuya Osako, due to injury. In addition to scoring Köln’s lone goal through some tidy technical effort, Zoller was omnipresent in pressing Wolfsburg coming out of their end and then in the attacks that followed.

Zoller zips past Casteels and Naldo for the score.

Zoller zips past Casteels and Naldo for the score.

But if you know the story of Zoller’s first year after transferring from Kaiserslautern, all you need to know about his day is that he given a standing ovation as he was substituted from the game.

His willingness to do what the coach asks of him and do so energetically is going eventually make people forget that many had hoped he’d stay in Kaiserslautern after his second-half loan back to his former team last season.

Rising – Jonas Hector (football god)

Can a “football god” even be said to rise? Ascend, maybe?

Hector’s play continues to expand as he grows increasingly comfortable with the idea that he’s no longer just some farm kid playing on the biggest of stages, rather he’s a member of the national team playing with that sort of presence for a top Bundesliga club.

Wolfsburg successes last season were largely fuelled by play stemming from Kevin DeBruyne and Ivan Perisic  on the flanks. On Saturday, neither player established much of a presence, much less on Hector’s left side.

It’s only fair to note, I suppose, that Hector came out on the wrong end of a two-fight against Daniel Caligiuri in a series that led to the equalizer, but nobody wins all their battles all the time. Hector’s play was a huge factor in keeping Wolfsburg mostly-harmless for much of the day.

Rising – Frederik Sørensen

One of the two new guys in central defense, Sørensen has been a huge contributor to supporting the offensive philosophies of the team by providing stability in the back. Tasked with dealing with Bas Dost, the Dane had plenty of opportunity to show his value. He won his battles and kept the Dutch goal threat in check and visibly frustrated.

With Dominic Maroh nearing a return, it would seem Stöger will have some decisions to make, but it’s going to be difficult to justify sitting Sørensen at this rate. He’s proving to be a very strong pick-up by Jörg Schmadtke.

Distraction Central?

How much was VfL Wolfsburg’s game today hurt by the swirl of transfer rumor surrounding offensive stars Kevin DeBruyne and Ivan Perisic?

Certainly, DeBruyne has developed a reputation for ineffective play when his attitude isn’t right for a match, which has often led to uninspired performances for the offensive phase of the Wolfsburg game. Certainly, it can be said at the least that DeBruyne contributed little to help his team find a groove today.

Perisic was nearly equally invisible from the attacking efforts Saturday, which comes somewhat of a surprise considering his terrific form the week before against Eintract Frankfurt.

Did the effzeh play a role in Wolfsburg’s struggles? Absolutely! But the fact is that we might not get a look at Wolfsburg’s true self until we’re on the other side of the transfer window, by which time, either or both of those players may be gone from the Bundesliga.

Man of the Match

Point Blank: Timo Horn.

Yes, you’d have loved for Horn to have held onto the ball that ultimately trickled to Bendtner for the equalizer, and yes, it’s hard to pick a guy who had such a critical failure in the one goal-against.

There's your point, right there!

There’s your point, right there!

Except that Horn became all the more critical in retaining that point as Wolfsburg surged to life after their goal. Without those huge saves made on DeBruyne and Dost in the waning moments, we’re talking about three points dropped at home, rather than two. He had had moments earlier in the match, but none as big as either of those two to keep the point in the face of a suddenly vital Wolfsburg attack.

Next?

See you next week at the same Billy Goat time, same Billy Goat place. Hamburger SV comes calling Saturday, riding high off their 3:2 comeback victory over VfB Stuttgart.

Köln end Saturday fourth in the table, though could drop into fifth behind a victor from Sunday’s Borussia Dortmund – FC Ingolstadt match.

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