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FEATURE | Promoted clubs begin to find their feet

For the first time since the 2012/13 season, there are three promoted clubs competing in the Bundesliga. As a result, there seems to be extra focus on the performance of the new boys this season. 2. Bundesliga winners 1. FC Köln join SC Paderborn 07 and 1. FC Union Berlin in the top flight, three clubs with very different histories.

With three matchdays been and gone and the first international break providing some respite for the squads, it seems appropriate to assess the performance of these respective clubs thus far.

1. FC Köln

Out of the three clubs, most will have been expected of Köln, who returned to the Bundesliga at the first attempt as champions after relegation in 2018.

The Billy Goats managed to secure the title in unconvincing fashion, with coach Markus Anfang sacked after Matchday 31. They lifted the 2. Liga Meisterschale after a 5-3 home defeat to Jahn Regensburg in the final game.  Köln entered the 2019/20 campaign with the man who masterminded this victory, as Achim Beierlorzer was appointed as head coach after helping Jahn punch above their weight for two seasons.

In spite of last year’s difficulties, Köln still boast a squad with substantial pedigree. Stalwarts such as Jonas Hector are complimented by the impressive attack of Anthony Modeste, Jhon Cordoba and Simon Terodde.

They faced a strong test in their first fixture, travelling to VfL Wolfsburg. Köln were up against it to get a result away to a team who finished in the European spots last season and so it proved. The promoted side were behind after only 16 minutes, as Maximillian Arnold scored a stunning left foot volley from 25 yards.

Despite pressure from Köln, the side would be frustrated in their attempts to score an equaliser, lacking in penetration.  Eventually Wout Weghorst added to the Wolfsburg lead on the hour-mark. Substitute Simon Terodde eventually scored a consolation during injury time, however it was too late and only served to add more respectability to the result. Terodde’s goal will be seen as a big positive on an individual level, though. In spite of his excellent second tier record, doubts remain of his ability as a Bundesliga striker, so netting on the first matchday will boost his confidence.

Köln’s tough start continued with the visit of Borussia Dortmund on the following Friday. In a match with little to lose, the team gave a very decent account of themselves despite a 3-1 defeat. They in fact took the lead on 29 minutes as Dominick Drexler took advantage of some poor Dortmund marking to score a back-post header. Whilst in the lead, Köln were happy to allow Borussia Dortmund possession and remained a threat on the counter attack.

It took changes made by Lucien Favre to eventually turn the tide of the game in Dortmund’s favour. Achraf Hakimi and Julian Brandt had great impact on the match when coming on, and Sancho equalised on 70. Hakimi put die Schwarzgelben in the lead late on, and a third was added on the break by Alcacer in stoppage time.  The 3-1 scoreline was misleading as the match was anything but comfortable for the title challengers. Köln could take heart from this performance, and signs were positive despite two opening defeats.

The zero points amounted so far did put pressure on Köln in their third match, it must be said. After Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund, SC Freiburg represented a less daunting opponent. With maximum points from the first two matches though, a result could not be taken for granted at the Schwarzwald Stadion.

Worries took hold when Köln went behind after 40 minutes, as defender Czichos sliced Christian Günter’s cross into his own net. This was only moments after thinking they had gone ahead through Kingsley Schindler’s disallowed goal. However, Köln were not behind for long, as Anthony Modeste scored his first league goal of the season shortly after half-time. Thereafter, it seemed that both sides were content with the point and the game was playing out to a draw. This was until a moment of individual brilliance in the last minute from new signing Ellyes Skhiri, who embarked on a solo dribble and scored the winner for FC.

With Freiburg’s start to the season, this was a particularly impressive away victory for Köln. It should diminish any concerns that took hold after the two opening defeats. Little will have been expected of the promoted side against two top six sides from last season, but it was vital to gain a positive result against a side of similar ability in Freiburg, which they managed.

The international break may have come at the wrong time for Köln, who would preferably wish to carry forward their positive momentum. Despite this, the club will still remain buoyant in preparation for their Matchday 4 derby at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach. A positive result against these bitter rivals will give the side further confidence that this season can be a successful one in their Bundesliga return.

SC Paderborn 07

Paderborn were the greatest surprise package of 2. Bundesliga last year, as they earned successive promotions with a runners-up spot behind Köln. They earned plaudits for their attacking style of football, arguably being the most attractive side in the second division last year. Coach Steffen Baumgart seems intent on continuing this approach in the Bundesliga, which will make their side an entertaining watch over the season.

There are concerns with the Paderborn backline, however. Their leaky defence conceded 50 goals during the promotion campaign, and Baumgart’s attacking strategy may often leave them exposed against the higher quality sides in the top division.

Paderborn’s opening game seemed to fall in line with expectations in an exciting match away to Bayer Leverkusen. Against a Champions League side, Paderborn attracted praise for sticking to their principles and going forward to score whenever possible. Thanks to this approach, the new boys managed to hit back quickly after going behind twice in the first half. Sven Michel answered Leon Bailey’s 10th minute goal, scoring Paderborn’s first goal of the season only five minutes later. Kai Havertz gave Leverkusen the lead after 19 minutes, and similarly Streli Mamba equalised after 25.

Eventually, Kevin Volland’s second half goal meant defeat for Paderborn, but there were plenty of positives to take for the promoted side. They showed their ability to score against a top side, and the resilience to fight back after going behind. Three goals were conceded, but this was no disgrace given the wealth of attacking options available to a side like Bayer Leverkusen.

