The 1. FC Köln lost its Betfair Cup opener to RCD Espanyol 2:0, but the final result won’t ultimately put too much a damper on what was a fairly positive test for the effzeh, as Peter Stöger gave fans a reason to believe there may be an expansion of offensive philosophy for the 2015-16 Bundesliga season.
Among the biggest issues last season when it came to creating offense was the inability of the midfield to help transition the ball from the stout and well-organized defense to the offensive third of the field.
On Wednesday evening in Kufstein, Austria, the midfield was unquestionably the star of the show as Köln dominated possession and converted it into several quality chances.
Miloš Jojić stood out in a sparkling debut, delivering a perfectly weighted ball to an on-the-run Anthony Modeste for one of the bigger unconverted chances. The newcomer from Dortmund was also solid in defensive play, often turning Espanyol away before the were able to penetrate too deeply into Köln’s half of the field.
But the real star of the midfield performance may have been the absence of a double-pivot in the middle. Kevin Vogt didn’t quite go “box to box,” but he was pretty close to it as the lone sixer behind a trio of Simon Zoller, Jojić, and Marcel Risse for which RCD had little answer beyond “hope for the strikers to fail.”
Unconverted Chances Galore
It’s easy enough to dismiss the loss with, “eh . . . it was just a test,” but that shouldn’t let anyone off the hook for failing to take advantage of a strong first half overall performance. It’s cliche to say that when one side dominates the ball so much but fails to score that it’s bound to comeback to haunt them, but the reason for the cliche’s existence is due to it happening so frequently.
You can’t help but wonder what the outcome of the match might have been had Anthony Modeste connected on any of his three huge chances, rather than fail to even force the RCD keeper into a save. In addition to getting free on the delightful leading pass from Jojic, Modeste just missed connecting through a strong cross from Jonas Hector and then went high when Zoller found him alone at the penalty arc. Stöger has too many strikers at his disposal to rely on one who’s not finishing, unlike last season when our friend Anthony Ujah went cold.
A Threat From Set Pieces?
This is based on just one moment from one test match, but it would be a huge development if it plays out.
That the effzeh was collectively poor on set pieces last year hardly needs repeating. It got to a point where it was hard to muster much enthusiasm for a free kick from even the most-dangerous position, as everyone had come to realize how little chance there was of it resulting in a goal.
It was, again, Jojić raising eyebrows with a perfectly arced free-kick delivery, which dropped to an onside and unmarked Vogt. Though Robovogt’s effort was turned away by Espanyol keeper Pau Lopez, the chance might have looked better than any single free kick from all of last season.
And after the mass substitutions just past the hour mark, the old set-piece inefficiency showed itself again when Mišo Brečko chipped a free kick from inside the penalty arc and cleared the crossbar by a good few feet.
But, again, this was just a test.
Man of the Match
As unconventional as it is, I’m giving it to Peter Stöger. While the fate of the club this season rests largely with the men on the field, what the coach showed today is that he’s a versatile thinker who’s quick to adapt to his new array of weapons, rather than attempting to stubbornly force players into a system that yielded results for him last year.
Granted, once the results begin counting for points in the table, we may see a more-conservative approach. For now, we should be celebrating the flash of attacking football that did not play a role in compiling the new Bundesliga record for scoreless draws in a season.
But once they do start counting, coach, no more MotM awards for you, okay?
SC Cambuur of the Dutch Eredivisie will meet 1. FC Köln in Kitzbühel Friday for an 18:00 CET kickoff in the last Betfair Cup action for both clubs.
Cambuur fell 2:1 to Turkish side Kasimpasa Tuesday in the opening match of the competition. You can see match goals and (Dutch) reaction in the video below).