In a 34-game season, it’s hard to take seriously the idea of a “huge match” with just a dozen in the books.
Yet, put the top two teams in the table on the same pitch on a Monday night and it does the job fairly nicely.
Because 1. FC Köln remains the only undefeated German team in the top three leagues not also defending a Champions League title right now, you already need to have at least considered them a serious threat to win promotion this season.
Some of my fellow Effzeh fans like to point out Bayern’s loss in the Super Cup and claim prominence as the lone undefeated professional club in Germany in competitive matches, but I cannot take the Super Cup seriously as a ‘competitive match.’ I’d be okay with using the DFB Pokal as such, but not that means-nothing “cup.”
Even so, no club from the top of the Bundesliga, where they’ve played two fewer matches, all the way through the Regionalligen, have surrendered as few goals as have the Effzeh. Twelve matches into the season, 1. FC Köln have conceded only five goals total in league play under the leadership of new coach Peter Stöger, who came to the job with a reputation for being an offensive-minded coach thanks to final season with FK Austria Wien before taking the gig in Köln.
Austria-Wien won the 2012-13 Austrian Bundesliga title with 84 goals in 36 matches.
Also, Stöger was an offensive midfielder as a player, so…you make assumptions.
But a coach is a coach, and a smart coach utilizes all the tools in his kit. Turns out he has a good many. While the Effzeh offense has been brilliant at times, they’ve been mysteriously ineffective at others.
The defense, however, is marvelous.
Now with thirteen matches in the books, the goals-allowed total remains frozen at five, because the team sitting second in the second-league table is on their way back to Berlin with no more than what they came: 24 points and 21 goals.
The Effzeh romped to a 4:0 victory that was every bit as dominant as you’d think. Union Berlin had their fair share of possession, but chances on goal were limited and far from dangerous.
Meanwhile, Stöger shifted away from the two-striker system for the first time since pairing Patrick Helmes and Anthony Ujah back on matchday seven, when what appeared to be a new dynamic duo put three of four on the board in Cottbus, sending Planet Effzeh skyrocketing into dreams of European competition on the horizon (because that’s how Köln fans think and dream, to be honest).
Yet, two of the five matches that followed ended as scoreless draws.
I won’t even recount the series of missed penalties. It’s simply too painful.
Clearly, something was not clicking in the new two-pronged offensive attack. The shots were there, but the goals were not.
Today, Anthony Ujah started the match on the bench, with Stöger going to the tres-faccionable 4-2-3-1 so many clubs like to play.
How much correlation you wish to draw between the exclusion of Ujah from the new formation and the four-goal outburst against a club who’d ranked among the top three stingiest clubs to date, I shall leave to you.
I have a few things to say about the matter, the most-obvious of which would be that Helmes was perhaps even less effective than he’d been in prior weeks. Without looking at statistics or a replay of the match, I barely recall noticing him on the pitch. It was, again, Halfar and Risse making things crazy for opposition defenders for the most part.
Though Slawomir Peszko….we need to keep this guy, right? Plus, how much do you love Yannick Gerhardt right now?
A lot of things went well today, but the single striker was definitely not the answer to “Why is the double-striker thing not getting goals?”
I also think the overall atmosphere in the stadium lifted a team already likely well-primed for a great performance to even greater heights. There was a notable extra amount of energy about the players today. Whatever made that happen, I doubt the move of Ujah to the bench was the catalyst. By all appearances, his teammates seem to really like him. This is not an “addition by subtraction” situation.
And, finally, they were wearing the club’s first-ever special jerseys today. That HAS to have added something, oder?
That being said, what happens next weekend in Bochum? What is the balance between ‘going with what is working’ and ‘play your best players’?
You know Stöger won’t say much between now and then to illuminate the answer, but I like Ujah to be back in the starting eleven come Sunday. Bochum is simply not as potentially dangerous an opponent as Union so as to make the sacrifice of the extra scoring thread for help in the defensive end quite so alluring.
With Union strongly dispatched, only six matches remain before the winter break, and none seem as if they will offer the sort of showdown atmosphere we saw today. The average current table position of the opponents left for 2013 is 12, with FC St. Pauli (8th) currently the highest-standing club we’ll see before Christmas. Though, undoubtedly, the stuggles of Fortuna Düsseldorf will do little to curb the thrill of the 2013 finale.
Plus, there’s the smalll matter of travelling to Hamburg for a shot at making the quarterfinals of the DFB Pokal. I admittedly have seen only extended highlights of the HSV since Bert van Marwijk took over, but nothing convinces me this team cannot beat Hamburg.
I sure wish that match was happening in Müngersdorf, though.