Thoughts on the 1. FC Köln 1:1 at Rhein-Neckar Arena with TSG Hoffenheim 1899:
How We Got There & What it Means
At the moment the 90-minute mark arrived, the 1. FC Köln was holding a well-earned 0:1 lead with Hoffenheim quickly running a counterattack up the left flank after a questionable non-call on a play that left Bundesliga debutant Lukas Klünter lying on the grass near midfield.
Moments later, after eluding a sliding challenge from Marcel Risse and making a cut to leave both Yannick Gerhardt and Dominic Maroh helplessly out of position, Andrej Kramaric put a shot toward the far post that forced a parry from Timo Horn. Unfortunately for the Billy Goats, Kevin Volland was in the right place (without an escort, it must be noted) to return the deflection back behind the Köln keeper and into goal.
It was a bitter moment for the visitors who had grown increasingly in-control throughout the course of the match, ultimately getting their noses in front in the 69th minute when Jonas Hector (who might should have had better lock on Volland on the equalizer) played a low cross from the edge of the Hoffenheim area for Simon Zoller to send home with a tidy one-touch finish.
It felt like working a full day with empty pockets, finding a five-dollar bill on your walk home, stopping at the bar for a beer, and then, after just a few delicious sips, you trip over your own shoelaces and spill the remainder of your beverage down the front of your shirt. Köln had arrived in position to be happy with just one point in the stretch run to class retention, especially with Hoffenheim’s resurgence under Julian Nagelsmann, but to have the two points slip through fingers in added time brought instead the cliched “draw that felt like a loss.”
Hoffenheim, on the other hand, used the point to escape the bottom three for the first time since mid-October and now appear a strong candidate for avoiding the drop entirely, especially if they can take advantage of having 33% of their remaining matches against Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover 96, both current holders of the automatic-relegation spots at the foot of the table.
The equalizer took Köln from the ninth spot to eleventh, but a reasonably comfortable seven-point lead on the relegation-playoff spot currently occupied by FC Augsburg.
Rising – Simon Zoller
It’s a bit predictable to pick the guy who scored and maybe even a bit flawed considering there were long stretches of the match where you wondered whether he was even still on the pitch, but Zoller reminded everyone that he came to Köln as a goal-scoring forward, despite serving nominally as a right midfielder once again.
Whether it was a complete game or not, Zoller should be lauded for the goal in his first game back from a muscle injury that forced him away for the last six. As Hector made his way toward the Hoffenheim area, Zoller signalled for cross toward the post. When Hector pulled up, Zoller also pulled up and started running toward the spot where Hector would find him to complete the play. It showed that Zoller retains his striker’s instinct even as he willingly plays out of role in service to team needs with Marcel Risse continuing to play at right back.
And let’s face it, with so many opportunities going unused throughout the match, much will be forgiven when you deliver a goal.
Well done, Simon.
Falling – Anthony Modeste
It truly is a feast-or-famine situation with Modeste as the lone striker, and today it was definitely famine.
Granted, the midfield did a sub-standard job getting the ball into Big Mo’ so he could deliver, but on the one occasion everything aligned to put him into the position to do what he’s been hired to do, he fired wide. Certainly, Modeste was motivated to deliver a goal against his former teammates, but instead displayed the reason many Hoffenheim fans were okay losing him to the transfer that brought him to Köln last summer.
Considering how much the club relies on Modeste for its goal-scoring, it’s a little surprising to see he had just eleven of Köln’s 29 goals on the season. They’ve been forced to find alternate sources for scoring due to Modeste going into hiding for stretches at a time. Modeste’s current four-match drought is his second-longest of the season. His breaking out of the slump will be instrumental in the effzeh finally securing their safety from any relegation threat and opening the team to playing a bit more aggressively to see how they can punctuate the season.
If he doesn’t, however, the final six matches could provide experienced effzeh fans with more nervous nights, even though the chances of dropping to the bottom three are mathematically slim.
Falling – Blame the Referee
If you want to really feel ill, go ahead and tally up the points left behind by the 1. FC Köln with a little assistance from questionable-at-best officiating. I am fairly confident you can find enough incidents to get the club comfortably into a European slot.
Now that you’ve done that, forget it.
We had yet another example of the phenomenon today, as Lukas Klünter appeared to be fouled by Eduardo Vargas, who chose to take Klünter off the ball, rather than attempting to take the ball off Klünter. Not only did nobody among the officiating team see a problem with the play, nobody in blue was in a mood to stop play to allow Klünter to get some attention to the leg he was left holding back in the other half of the field.
It’s hard to fault Hoffenheim too much. You never know, for sure, when a player is genuinely hurt of trying to kill some time. It would be hard to charge Klünter with too much play-acting here, as he was taken down fairly viciously and would have had every reason to believe play would have been stopped for a free kick, at minimum.
We know now, though, that things played out very differently.
Even if it was a foul (it was), and even if Hoffenheim maybe should have played the ball into touch (they maybe should have, but can you blame them for not, considering the stakes for them?), there’s hardly any reason for such a significant portion of a professional club to stop defending for a moment. A slight pause to call for the hosts to play the ball out gave an otherwise-undeserved jump on what followed. There were several errors committed on the way to that equalizer, but the most egregious had to have been any presumption that a foul was coming or that the play would otherwise be halted. You have a young-ish team fighting for their utter survival; don’t expect anything other than them trying to gain every advantage imaginable.
Maybe even with full defensive effort following the Vargas hatchet job, Hoffenheim still finds a way to equalize, but I sure would have liked to see them put that together without the benefit of a moment’s hesitation on the part of the FC, even if so I don’t have to spend the next six days regretting those two points evaporating like that.
Still, let’s not sit and pout about Aytekin. It seems he missed it. Referees miss things. We should know that full-well by now. Players have to keep playing. End of story.
Man of the Match
He didn’t get a goal to get his name on the scoresheet, but unlike Zoller, Leonardo Bittencourt had the sort of game you want from our wide midfielders.
Okay, maybe some of his passes could have been delivered with a little more accuracy, but had Anthony Modeste done better with his single shot, Bittencourt would have had a gorgeous assist to show for the day’s efforts.
By and large, however, the man on the opposite flank was highly engaged throughout the match. He seemed to be running nonstop and continually engaging in one-on-one battles all over the pitch. It was the sort of high-energy performance we’ve become spoiled to know we can get from Bittencourt.
And I frankly believe that we’ve only seen a preview of what’s to come from the man with the Schmetterling celebration.
Another Sunday late game against a plastic club, but this one at home in Müngersdorf with Scowlin’ Roger Schmidt and the Pill-Pimping Leverkuseners coming to call. It’ll be Big Pharma v. Big Tradition with the visitors continuing their attack on a Champions League spot while also perhaps hoping to avenge the 1:2 loss the Risse-Maroh Express hung on them in November. Meanwhile, our heroes in white will continue to salt away their 2016-17 Bundesliga slot to help fuel the Sunday-game celebrations city-wide.