Game Preview: 1. FC Köln versus Hamburger SV

1. FC Köln vs VfL Wolfsburg
Müngersdorfer Stadion (a.k.a. Rhein Energie Arena)
Saturday, August 29, 2015
9:30 a.m. EST

It’s the second half of back-to-back home matches for the 1. FC Köln Saturday when Hamburger SV pay a visit before the league takes a week off for the international break.

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

Goalkeeper

Even Timo Horn thinks the Wolfsburg equalizer late weekend came down to him.

Sure, Adler is solid, but is he Timo-level bad-ass? No he isn’t.

“I am disappointed that I didn’t get the easiest of balls.”

While you wouldn’t say that the ball that came off the foot of Daniel Caligiuri was the simplest challenge a keeper would typically face on a Bundesliga game day, it was certainly one you’d normally feel Horn would handle better than he did when the ball eluded his grasp to land at the feet of Niklas Bendtner.

After the guests brought the match back to level, though, Horn made a few outstanding saves to assure the Wolves didn’t sneak out of town with any more points than the one they’d managed to salvage.

Even this early in the season, a keeper’s performance can’t be based on a single moment. Horn has already been outstanding for his club and perhaps its most-valuable player in having earned four points from the first two matches.

Rene Adler’s season-to-date is a bit tougher to judge.

The HSV opened on the road at Bayern, which is responsible for five of the seven goals Adler has conceded so far this year. No matter how many saves Adler made that opening Friday night of the season, he wasn’t really keeping his side in the match, because Hamburg never once looked like they had a chance of winning. Still, five goals conceded is five goals conceded.

Stuttgart is a different story.

The VfB is, of course, a common opponent for the HSV and the effzeh. Stuttgart managed a  lot of shots against Köln two weeks ago, but not many were actually on target. In the end, Daniel Didavi’s goal from the spot was the only goal Horn and the effzeh would concede in victory.

In Hamburg, Stuttgart controlled a lot of the play, but took much fewer shots than they had against Köln and scored two goals. Adler was hung out to dry by poor defending on both of Daniel Ginczek’s goals and had to make a few other solid plays to provide his teammates the chance to make their comeback when Stuttgart went down to ten men.

Adler’s veteran presence might give him an edge over the younger Horn in some aspects, but there is a clearly superior performer right now between the the two, and he’ll be protecting the goal of the home side.

Strong Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Defense

Whatever concerns might have been raised by Stuttgart racking up a bloated shot count on match day one, they should have been somewhat mollified by the way the high-octane offense of Wolfsburg was contained last weekend.

Jonas Hector (football god) played a strong game that will be somewhat marred by his part in the Wolfsburg equalizer.

The central duo of Dominique Heintz and Frederik Sørensen continues to be a pleasant surprise, as the dangerous Bas Dost was largely kept quiet. Additionally, Heintz delivered a great lengthy pass to Simon Zoller for the effzeh goal.

Pawel Olkowski continues to be the question mark among the back four. The Polish right back has yet to show the form that allowed him to take the starting job from Miso Brecko and make the team captain expendable.

As is the case with Adler, you can’t escape the fact that the HSV has already allowed seven goals in their two matches when discussing the defensive row. Even playing a very low-risk game while in Bavaria against an FC Bayern squad not yet at full-steam, the HSV defense was torn to shreds in the four-goal second half.

Emir Spahic and Johan Djourou are Hamburg’s central defenders. The duo seems to like to play a high-risk, high-reward game, often entering into hair-raising challenges in dangerous spots. On one of Spahic’s gambles, a sliding attempt at a ball coming toward Ginczek, his failure to make the play ultimately left the VfB forward in a one-on-one with Adler, resulting in Stuttgart getting the first goal of the match.

Spahic was once well-enough regarded as a player to be a regular for Bayer Leverkusen. The regard for some of his off-field choices, however . . . well now he’s in Hamburg.

