Just a shade over a month after the final whistle in Ingolstadt marked the end of what was ultimately a disappointing 2012-13 campaign for 1. FC Köln, the first competition of the summer in preparation for the coming season arrived in the form of a 0:6 friendly-match victory over Sportfreunde Troisdorf of the Mittelrheinliga.
Despite it being the first time taking the field for competition under the direction of new coach Peter Stöger, there was virtually zero buzz surrounding the match as it approached.
Granted, it would be difficult to distort a match between a club traditionally in the top league and a club that is a solid mid-table fifth-tier performer to a point where it’s the talk of the town, but even on the club’s official website, the lack of information about the match on game day was stunning. I had long ago learned the folly of hoping to be able to catch a stream of the match, but being unable to find even a kick-off time the morning of the match was a bit daunting.
Yet, it’s also somewhat refreshing. The opposite approach would be like that of the National Football League here in the USA where season-ticket holders have the meaningless pre-season games necessarily attached to their season-ticket packages, meaning the biggest supporters and fans of the team are forced to pay for ten games, even though it’s only the eight regular-season home games anyone actually wants to see.
The proper approach for me, as a fan, would be somewhere in the middle. I’m curious enough to tune in to see how the new players fit into the club, but not enough to where I’d voluntarily pay regular-season prices to attend an exhibition match.
Likewise, I was never going to stomp my feet in frustration at the fact that the website was more interested in the announcement of the season fixtures and the promotion of the availability for purchase of the team’s new jersey.
As I said, somewhere between.
The day after the match, FC-TV posted a seven-minute video of highlights and post-match interviews, which is enough to show they were also somewhat interested in what happened at Aggerstadion.
In addition to seeing whether Stöger had yet managed to replace his purple eyeglasses (matching his former club’s colors) with some some red frames for his sideline debut, I was excited to see newcomers Maxi Thiel, Marcel Risse, and Roman Golobart make their first impressions as members of the Effzeh.
Also of interest, who would show up for the match? Only nine players attended the first training session of the summer on June 10, while Stöger was still officially the coach of FK Austria Wien.
Watching the highlights, it was quickly obvious that Jonas Hector, Roman Golobart, and Bruno Nascimento were all in the match from the start. The fourth man on the back row I didn’t recognize turned out to be Koray Kacinoglu, apparently helping to fill the roster for the day from the “A-Juniors” squad.
I also quickly identified, Mato Jajalo, Maxi Thiel, Sascha Bigalke, Marcel Risse, and Thomas Bröker. Assuming Thomas Kessler was in goal, that left just one person I didn’t see in the entire first half’s worth of highlights, forcing me to take to the internet to figure out just who I was missing.
And it should have been obvious.
Matthias Lehmann, who was serving as team captain for (at least?) the day, seemed to be anywhere but near the ball in the highlights package. One of my primary criticisms of Lehmann last season was that he seemed to never be around the ball and had little impact on the match, despite which coach Holger Stanislawski kept him in the starting eleven for most of the season.
I don’t care to bash players who wear the jersey of 1. FC Köln, nor do I want to second guess the decisions of anyone who knows enough about the game and his personnel to earn employment as a head coach of a football club in a football-mad nation like Germany, so I’m going to just shrug and move past Lehmann’s (one-day?) captaincy and lack of appearance in the video frame and tell myself, “Herr Stöger knows what he’s doing!”
According to the write-up of the match on the club’s site, Stöger had the Billy Goats line-up in a 4-3-3 system, rather than the formation that dominated last season’s efforts: 4-2-3-1.
My neophyte take on this development is that the plan, going forward, will be to play a much more-offensive style. Considering the trouble the Effzeh had scoring goals last season, I’m fully behind the plan, but worry about having the personnel to make it effective.
By all reports, Stöger’s club was not overly laden with top talent last season, either. Yet, Austria Wien won the Austrian Bundesliga with 82 points, having scored 84 goals and allowing only 31 in 36 matches. Comparing that to the 33 allowed in the Stanislawski season and only 43 scored in 34 matches, you’d have to be a pretty cynical sort to not have a glimmer of hope for better offensive production this year.
