Game Preview: 1. FC Köln versus Borussia Mönchengladbach

1. FC Köln vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Müngersdorfer Stadion (a.k.a. Rhein Energie Arena)
Saturday, September 19, 2015
9:30 a.m. EST

Due to some boycott actions by fan groups of both clubs, you won’t be able to tell from the atmosphere in the stadium that this match-up is one of the biggest rivalries in German football.

But it is.

Here is Planet Effzeh’s phase-by-phase breakdown of how the two clubs stack-up.

Goalkeeper

This is a difficult nut to crack, considering both keepers are coming off games in which they had to pick the ball out of their own net multiple times, though mostly because the defense in front of them collapsed completely.

Keeper with attitude

Keeper with attitude

Both keepers are well-regarded. Timo Horn is a rising young talent, potentially in line for a trip to Rio as part of Germany’s Olympic side. Yann Sommer is the number one for the Swiss national side which is on the verge of clinching second place in its group in qualification for Euro 2016.

Last season, Horn was backstopped a team that built its philosophy on keeping opposition from scoring. Sommer was not tested as frequently as was Horn, particularly not in crucial situations, as Mönchengladbach had its best season in ages.

I tend to believe that Horn is on his way to being one of the best keepers in Germany, but Sommer is among the few who can legitimately claim to be in such a lofty Bundesliga class.

Advantage: Push

Defense

Like the goalkeepers, these two units are under a lot of scrutiny following last week’s results.

Though it hardly needs to be said after surrendering six goals, nobody from the Köln back row came away from Saturday’s match looking very good. Even our Jonas Hector followed-up his fine work with the German national team during the break with a shockingly poor effort, as two goal-assisting crosses came from his side of the field.

But even with Olkowski seemingly getting less and less effective as time passes, the really awful defending happened between the two outside guys.

Dominique Heintz and Frederik Sørensen went from pleasant surprises to shockingly ineffective in a span of maybe 30 minutes. Frankfurt split the pair with passes continually, while neither were able to deal with the speed of Luc Castaignos, much less the football god-ness of Alex Meier. And even as the goals were piling up, there was little apparent change in approach from the duo.

Gladbach suffered only half as many goals-against in a 3:0 loss to Hamburger SV last Friday, but have to be equally concerned about what they saw from their defense. There is hardly much to be said about Tony Jantschke’s back pass assisting Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s 1:0. The 2:0 came off a poorly marked corner piece, and the 3:0 saw the defense essentially lagging as it was Hamburg keeper Jaroslav Drobny delivering the ball directly to Nicolai Müller who had no problem staying onside near midfield and then beating the Fohlen defense to the penalty area.

Lucien Favre’s crew have now surrendered eleven goals in four matches and at least two in each game. Match that with just two goals scored all season, and it’s easy to see why Gladbach sits last with no points.

Dalmations have “punkte” (spots), but Borussia no “punkte” (points). Still funny if I have to explain?

While the six conceded by Peter Stöger’s defense is certainly damning, it was just one game. In the three preceding matches, it was just one goal-against each time out. With eight goals to the good spread fairly evenly through the four matches, seven points is a reasonable result.

Köln’s defensive unit has plenty to answer for from last week, but the visitors’ unit has an entire season full of questions.

Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Midfield

Let’s face it, Matthias Lehmann didn’t look great constantly chasing Frankfurt players from behind (granted, into areas that should have had some central defenders coverage) last week. Kevin Vogt was a bit more effective, but what’s relative effectiveness when the team is getting blasted?

The defensive-mids were the more-evident midfielders, simply due to the nature of the game tilting toward one end of the field until Frankfurt decided they could sit back with a fat lead and let the game come to them. Even then, Leonardo Bittencourt was largely absent from the game.

Marcel Risse, on the other hand, was fairly active; he just didn’t have a lot of success. Some poor passes and shots taken from too great a distance were probably the hallmarks of Risse’s day.

Then you have Simon Zoller, who delivered a killer pass to Anthony Modeste for a goal, which we all might have better admired had he not minutes prior killed a Köln attacking chance with an unnecessary backheel that launched a counter for the 3:0.

The best thing to be said about the midfield Saturday is that it wasn’t as poor as the defense.

Derby classic: Stefan Effenberg and Toni Polster having words.

Not sure the same can be said for the Mönchengladbach midfield, though. Again, it was Jantschke who provide the backpass for Lasogga to snatch away and slide past Sommer for the 1:0. Jantschke also inadvertently helped deflect Lasogga headed 2:0, but that was more a fluke than a mental lapse from the defender-moved-into-midfield.

