1. FC Köln at BFC Preussen
Stadion An der Alten Försterei, Berlin
Saturday, August 20, 2016
6:30 a.m. PST
No US-TV (ARD may have streaming options for those whose computers appear to be in Germany)
THIS IS NOT A TEST!!!!
It feels like a test, though, doesn’t it? It’s still summer, the Bundesliga has not yet started, and the top-flight clubs all are facing competition from lower tiers in preparation for the coming season.
Is timing of the first round of the DFB Pokal a blessing or curse for Bundesliga sides. On one hand, teams get a warm-up before league competition gets going, allowing for a bit of final-week tinkering should any inefficiencies make themselves known during cup play. On the other hand, the weekend’s matches are knockout matches. While you may have the chance to work some things out in a live-competition atmosphere, the danger is that you might end up inadvertently sacrificing your Pokal season unacceptably early, something that happens to a few first-division teams every summer.
A year ago, Hamburger SV, FC Ingolstadt, and TSG Hoffenheim were the Bundesligists to lose their opening-round match (to Carl Zeiss Jena, SpVgg Unterhaching, and 1860 München, respectively). HSV went on to have a successful mid-table season to break their streak of relegation-playoff finishes. Ingolstadt, as a promoted side, stayed comfortably free of the relegation zone all year. Only Hoffenheim, of the three, could be said to have had a tough season portented by their cup loss. Even so, no first-division side cares to have the wet blanket of a surprising cup loss diminish the heated excitement of the season staring soon after.
For a team with aspirations of continuing to build on two successful post-promotion seasons, a first-round match against a team from Germany’s sixth division represents a “must-win” situation that goes beyond the obvious desire of advancing in a tournament. Whatever tactic the hosts employ, a team looking to climb the top half of the Bundesliga table must be able to assert the superiority of its talent.
Or as coach Peter Stöger says, “We are well prepared. There are no two opinions about who the favorite is and whether we should win the match. We aren’t going into the cup match overly cocky. We are approaching the match the way a competitive match must be approached.”
Despite the talent deficit, BFC Preussen will have some advantages. In addition to playing at home in Berlin, the underdogs have the benefit of having started their season, albeit with a 1:0 loss to SD Croatia Berlin. The hosts will also have the boost of playing, for many of its players, the biggest opponent they’ll ever face and can play (excuse the cliche, but it’s appropriate) “nothing to lose.” The FC may be playing a lesser team, but they’ll see the absolute best available version of their opponent.
“For our opponent, the tie is the highpoint of the season,” says Stöger. “For us, it’s the entry into an important competition. We take the task seriously and underestimate nobody.”
All that considered, the guys could spend a long Friday night on the Ku’Damm with a few too many Berliner Weisse (mit Schuss, of course) while watching Germany’s women’s team pursue Olympic gold and should still be able to win based on the difference in competitive level.
Sidebar: If you don’t know about Kurfürsterdamm or the syrup-sweetened beer which run through the heart of Berlin, get thee to the German capital immediately!
It’s difficult to know much about BFC Preussen’s football capabilities thanks to a dearth of available video footage. Other than about five minutes of highlights from last year’s Berlin tournament final that earned the club their spot in the DFB Pokal, we’d largely be guessing at their relative strengths and weaknesses. We know they won a series of knockout matches to win the title, though, so they’re at least a game bunch of players.
But there are some things to watch for Saturday beyond, “Do we win?” and “How convincingly?”
How’s the Goalkeeping situation?
As mentioned earlier, Timo Horn will either be watching from South America or be too busy with his own pre-game preparations for the Olympic final to check in with his club mates.
Back-up Thomas Kessler, as reported earlier, is out with an injury.
Fortunately, U21 number one Sven Müller has managed to stay healthy in the run-up to what will be his first competitive start for the 1. FC Köln’s first team. Müller took his spot between the posts for the FC against 1. FSV Mainz last week & collected the clean sheet in a 0:3 win in front of a mostly empty stadium.
Though Mateusz Mika is a volleyball player with the current Polish Olympic team, it’s a completely other Mateusz Mika than the one who plays in goal for BFC Preussen. Mika was without a club last fall when he joined the Berlin club last October and collected his own clean sheet in the tournament finale against SV Lichtenberg. At 28 years of age, Mika has a bit of an edge in maturity over his 20-year-old counterpart. The Pole also has the benefit of having played a bit in the top league of his home country.
I’ll leave it to others to argue over whether that means Mika has ever faced a club as formidable as the one he’ll see Saturday.
All in all, you have to presume Müller is the more-talented. The question is how much that is counterbalanced by Mika’s experience, keeping in mind the latter was unemployed a year ago despite being fairly young.
Three or Four at the Back?
Because Stöger rolled with four in front of Müller in the successful test against Mainz, it seems likely that’s the arrangement we’ll see on Saturday.
The coach has already said, “The players who contest the important cup match for us don’t need to be those who will start for us against (season-opener guest) Darmstadt,” so whatever happens Saturday will not likely yield answers to questions about the regular starting eleven. Stöger is happy with the quality in his squad and also seems happy to move pieces around to suit his needs.
Jedi Jonas in the middle?
Against Mainz, our beloved national-team player was half of the double-pivot in a 4-4-2 with captain Matthias Lehmann. Because Hector is still relatively new to the defensive midfield, at least in Bundesliga play, it would make sense if he got as much competitive time there as possible.
Or, because he got more high-level competition over the summer than anyone else in the team, perhaps he gets rested. Who knows?
Modeste and . . . who?
Yuya Osako? Artjoms Rudnevs? Simon Zoller? Bard Finne?
Just kidding on that last one, of course.
Saturday could provide an audition opportunity for a running partner for Big Mo’. There’s no question who the primary target man will be in attack for the FC this year, but the other half of any tandem strike force is somewhat up in the air. Osako and Zoller have yet to show they help make Modeste all the more dangerous with their presence up top, which leaves a big chance for new man Rudnevs to state his case.
Even so, we know Stöger seems to quite like Osako and also knows Zoller still has time to develop into that complementary weapon.
Until someone makes it clear the job is theirs, expect it to be a by-committee approach, with Rudnevs likely getting the first look Saturday.