The 1. FC Köln enjoyed plenty of possession throughout Tuesday’s friendly test against Serie A’s FC Bologna while the squad generally looked sharper and less-weary than it had in any of its prior test matches this summer. Non-conversion of the few chances created from the possession advantage, though, had the game steaming toward a scoreless draw until Dominique Heintz out-muscled his marker to convert an 84th minute corner kick and lift the Billy Goats to a 1:0 win in Kitzbühel.
The match was attended by 1,710 ten people and one Austrian musical superstar, Hansi Hinterseer.
Thomas Kessler, with Timo Horn in Brazil preparing to represent Germany in the Olympic games, was the man between the posts behind a starting defensive line of Marcel Risse, Dominic Maroh, Mergim Mavraj, and Konstantin Rausch. The entire squad was substituted at the hour mark with Pawel Olkowski, Frederik Sørensen, Heintz, and Filip Mladenovic.
The use of a four-man back row for the first time this summer showed that Stöger is not 100% abandoning it in favor of a full-time three-man line. Yet, even with a 4-4-2 deployed, Jonas Hector did not return to his long-term position in his first live-game action of the summer. Instead, the national team star played in the midfield, while Rausch assumed Hector’s normal spot at left back, giving the defensive quartet a pair of offensively capable bookends with Marcel Risse starting on the opposite side.
Sidebar: If you are among the many fans of an English side who think Hector is coming to your club for a pile of money, you may translate that to mean that he’s moving . . . to midfield and not to your own back row. Okay?
Along with Hector, Stöger went with Milos Jojic, Salih Özcan, and Leonardo Bittencourt in the midfield for the first hour, bringing Marco Höger, Matthias Lehmann, and Yuya Osako in at the hour mark, leaving only Jojic in to play the full match in the midfield. Likewise, Simon Zoller played in attack the entire match with Anthony Modeste making way for Artjoms Rudnevs after 60 minutes.
The offensive capabilities and greater mobility of the midfielders-cum-fullbacks may have triggered a decision to have the FC attackers press when the ball was in Bologna possession deep in their own half. The increased pressure in the opposition half created several turnovers, serving as a reminder to some of last summer’s high-energy tests that ultimately proved to not be a preview of how a shift in how the team would play once the Bundesliga campaign started. Whatever happens when the FC starts the 2016-17 campaign against Darmstadt, Anthony Modeste, Milos Jojic, and Leonardo Bittencourt showed against the Italians that they can disrupt defenders trying to emerge from their defensive-third of the field, which could be a weapon for a team struggling on the offensive end.
Our friends at Geissblog managed to get coach Peter Stöger’s reaction to the match, in which he said, “We were relatively well-organized. That was much better than against Fortuna. We saw today a few things we have practiced a bit more than in recent past. We had three, four opportunites against a team, against which it’s difficult to creat chances. But it’s the creativity, naturally, that suffers the most when you are not completely fresh.”
That’s not to say the FC was without quality chances, however. A Jojic volley from the top of the area was only a bit too high to hit the crossbar. Zoller and Modeste each had headers just to the wrong side of the post. Yuya Osako likely had the biggest chance, though, putting a point-blank shot too close to the Italian keeper to beat Angelo da Costa.
Ultimately, though, the winner did not come through the dominant play, but instead emerged from a set piece. Mladenovic sent the ball on a low-ish trajectory from the corner toward the near post where Simon Zoller headed it a bit further across the goalmouth, ultimately finding Heintz who, despite being completely embraced in the arms of a Bologna defender and on his way to the ground, hammered his volley over the keeper before he could even raise his mitts in an effort to defend the shot. The set-piece routine was tested just the day before in a morning training session.
It’ll be a quick turnabout for the team as a test with SD Eibar of La Liga awaits on Thursday, just 46 hours after the Heintz strike found the netting. The match will be streamed live on the FC’s YouTube channel. Tune in at 9 a.m. Pacific Time (Noon eastern or 18:00 in Central European Time).