The 2018/19 season was surprisingly turbulent even considering that Köln were champions of the 2. Bundesliga ahead of Paderborn and Union Berlin. Whilst results on the pitch where times brilliant but inconsistent, the deterioration in the relationship between trainer Markus Anfang and sporting director Armin Veh led to the former being shown the door. It wasn’t only in offices, fans showed their dismay to the once tactically brilliant Anfang who was seen as one dimensional and failed to connect with the identity of the club.
This scout report and tactical analysis takes a look at the season ahead, who comes into to bolster up the squad and what part they can play. Who is the new manager at the helm, can he fit the expectations put upon him in Köln’s return to the Bundesliga. This season preview will also have a small section of tactical analysis highlighting some of the ideas implemented by the new manager during pre-season.
Achim Beierlorzer (The man and his style)
New trainer Achim Beierlorzer comes fresh from two excellent seasons with plucky Bavarian side Jahn Regensburg. Prior to this, he managed the Greuther Fürth U17’s and was apart of the set-up at RB Leipzig where he was caretaker coach amongst other roles. Including being an assistant under Ralf Rangnick in RB Leipzig’s promotion season to the Bundesliga.
Beierlorzer’s Jahn Regensburg side were very good offensively and he can be credited to the rise of players like Sargis Adamyan and Hamadi Al Ghaddioui. Both departing for Hoffenheim and Stuttgart respectively. His sides played two ways going forward, long to Marco Grüttner or the building the play up from the back and utilising the wide spaces. Without the ball, the full backs pressed close to halfway and when the opposition attacking winger gain possession. Here is some analysis on how some of these features have translated with this seasons Köln side.
Over the past two seasons with Jahn Regensburg, Beierlorzer’s side had 50% of possession in the 2017/18 campaign and 47% of the ball last season. Whilst the decrease was marginal we can see what Jahn look to do when building from the back. The above image shows A retreat back towards the goalkeeper and with Jahn spread to the width of the pitch, there are a variety of options André Weis can use. For example, he can play the ball back to where it came from, or if they want to remain nearside draw the full back closer to make an easy pass (As arrowed in red). Conversely, Weis can go to his right and stretch the Sandhausen defence.
By going to the centre half who is in acres of space, he is able to bring more of his teammates into the game as seen. The right back holds to the touchline whilst Grüttner drops into the space highlighted. By doing so he allows his teammate to press forward. If the pass isn’t on Grüttner can go back to the centre half beyond halfway and restart the build-up. In this scenario, Grüttner is able to play the ball forward from the initial pass and Jahn go forward.
Defensively we see what the shape will look like, more on how it looks with Köln personnel later. Against the champions, we see how Jahn are set up from their attacking third when the ball is lost in this situation and how they unify when transitioning back. We see a diamond in midfield rather than a flat set with one of the midfielders pressing high in support of the strikers.
Further on in the play, the diamond remains the same, as Köln try to play out wide the full back presses forward. Whilst this is susceptible to leaving space in behind the defence, it does allow for an opportunity to outnumber the side in possession. If possession is won then they can attacking in numbers.
Transfers and current squad
At the time of writing our season preview, Köln have 31 players currently in their squad with an average age of 25.4. Showcasing a good mix of talented young players as well as the experienced heads. However, that seems quite excessive heading into the season so perhaps we will see Köln cull in terms of sales and loans before the end of the transfer window. Down below is the squad of 31;
Goalkeepers: Timo Horn, Thomas Kessler, Julian Krahl, Brady Scott
Centre Backs: Jorge Meré, Rafael Czichos, Lasse Sobiech, Frederik Sörensen
Full Backs: Jonas Hector, Jannes Horn, Kingsley Ehizibue, Benno Schmitz, Matthias Bader, Noah Katterbach
Central Midfielders: Ellyes Skhiri, Birger Verstraete, Marco Höger, Salih Özcan, Vincent Koziello, Niklas Hauptmann, Nikolas Nartey
Attacking Midfielders: Louis Schaub, Dominick Drexler
Wingers: Kingsley Schindler, Florian Kainz, Christian Clemens, Marcel Risse, Darjo Churlinov
Strikers: Anthony Modeste, Jhon Córdoba, Simon Terodde
Köln have been active throughout the transfer window and have identified that in central midfield, they need to be a whole lot stronger. The two pricier signings for Köln come in the form of Tunisian international Ellyes Skhiri (£5.4m) from Ligue 1 side and Gent’s Birger Vestraete (£3.6m). Kingsley Ehizibue of PEC Zwolle is a good chance to start at right back and at a price of £1.8m, he is a solid bargain buy. Julian Krahl comes from RB Leipzig and Kinglsey Schindler joins from Holstein Kiel, both coming on free deals.
Only a few names have left the club during the summer window, namely Serhou Guirassy whose disappointing spell in Köln came to an end. He joins Ligue 1 side SC Amiens for £5.4m whilst 21-year old left back Tim Handwerker joins 2. Bundesliga side Nürnberg for £270k. Handwerker was sent on loan to Groningen last season in the Eredivisie but with Beierlorzer opting for Jonas Hector and Jannes Horn, the Bergisch Gladbach native was very much on the outer. Goalkeeper Jan-Christoph Bartels was sent on loan for a season with Wehen Wiesbaden, the hopes of having Brady Scott and Krahl dividing the minutes up with the Köln II side. Johannes Geis was released after a solid six months in Köln whilst Matthias Lehmann called time on his career.
