The HappyBet Cup took place at Alemannia Aachen’s Tivoli Arena over the weekend, with our 1. FC Köln among the four participants. The tournament format was such that the FC faced La Liga side Malaga CF in 45-minute “semifinal” match to determine whether they’d continue to the “championship” or the “third-place match” later in the day.
As it turned out, Malaga got the better of Köln, advancing to the final on the strength of a single goal.
And without wanting to get bogged down into over-analyzing the entire 45 minutes of that half-match, let’s at least take a look at how the Spaniards managed to defeat the FC.
The Turning Point
It was the dying moments of the match’s 18th minute in which our chain of events began.
As continues to be the rule, coach Peter Stöger deployed his squad with a three-man defensive chain at the back. Mergim Mavraj patrolled the left side, Frederik Sørensen the right, and ol’ reliable Dominik Maroh the anchor between the two. Support on the flanks came in the form of Konstantin Rausch (left) and Marcel Risse (right). Whenever Malaga was in possession in their offensive third, which was admittedly most of the 45 minutes, you could see all five in alignment, with Marco Höger centering Milos Jojic and Yuya Osako in an added protective layer.
In the lead-up to the goal, though, Rausch’s abandonment of the back line to cover wide helped free some space for Malaga to attack. In fairness, when you have a guy waving his arms for the ball and another teammate gesturing for the ball to be sent that way, it would be tempting to get a head start on closing down the space between the defense and the guy assumed to next be in possession.
Bakary Koné opts for a less-ambitious play, however, which allows for the guy inside the center circle to peruse his options from a (slightly) more-central point-of-view.
Sure, the man out on the flank has loads of room out there, even with Rausch now moving to close it down, but the teammate standing a few steps behind the midpoint between Höger and Osako would have a very dangerous collection of options available to him, were he to have the ball there.
We’re immediately reminded of a phrase oft heard from footballers: “hold our shape.” The arrival of this pass into the middle helps illustrate the importance of that concept, because now Rausch is completely neutralized for having shaded toward the man out on the flank who can just sit and watch. Mavraj is now left with needing to decide whether he’s going to run with Keko Gotán or worry about the as-yet-unnamed (Malaga rosters aren’t 100% complete just yet, apparently) man with the ball and all the options. You can see that Sørensen and Maroh are shifting to support. You can’t see that Risse is also moving in that direction.
You might wonder why Höger was not playing a little bit deeper with a man settling nicely into a wide patch of space behind him. I know I sure do.
Mavraj decides to hold his ground a bit, maybe holding until last possible moment to commit. Gotán bolts and #10 opts to send the ball through for him. Flat-footed and facing the wrong direction, Mavraj is left with little option but to attempt to intercept the pass.
A huge issue here is that committing to this one idea and then doubling-down by going to ground takes yet another player out of the defensive equation should the play continue . . . which it does. The gamble doesn’t cash-out & now both Rausch and Mavraj have abandoned the action.
Okay, so now Mavraj is out of the play, but Maroh’s efforts have put him in a fair position to defend the continued play. Sørensen & Risse also are in reasonable position to help support against whatever develops from this opportunity.
Of course, #11 there (Pablo Fornals) has the freedom to enter the scene without a marker & utterly complicate everything if nobody effzeh is able to stop the ball.
Gotán beats Maroh to the ball, but only just. Sørensen is hanging tight with Sandro Ramirez. Risse isnt’ really all over Juankar, but he’s in fine position to react to whatever. All in all, the defense that remains has reacted about as well as could be hoped with 40% of the back row taking itself out of position.
Now, where was that #11 fella?
Ah . . . damn . . . he’s arrived.
Despite Maroh’s heroic effort, Gotán was able to get the cross over the defender and in front of the goal-mouth. He decided to forgo Ramirez, however, opting for #7, who managed a shot, only to have it blocked by our own #7. So now it comes down to where the deflection falls.
Höger, as you see, enters the picture in pursuit of the crossed ball, rather than moving toward Fornals. He was too far behind the passer to hinder the ball to Gotán. At that point, he briefly decreased his pace and curled toward the center of the area, but doesn’t seem to think to deal with Fornals directly with the entire back row entirely otherwise occupied. No telling whether he could have moved differently to positive effect at any point here, but one theme of this conceded goal is that Höger was always a few steps behind where he could have been useful.
After Sørensen has escorted his man out of play, he shifts to assist Timo by taking up some space in goal.
My favorite part of this part of the play was just how quickly Risse recovered from his sliding block to try to get back at Fornals. However tired he may have been from playing against Bielefeld the day prior, Marcel Risse is ready for the challenge.
Fornals now has to decide his route to goal. The three teammates who led the charge are now no longer of use, leaving the deciding factor at his feet. He could probably shoot past Sørensen, but that’ll take some skill on a volley, which is all he’ll have time for with Timo rushing into his face. Hence, Fornals needs to find a way through or around the keeper.
What follows was nothing short of a fine display of skill and control.
Sørensen continues to move to his right, which turns out to be the right move because Fornals successfully slaps the ball to the turf under Horn and then circumnavigates the keeper to get into a finishing position. Big Frederik is putting himself in a pretty good spot to be a stopper.
Except . . .
As a lifelong hockey fan . . . “HE ROOFED IT!”
I was half-expecting to see a water bottle go flying into the air off the top of the cage, but that’s not where football keepers keep their water.
The last two stills don’t do the play justice, of course. So now that you’ve made it to the bottom, you may as well see the whole thing run through.
A few notes . . .
- It’s always fun to see how much happens in such a small window of time to provide a bit moment.
- My six-year-old son didn’t care for the goal and got mad when I told him it was a fine bit of work. “Do YOU like it when a team scores against the billy goats?” No, son, I don’t, but I can appreciate some good skill when I see it, even when employed against our team.
- I know it seems like I’m taking Höger to task here, and I suppose I am at least a little bit. That said, I thought a LOT of his play on the day was fairly solid. There were a few times I thought he could be defending deeper with Malaga in possession, but his overall play was a plus.
- Sørensen did fine here, but he had several questionable moments. Gotta keep an eye on him. At one point, Maroh had deploy a late tackle to stop a counter chance. That’s not the strong point of our defense.
- I have to say I was pretty impressed with Malaga CF overall. I realize there were probably some tired legs from consecutive match days, but the Spanish side operated on a very high level & had very few issues with our guys. They’re good.
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