Djourou did score the game-winning goal Sunday, but it was his first since moving to the Bundesliga in 2012. He will not repeat the feat Saturday, though, as the HSV captain will miss the match due to a muscle strain.

Left back Matthias Ostrzolek has struggled since moving to Hamburg from FC Augsburg, and Sunday was no exception. In addition to his being unable to keep possession for his side due to erroneous pass attempts, he was the only defender in the area to deal with Ginczek as he bolted after a pass out of the midfield. Ostrzolek played for an offside call, but was a bit slow in making the decision, so the flag stayed down as Ginczek collected the ball, circled Adler and put his side ahead for a second time Sunday.

The final piece of Bruno Labbadia’s back four this year has been right back Dennis Diekmeier, who simply looked out-of-sync with his teammates Sunday, disseminating errant balls throughout the match, while also struggling to contain Daniel Didavi.

Perhaps the back line comes together a bit better as Spahic has more time among his teammates, but so far, it’s a bit of a mess back there.

Advantage: 1. FC Köln

Midfield

The question for the Köln midfield will be whether Peter Stöger sticks with the double-six look that was so effective with Kevin Vogt back in his familiar spot last week next to Matthias Lehmann, or if the coach wants to give the 4-1-4-1 another go.

Last week’s midfield not only showed a lot more stability than the one that was run somewhat ragged by VfB Stuttgart in the opener, but it seemed to cause Wolfsburg fits with it’s aggressive pressing policies as the guests attempted to move the ball through the middle third of the field.

In addition to Matzelilnho and RoboVogt, Stöger has a wealth of options here. He’s seen plenty of good out of Leonardo Bittencourt and Marcel Risse, while Yannick Gerhardt continues to be more promise (but a LOT of promise) than production thus far. Don’t forget Milos Jojic, of whom much is expected.

And even with all those midfielders, perhaps the biggest advantage Stöger has is the play he’s gotten in that area from a striker. Simon Zoller has played as a substitute on the left side and as a starter in the middle. All he’s done is get a goal in each game and show he at least has the vigor for pressing and defending.

One of the brighter spots of the early season for Hamburg has been the play of 20-year-old defensive midfielder Gideon Jung. He’s the type of emerging young talent the HSV will need to start moving away from being an annual relegation candidate.

The remainder of the midfield, though, has been a source of a lot of ball-insecurity, which has minimized the offensive chances for the HSV.

Lewis Holtby and Michael Gregoritsch were particularly guilty of turning the ball over multiple times against Stuttgart. If there’s anything nice to say about either’s play Sunday, you can point out that at least Holtby’s turnovers didn’t spark Stuttgart counterattacks the way Gregoritsch’s often did.

Ivo Ilicevic wasn’t as bad about surrendering possession through poor passes, but he did fire several laughably off-target shots Sunday. He did get HSV’s only eleven-on-eleven goal of the season so far, though, so there is something to be said for taking one’s chances.

Ultimately, if these two units perform approximately the way they each did last weekend, this match is going to be a boat race.

Strong Advantage:  1. FC Köln

Attack

Anthony Modeste cuts an impressive figure for Köln in attack, even when he doesn’t collect his goal. He had a few huge opportunities to expand the effzeh lead last week, but Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels was equal to the task presented. Essentially, Modeste has shown himself to be the cliched “handful” for opponents since coming over from Hoffenheim.

Also, Modeste has played three times against Hamburg and has three goals to show for it.

Sven Schipplock, Modeste’s former teammate at Hoffenheim, has also shown some promise for his new club. He provided the few interesting early moments for the Hamburg attack in the loss at Bayern. Schipplock also looked threatening early Sunday against Stuttgart, but faded later when Stuttgart was down to ten men.

There is a possibility that Pierre Michel Lasogga figures into matters, but he’s been strictly a sub so far this season. He did, however, deliver by header the assist to Djourou’s goal.