At his time with Jahn Regensburg, Beierlorzer has been a preacher of the 4-4-2 system. Two defensive midfielders in the pivot with one more in a roaming role and two strikers compared to others opting for one. In two of the pre-season outings against Bologna and Villarreal, we have seen this system in use. Let’s have a look to see if there any patterns in terms of personal and how Beierlorzer might utilise certain players.
In the match-up with Bologna which Köln where winners 3-1 with goals from Churlinov and a brace from Kainz. The interest comes in midfield where Drexler who is best suited to a number 10 role is playing in central midfield and can be assumed that he will press forward to create a diamond. Up top, Anthony Modeste and Jhon Córdoba led the line before being substituted after 62 minutes.
The second pre-season friendly starting 11 is quite different with only four players remaining from the win over Bologna. Simon Terodde scored the only goal in the 1-3 defeat over Villarreal as he was partnered with attacking midfielder Louis Schaub. Schaub is very impressive, but the change of system doesn’t aid him one bit. It looks likely that Beierlorzer will play in a free-roaming role up top. Vincent Koziello and Marco Höger played in the defensive pivot this time around, Koziello is one of the more impressive players in the squad but injuries have curtailed his career so far.
It would seem that Beierlorzer is set on five players in the starting 11 with Timo Horn to start between the sticks. In defence, full backs Jonas Hector and Ehizibue as well Rafael Czichos. Beierlorzer seems at odds at the other centre half spot with Sobiech or Mére the two options. Dominick Drexler has guaranteed his spot but where he will be utilised is interesting, most likely in a central role but we could see him play out wider against certain opponents. The rest are all up for grabs and it will be interesting to see what the lineup looks like in Wolfsburg.
With the 4-4-2 in operation, many managers have a different take on the formation when on the ball and without. As Köln are a side looking to avoid the drop, whilst also having the potential to make some headway in their Bundesliga return. What will be interesting is their tactics and shape without possession and what they try to do to win it back. From the footage of their two preseason outings, we see the shape in place in the midfield third.
As we see, Bologna has possession towards the far touchline. Köln are already looking to pin Bologna in tight and continue to force them backwards. The idea being to trap Bologna tight to the touchline and either force an errant pass or a boot down the line with the result leading to possession for Köln. Schindler is closest to the ball carrier and Drexler is close by. Interesting to see that Beierlorzer is looking to exploit Drexler’s excellent pressing abilities and has him closer to the ball rather than tucking in alongside Vestraete. We will see in a later image what the shape looks like.
The ball is played to the right and Drexler is immediately involved, forcing the Bologna player to turn and look for an outlet away from going forward. Modeste comes across towards the touchline where a possible out option is available. Vestraete pushes up to halfway as does the full back Ehizibue, nullifying an option back down the line.
In a separate situation, we get a better eye for the shape, especially in midfield. Drexler is allowed to free roam alongside the wide midfielders whilst Vestraete holds down the fort. Modeste and Cordoba remain tight up top and move across to where the ball is. Whatever wing the ball is on, expect the full backs to press up and lend support to the wingers.
Final third conundrum
Beierlorzer has the ultimate dilemma heading into the Bundesliga, who will be the pairing up top come matchday one against Wolfsburg? Terodde is arguably the greatest 2. Bundesliga striker we’ve seen and his 29 goals at a goal every 84 minutes was by far the best in the league. However, Terodde has failed to translate his dominance to the Bundesliga and as a result, it mightn’t be in the best interest to have die 2. Bundesliga fussballgot start.
Modeste had his best-ever season with Köln back in the 2016/17 season. His 25 goals were not only his best ever tally but helped secure Köln its return to European football in 25 years. Over the past two seasons, Modeste played in the Chinese Super League on big money at the renamed Tianjin Tianhai where he managed 16 goals in 29 appearances. Modeste walked out on the club in order to return to Köln for the rückrunde. Only 10 appearances for Modeste as he had to await clearance to play, yet managed six goals in that time scoring every 61 minutes.
The last striker in the 31-man squad is Córdoba. Two seasons ago Córdoba joined from Mainz for a fee of £15.30m which was well and truly over his value. After two seasons with Mainz which only resulted in 10 goals, the expectation was high as Córdoba was heralded at Modeste’s replacement. His first season at Köln was a disaster, not only were they relegated but Córdoba failed to score a single goal. What would be considered a bust in many eyes, Córdoba could either remain with Köln in the 2. Bundesliga or leave with a dented reputation. The Columbian remained and it worked out in spades, 20 goals in 31 appearances as he played an unsung role in their promotion.
As shown in the team sheets from two of Köln’s pre-season outings with Bologna and Villareal, it’s evident that Beierlorzer will have a true number nine and a complementary striker. Cördoba proved to be an excellent complement to Terrode and Modeste but was able to hit the scoresheet. The expectation is after his suspension; Córdoba gets implemented into the starting 11. We saw Modeste and Terodde start together on a couple of occasions, but this didn’t work out so don’t be surprised when they aren’t starting together.
The likelihood will be that Modeste will start in Wolfsburg. His proven goal scoring record at Bundesliga compared to Terodde’s at first tier level gives him the edge over the 2. Bundesliga cult hero.
Out of the three promoted sides from 2. Bundesliga, Köln is certainly the more appealing of those sides to remain in the Bundesliga. Köln have made good strides in the summer to fill in the weaknesses from last season in a positional sense, but finding the right balance in team selection will be pivotal. There opening five matches of the season are particularly tricky with the likes of Borussia Dortmund at home on matchday two and Bayern Munich away on matchday five. If Köln can manage the tough early-season schedule, it’s a fair bet that Köln will avoid the yo-yo effect of relegation after promotion.
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