After a two-year absence from the Bundesliga, 1.FC Köln, aka the Billy Goats, are back in the Bundesliga and ready to resume getting steamrolled by Bayern Munich. At least, that's what we hope will be happening. However, given the Billy Goats record so far this season that may prove to be a daunting task for Bayern Munich come Saturday.
To re-introduce us to Köln and answer all (and we literally mean answer all) the questions you've ever wanted to ask about FC Köln is Randall Hauk of Bundesliga Fanatic, noted FC Köln fan.
1) Köln conceded their only goal of the season in their 1-0 loss to Hannover on Wednesday. Is this a defense capable of shutting down a potent Bayern Munich attack?
Randall Hauk: I'm choosing to answer this in as pragmatic a manner as possible, which I know is supremely boring, but it will hopefully keep me from sounding like an utter dope.
Hopefully . . .
Of COURSE the defense is capable of blanking Bayern, especially if Pep rolls with a favorable starting eleven (i.e. more prospects, fewer footballing deities).
Wait, Pep, if you are reading this . . . Mitchell Weiser would probably score a hat trick if you use him, so please, please, please, do not use Weiser. I beg for mercy on behalf of Köln fans everywhere!
Now, back to the matter at hand . . .
Peter Stöger's defense has been putting on clinics with their organization on the back end so far this season, which is an extension of last year's record-setting defense. The development of Jonas Hector and Kevin Wimmer has been remarkable. Without having seen Dominic Maroh in his prior Bundesliga life, I can say confidently that he is playing the best football of his career. And the captain, Miso Brecko . . . well, sometimes he scares the hell out of me. A few of the more-dangerous chances surrendered thus far (and there have been very few) have come as a result of Brecko getting flat-out beat. Behind those four, you have Germany's U21 Timo Horn who looks more and more comfortable in his top-flight surroundings as the weeks pass.
And I save the double pivot for last. Kevin Vogt has been solid, Adam Matuschyk was fine in the season opener, but Matthias "Matzelinho" Lehmann has been the glue in the defensive half, which is remarkable considering his early days in Köln were . . . underwhelming? I actually remarked on my own site after Sunday's derby with Mönchengladbach on how big a swing in esteem Matze has had. He went from a guy who never touched the ball to a guy making important tackles while serving as a model of smart positioning. His experience is a huge value to the team effort, and his leadership is clearly paying dividends.
I've been wondering how the well-organized defense will look against the supreme execution of a high-possession offense the way Bayern does it. I'll not be wondering much longer, but I don't believe it'll be a case of a promoted side finally being exposed as somewhat fraudulent. Expect your boys to have to work for it a little bit. If the effort isn't there, it makes the gap in class a lot less daunting, even when it can still carry results.
2) Through 5 matchdays, Köln have earned three scoreless draws while also taking the fewest shots in the Bundesliga. Is there a problem on offense?
RH: It would appear that there is.
I think there was a tactical element to the lack of offense, at least initially, but it's clear there is more to the lack of scoring than just exchanging some offensive thrust for the defensive security.
Anthony Ujah has carried a lot of the scoring load since being loaned from Mainz two summers ago, but he's also sometimes shown shortcomings at the critical moment, to where you have to wonder how amazing his numbers would be if he showed just a little better touch. when the time comes.
The options in the single-striker formation are somewhat limited. Patrick Helmes, who would be the one proven Bundesliga-level scoring threat, is once again out with an injury. Simon Zoller has yet to convince Stöger he's going to produce in the Bundesliga the way he did last year for Kaiserslautern. Meanwhile, Yuya Osako still seems to be getting a feel for the team and league, while playing more a midfield role than the central forward spot from which he made his name last season.
It's the flanks from which come our greatest hope, though. Daniel Halfar has continued to look solid on the left side. Marcel Risse has not always showed that top-level form he frequently displayed last season after returning to his hometown from Mainz. but I've seen it in limited moments, I hope and assume the moments are limited due to his maybe needing to track back to help Brecko on the back end, which means they'll eventually become more frequent . . .
Again, hopefully . . .
You could easily point out that even the two goals to our credit came against one of the worst sides in the league and that both assists could be given to Stuttgarters. THAT is how think it has been. Far too much of the counterstrike plan has led to inaccurate long balls forward, some of which don't even get to roll to the keeper or past the goal line because Ujah has frequently been offside.
It's going to take someone showing more individual effort and ability than they've shown so far to end the dry spell. I'm not sure where that will begin, to be honest.
3) Timo Horn has been earning some early season plaudits for his goalkeeping. Is he the next big Bundesliga goalkeeper?
RH: I want to say that there are certainly plenty of reasons to believe he is at least a candidate. He's played mostly very well since being given the full-time job at Köln after the relegation, despite Michael Rensing apparently having been prepared to stick around for 2. Bundesliga. That he just had a pair of clean sheets for Germany's U21 side would also tend to support the possibility.
Yet, it always should be kept in mind that he remains a very young player and that his experience at this higher level of competition is much more limited than that of either Bernd Leno or Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He's going to have to walk through more fire than he has thus far before we can legitimately even really discuss him as a peer with those two names, which I think are the first to come to mind when thinking "After Neuer, who?"
Now, I'm not sure some of those people lobbing "plaudits" Horn's way are doing much more than looking at the streak of Bundesliga clean sheets and figuring he's backstopping a promoted side incredibly well, because the story of all those zeroes thus far has truly been the team effort in front of him. Horn has had to make some saves, without question, but we've yet to see Horn be truly tested the way some of his counterparts have in the early going. There's a good chance that Bayern's collection of talent give Horn a chance to shine
Though, regardless of how the match this weekend plays out, it has to be said that most of us Köln fans believe Horn IS a top talent and are very hopeful of seeing young Timo extend his contract before Christmas . . . and before everyone can plainly see just how valuable he is.
Bonus) The city of Cologne invented the kölsch. Compare and contrast this style of beer with the Oktoberfest style. Bonus points will be awarded for how mean you are.
RH: Here in the pacific northwestern area of the United States, brewers have only recently begun to try their hands at a beer featuring the stylings of Köln's signature beverage. It's treated as a seasonal item for the most part, it's light and drinkable nature being, for some reason, considered primarily as a summer drink.
But in Köln, where Kölsch is Köln and vice-versa, that would be laughable approach to such a delightful beer. Seasonality does not apply to deliciousness.
Conversely, the four-point-five weeks of Oktoberfest's seasonality is even a bit too long. The irony of the style having stemmed from Märzen just being leftover from summer storage all the way to October is not lost on anyone drinking it. It tastes like someone set it aside and forgot about it for good reason. It's the bottle that's been in the bottom of the fridge for a while, as you hope that one of your guests at some gathering or another will be curious enough to put it out of its misery.
It helps if said guest is a drunken tourist, at which point you can hold a vomit-smelling festival to celebrate the riddance of unwanted beer and call it "culture."
Plus, then you get to keep the Kölsch to yourself and share it only with the people you love, who all start with, "Kölsch? What's that?" to "This is great! Plus, I love an umlaut!"
The simple math is that Kölsch is twelve times better than the one-month dirty dishwater-looking Oktoberfest, but anyone who's had both knows the number scales much higher than that.
If you want to read more from Randall (and who wouldn't! I mean look at how thoroughly exhaustive his analysis is) you can find his work featured on Bundesliga Fanatic as well as his personal Köln blog, American Geissbock. You can find him on Twitter.