Of course, Effzeh fans are well-trained to be cynical about their club’s prospects and will quickly point out the team travelled to Troisdorf lacking a striker on a par with Wien’s Philipp Hosiner, who had 27 goals in 30 matches after joining Wien last season.
Sadly, the club left Troisdorf with injuries to two of the more offensive-minded midfielders on the roster.
Adil Chihi never made it to the field, having aggravated his injury suffered against Ingolstadt that caused him to miss much of the Rückrunde.
A collision between the Troisdorf keeper and Sascha Bigalke shortly before halftime resulted in an ACL injury that will keep the mercurial with the notably small stature but pleasantly large personality and playing style in the trainer’s room reportedly for eight months.
Certainly, Stöger hadn’t had too much time to get used to Chihi and Bigalke being in the club, but he is bound to realize the pair were among is more-talented offensive options. Considering the style of play he appears to want to institute in the club, their absence will be significant.
Of course, the transfer window remains open…
ACH! Back to the match!
As you would expect, there was very little “test” to this “test match,” with the talent gap between the two sides showing itself fairly clearly and quickly.
With little pressure being applied, a simple mishandling of a pass by a Troisdorfer put the ball on the foot of Risse. A quick display of speed in counterattack had the ball near the goal line being dribbled and passed through the home side’s defense, eventually squeezing past everyone and into the path of Thiel, who simply tucked the ball into the open net in the game’s third minute.
Odds are Thiel will have to work much harder and wait a bit longer for his first league goal.
Mere moments later, Risse again had the ball and struck at goal with a strong shot from just inside the penalty area, forcing the Troisdorf keeper to deflect it into touch. Bigalke delivered the following corner kick into the area in front of the goal at a height apparently only Golobart was able to reach, as he became the second newcomer to score.
Sidebar: If you’re on Twitter, you should be following the new Effzeh central defender at @PutifarGolobart. He has plenty to say and a great sense of humor. Köln is going to love him.
Troisdorf finally managed to threaten the Effzeh penalty area about half an hour later, with the ball travelling about a foot inside the line before Lehmann (Hey! There he is!) accepted the misdirected pass and sent play in the other direction, with Bröker and Thiel again displaying superior speed as they beat most of the red shirts to the Troisdorf goal area. Bröker softly passed the ball across to Thiel, who carefully struck it into the upper right corner to make it 3:0.
Thiel was in the middle of the fourth goal as well, returning the favor Jajalo offered on Thiel’s first goal by delivering the ball to him in almost a mirror image of the can’t-miss opportunity from the earlier connection between the two.
Despite Thiel being denied a third goal due to an offside call (Jajalo free kick glancing off Thiel’s head for a gorgeous goal by any measure), the young newcomer definitely made a mark in his debut. It will be exciting to see how this translates when the competition is a bit more fierce.
By all appearances, Stöger instructed the team to take the foot off the gas a bit going into the second half, if it could even be said they were playing at full speed in the first.
Under-21 midfielder Mario Engels, who substituted for the injured Bigalke after halftime, played a lovely through ball for Hector, who served it to Bröker for yet another easy finish in the 51st minute. Engels would ditch the middleman eight minutes later and deliver the ball directly to Bröker, who redirected the ball into the net to finish the scoring for the day.
It’s probably only fair to point out that Lehmann nicely lofted the ball over the defense into Engels’ area to trigger the play that led to that final goal. Upon closer inspection, he was not, indeed, completely absent from play.
Again, there’s little to take from the result, but it was good to see the Billy Goats, old and new, running around in a match, especially while wearing the cool new, old-school uniforms. It felt like a kick-off to the season, which is only four weeks away at this point.
The next test match takes the Effzeh to Preußen Münster, where they will face a much-more capable side than what Troisdorf had on offer. Münster was in the race for a promotion playoff spot until the final day of 3. Liga play last season, so they are likely among the better third-league sides.
Further, of personal interest to me, the top scorer for Münster last season was an American. Matthew Taylor’s 16 goals had him tied for fourth among third-league scorers. Though I’m not much of a flag-waving, “USA!”-shouting type of guy, I always take an added interest in fellow countrymen making their living in the German leagues.
Of course, I’ll have to wait until Friday night, at the earliest, to see whether he even got dressed for the match.
See you then!