With Granit Xhaka returning from a suspension and central defender Martin Stranzl injured, though, expect Jantschke to return to the defensive row, allowing Xhaka to return to his midfield leadership role as hard defender, perhaps also taking some pressure of Havard Nordtveit, who didn’t look entirely comfortable paired with Jantschke at the double-six.

Speaking of uncomfortable, what happened to Lars Stindl, and how long does Favre keep trotting him out there? Seemed like a good signing for Gladbach in the spring, but he is a piece that does not fit right now.

Same can be said for Thorgan Hazard, who is running out of new spots on the field from which to try to escape his form-malaise (I’m sure there’s some clever British phrase that describes this, but I don’t know it, so “form-malaise” it is.).

Again, I’m going to base my pick on the wider body of work, rather than just last week’s displays. Köln’s midfield simply has shown more good this season than has Gladbach’s.

Slight Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Attack

Did someone say "zero" again?

Did someone say “zero” again?

Raffael, Hazard, Josip Drmich, and Andre Hahn — the four players who’ve started in attack in Gladbach’s four Bundesliga matches, have combined for exactly zero goals.

Anthony Modeste has scored a goal in each game thus far.

Strong Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Coach

Last week was the first time in Peter Stöger’s tenure at 1. FC Köln that the team looked caught off-guard by their opponent.

I wouldn’t bet on it happening again.

In fact, is sounds as if the response to last weekend will be a slight return to last season’s more-defensive orientation, which is not a bad strategy to deploy against a side struggling to score.

But Lucien Favre has a very impressive resume during his time with die Fohlen. He arrived to steer the club away from a disastrous relegation by surviving the playoff. One season later, he had Gladbach finishing fourth to earn a shot at Champions League, in which they are again playing this season.

What Stöger has accomplished is certainly impressive, but not quite on the scale of what Favre has done in his current role. Even with there being some murmurs of dischord, Favre is still one of the most-respected manager’s in the Bundesliga, which is something Stöger is still working toward.

Advantage: Borussia Mönchengladbach

Form

Lyrics to a kids song about using a lantern, plus the “red lantern” being said to be in possession of the last-place team . . . Just trust me. It’s funny!

I don’t think anyone is coming off a worse performance from last weekend than is 1. FC Köln, but as bad as it was, it followed a run of seven points in three games.

It’s difficult to see the Gladbach slide continue for much longer, but four losses in the league have been followed by a very poor outing in their Champions League opener.

No points and the red lantern trumps one beatdown.

Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Health

By the time it would have made sense to give Dominic Maroh a little run last weekend, the game was well out of hand. Stöger has said that there is no reason Maroh couldn’t be used this week, though.

Milos  Jojic, however, seems to think he’s more healthy than does Stöger. Either that, or the coach is playing pre-derby head games.

Otherwise, Köln is as healthy as they’ve been all season.

The visitors, though, will be playing a bit shorthanded.

Already missing offensive catalyst Patrick Herrmann, die Fohlen are going to be without captain Martin Stranzl in the middle of the defense, where they were already missing Alvaro Dominguez.

Additionally, US national team member Fabian Johnson continues to be unavailable due to a muscle strain.  Johnson hasn’t played since match day one.

Strong Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Intangibles

It’s a derby, so you mostly ignore almost everything written above, or as US sportscasters are fond of saying, “Throw out the records when these two meet!”

No away fans means no stealing their banner and tearing it asunder, I guess.

If all the boycotts are effective, there will be no visiting fans, while the home fans will be without banners, flags, and organized singing and chanting from the ultras fan groups.

It’ll be a shame if the derby takes place in a semi-vaccuum of atmosphere, but the fact is that there will be plenty of home fans cheering on their side Saturday, whether the ultras organize things or not.

One downside for Köln, though, will be the lack of experience in this derby. Whatever eleven Favre sends onto the pitch will undoubtedly have more experience in what a game against Köln is like than what Stöger is likely to use. Guys like Modeste, Bittencourt, Heintz, and Sørensen are in for a treat, which will hopefully not distract from the job at hand.

Slight Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Prediction

Again, I don’t know how much anything said here will actually be relevant come Satuurday. Gladbach will be desperate for goals and points. A win at Köln would go a long way in healing the wounds of the early struggles.

But Köln is also thirsting for a win in the derby after taking a late-game loss at Gladbach late in the match, thanks largely to a questionable free-kick award deep in Borussia territory.

As much as I want to pick a win for the home side, I sense a bit of a grind-it-out draw.

       1. FC Köln              0
Mönchengladbach    0

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