FEATURE | 1. FC Köln’s experience conundrum – their defensive instability

1. FC Köln’s start to this season has been nothing short of horrible. They showed some signs of incompetence as a club when they let Anthony Modeste go this summer, bringing in Jhon Cordoba for €17 million, but it seems like their attacking problems aren’t even covered in Köln media, it’s all about their abysmal defensive start to this season.

It’s an odd one, to be fair. Effzeh’s coach Peter Stöger is considered to be one of the most experienced coaches regarding defence, but it seems like things have gone fatally wrong during the first month of this new season. Why is that and how can it be solved?

There’s no leader

As the title of this paragraph states, there is no obvious leader at Cologne. There’s no defender that has the power to command all the others a’la Kevin Vogt, a’la David Abraham, a’la Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Instead there are a few ominous players in defence with pretty different ideas of how to actually defend attacks and counter-attacks. Against HSV, a game they lost 3-1 at home, two of Hamburg’s goals came from counter-attacks. As a coach on amateur level, I can only assume that this is down to a lack of work rate from the defensive midfielders more than a defensive failure at the back line. However, to be able to defend against these, you need to actually have a back line, something that Köln simply does not have.

Their four defenders are basically truly loyal to the chaos theory and seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once, a feat to be impressed by if we’re being totally fair. FC’s back line is an example of the old Shakespearean: ”To be or not to be, that is the question.” Right now, Köln’s defence is and isn’t everywhere and nowhere at once.

To counter this chaotic structure you need a proper leader in defence, someone who can grab the other defenders by their necks and tell them exactly where to be and where to stand – mostly due to the fact that they seem incapable of doing that themselves. It might be down to a lack of instructions from the coach or it might be the product of not having enough cover anywhere, but they need to find their correct places on the field and they need to do that now. The best way to do that is to either employ a leader or to give that role to the most experienced one of the lot. In this case that seems to be Dominique Heintz. And that can’t be, can it?

Mavraj-shaped hole

When they sold Mavraj to HSV, not too many raised an eyebrow. In last season’s Köln, he was but an integral part of a defence that seemed useless at times, due to their amazing attacking ability. They just outscored their opponents at times. But this season, when the sea has calmed itself down after the Modeste-storm, we can all see the Mavraj-shaped hole in defence at Köln.

Jorge Mere was a great signing and while he has the potential to become great, he is not the leader Köln needs and how can he be, he’s only 20-years-old, that should not be his responsibility. Another plausible reason for the chaos at Köln so far is Jonas Hector’s injury. His importance to their defence should not be underestimated and it’s become obvious now they’ve collapsed without him as a part of their defence.

It’s obvious that Köln’s attack really isn’t the same anymore, anyone could see that and anyone would agree with the simple thesis that a missing Modeste is the main reason. But, as was said earlier, it seems like their great attack last season might have overshadowed some obvious cracks in defence.

After seven games Köln sit bottom of the table and this is and has been their worst start to a Bundesliga season ever. They shouldn’t consider firing Stöger, a defensive (and attacking) solution is truly long overdue. While one might argue that the inclusion of a fit Hector will solve lots of their problems, only time will tell.

By Axel Falk.


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