It’s true! Ask his mother!

Mama Lasogga with her once-dangerous goal-scoring son and client.

Mama Lasogga with her once-dangerous goal-scoring son and client.

Early appearances are that both men are going to prove to have been solid acquisitions, but Modeste has simply shown more than Schipplock so far.

Advantage:  1. FC Köln

Coach

Stöger is still “the man” around Köln. His record speaks for itself.

In just two matches, he’s shown his adaptability. After the 4-1-4-1 had its issues in Stuttgart, he went back to his old 4-2-3-1 to great-ish success last week. His successful use of strikers in midfield roles has also been impressive.

Stöger is simply pretty good at this football-coaching thing.

Nice jersey, Bruno!

Nice jersey, Bruno!

Bruno Labbadia, now in his second stint at Hamburg, is vastly more-experienced a coach at the Bundesliga level. His prior job was at VfB Stuttgart, where he was in charge for 119 matches before being let go in August 2013.

Of course, it can also be noted that Labbadia has not had much success in any of the Bundesliga gigs he’s had since busting into the top division in 2008. Helping HSV avoid its first-even relegation from the Bundesliga was certainly no mean feat and may even be his current career high.

But the early returns on Labbadia leading a team not desperately fighting for survival have not been good. There have been few signs that Hamburg can maintain possession and build play confidently to make themselves a threat. On the back end, things are disjointed in a way that you simply wouldn’t expect so soon after training camps where these units are meant to have worked on some strategies.

Besides, I’m not really crediting the coach with Hamburg’s fluke-y escape from the relegation playoff. A better piece of officiating late in the second leg and we’re talking about Markus Kaucinski here instead.

Strong Advantage:  1. FC Köln

Form

Is 1. FC Köln psyched about how they got a point from last year’s vice-champion, or disappointed at having dropped two after playing so well for most of the match?

Either way, the performance last week was impressive. The team is playing well and still learning to play as a unit with all the new pieces.

Until Florian Klein committed two harsh fouls in a span of minutes, Hamburg’s play had been very poor and appeared to be cruising toward a home loss and another week with the red lantern.

Even after Stuttgart went to ten men, the VfB had its chances while Hamburg struggled to take advantage of the situation. It wasn’t until late that the HSV started to actually look like the team with an extra player. The two late goals were aided by Stuttgart being a bit tired, but that’s part of playing a man-down for so long. It’s hard to imagine how the home side gets even a point without that red card, though.

Maybe there is the boost from the emotion of making that comeback, but the actual play from Hamburg has been pretty poor.

Go with the team riding an eleven match unbeaten streak at home.

Advantage:  1. FC Köln

Health

Köln appears to have no new injury concerns for the squad from last week. Yuya Osako is expected back after the international break, while central defenders Dominic Maroh and Mergim Mavraj are still working their way back from summertime injuries.

Bruno Labbadia will have to juggle his most-recent squad, however, due to an injury to team captain Johan Djourou. Gideon Jung is a favorite to drop back and fill-in for Djourou, leaving Gojko Kacar and Marcelo Díaz to compete for Jung’s defensive-midfield spot.

Advantage:  1. FC Köln

Intangibles

Far too many people around Köln are far too confident that this game is a sure three-pointer for the home side. Coach Stöger has been trying to temper such expectations, pleading for everyone, most certainly his players, to not underestimate the HSV.

This gives the HSV that boost a team can get from being considered the underdog.

It’s not much, but it’s something.

Add to it that Labbadia, who once played for the Billy Goats, has never lost to 1. FC Köln. He’s taken five wins and five draws from ten matches.

Advantage:  Hamburger SV

Prediction

From everything above, you might expect a fairly lopsided prediction to follow.

But while I genuinely believe there has been a huge gap in quality between how the two clubs have played, I don’t think it’ll be a cake walk for the effzeh.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be a laugher, though.

1. FC Köln              2
Hamburger SV    0

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