If a visit to the BayArena was a free pass, then Paderborn’s first home match against Freiburg would be one they would look to win. With the Black Forest side likely being fellow relegation candidates, home points against such sides should be a priority.

Things seemed to be going to plan when Streli Mamba gave Paderborn the lead after only three minutes. The home side pressed forward in order to add to this lead but spurned further chances through Mamba and Antwi-Adjej. After failing to capitalise, clumsy Paderborn defending took hold as Strohdiek conceded a penalty after handling the ball. Waldschmidt converted and Freiburg were level. Nils Petersen then managed to score to put Freiburg in front. For all of Paderborn’s pressure and chances in the first half, they went in at the break 2-1 down.

The second half was a less eventful affair, and Freiburg were able to add to their lead in the last minute through substitute Kwon. Although being able to count themselves unlucky, Paderborn will have been extremely disappointed with this home result. It serves as a reminder of the clinical nature of top flight sides, who are able to pounce upon defensive mistakes.

The third match against Wolfsburg looked tough on paper, and like Köln had Paderborn were expected to lose. In spite of this, the side managed to bounce back from two opening defeats to earn a valuable point at the Volkswagen Arena. Wolfsburg had taken maximum points from the first two matchdays, but were unable to make it three wins in a row which Paderborn must be given credit for.

In contrast to the previous matches, Steffen Baumgart set up his side to be more resolute defensively. New signing Cauly Oliveira Souza gave Paderborn the lead early on, which was cancelled out by Josip Brekalo in the second half. Paderborn remained solid for the rest of the match and held onto the point, clearly learning from previous lessons. The defence may have been expected to crumble late on, but this did not materialise.

SC Paderborn will take heart from the recent draw with Wolfsburg, and be given confidence in their ability to grind out results against superior opposition. That home defeat to Freiburg may still concern Baumgart, who will hope to take maximum points in similar fixtures down the line. It will be these matches against fellow relegation candidates that ultimately determine whether Paderborn’s stay in the Bundesliga will be a short one.

They must strike the correct balance between defence and attack, and the Wolfsburg match stands as evidence that Baumgart is closer to working out this formula.

1. FC Union Berlin

Union Berlin received international media attention when they became the first ever side from the former East Berlin to reach the Bundesliga, defeating VfB Stuttgart in the relegation playoff last season.

During the summer, Union added much-needed Bundesliga experience to their squad in the form of Neven Subotic, Christian Gentner and Anthony Ujah to aid them in what promises to be a challenging campaign in uncharted territory.

With all the hype surrounding their first match against fellow East German side RB Leipzig, Union seemed to wilt under the pressure. Leipzig were superior in every department, as the Union performance was littered with mistakes. They lasted only 16 minutes until conceding a goal to full back Marcel Halstenberg. Union were 3-0 at half time with further Leipzig goals from Sabitzer and Werner. New boy Nkunku added a fourth in the second half. 0-4 was the final score, but had the away side taken more chances they could justifiably have won by double.

Looking extremely shaky at the back and with very little attacking threat, there were very few positives to take from the first match for Union Berlin. The only consolation was that RB Leipzig would be one of the toughest opponents they would face this season, and a greater gauge of Union’s ability could be made when they faced a similar side.

It was ideal then that the next fixture for Union would be away to Augsburg. The Bavarian side themselves were coming off the back of a humiliating opening day defeat, losing 5-1 in Dortmund. Furthermore, Union will expect Augsburg to be a direct relegation rival as they have one of the weakest squads in the league on paper.

With all things considered, Union responded well to the Leipzig hammering. Four changes were made to the team, with Neven Subotic brought in to solidify the defence. Die Eisernen eventually did fall behind when Vargas scored for Augsburg, but the heads did not go down. In fact, they were successful in their fight for an equaliser, as Sebastian Andersson scored Union Berlin’s first ever Bundesliga goal after being squared by Sebastian Polter. Kevin Schlotterbeck’s sending off three minutes later made things difficult at the end for the club, but to Union’s credit they held on for a respectable point.

Back at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei on Matchday 3, Union faced a challenge just as daunting as their first home experience in the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund were the visitors, fresh off the back of the aforementioned victory at Köln. Coach Urs Fischer had clearly used that first match against RB Leipzig as a learning experience, as Union had much improved against a side of similar standard. While the Union defence could be described as porous against Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund struggled to break through against a more stubborn defence this time.

Both elation and shock broke out in the atmospheric stadium when Union took the lead after 22 minutes, with Marius Bülter scoring from a well-worked corner routine. This joy was short-lived, however, as Paco Alcacer equalised minutes later.

From then on, it was anticipated that Dortmund would take control of the game. With the sides going in level at half time, a much stronger Borussia Dortmund performance was expected in the second half. However, Urs Fischer stuck to his game plan, and Borussia grew increasingly frustrated. The Berlin side were spurred on by the home crowd, and re-took the lead as Bülter netted again. This time, Union did not allow Dortmund the quick response of an equaliser. Victory was assured with fifteen minutes left, as Swedish striker Andersson scored his second of the season to make it 3-1.

This will go down as a historic result in Union folklore, with their first Bundesliga victory coming against the might of Borussia Dortmund. Furthermore, they should take much confidence from quickly bouncing back after the Leipzig defeat. Against Dortmund, a similar result will have been expected, so to take the three points has proven a point that Union will be no pushovers this season.

After the international break, the club face another home match, this time against Werder Bremen. Another victory will make bigger clubs start to fear a visit to East Berlin, as the raucous atmosphere at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei could make it a fortress and the key to Bundesliga survival.

By Colin Moore.

 

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