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FEATURE | Youngsters the key as FC Köln look reborn under Markus Gisdol

FC Köln defeated Wolfsburg 3-1 at the RheinEnergieSTADION on Saturday to make it four straight Bundesliga wins for the first time since 2000. The hosts weathered an early storm before a Jhon Córdoba brace and Jonas Hector header put the Billy Goats 3-0 up, the three points giving Köln breathing room for the first time this season.

Markus Gisdol had been in hibernation for almost two years before replacing Achim Beierlorzer in November. Beierlorzer had led Köln to two wins in their opening 11 Bundesliga matches and it appeared that a second successive Bundesliga relegation was forthcoming.

Gisdol’s first match in charge was a tough trip to RB Leipzig that resulted in a 4-1 defeat followed by a 1-1 home draw against Augsburg and a 2-0 defeat at Union Berlin. Despite the setbacks, he learned a lot about his team and made subsequent changes that have contributed to the upturn in form.

Köln’s next match was at home against Bayer Leverkusen that threatened to be another disappointment, but Gisdol made some important alterations that contributed to a 2-0 win and a vital confidence boost.

The first significant switch against Leverkusen was moving Jonas Hector into central midfield that allowed Gisdol to start 18-year-old Noah Katterbach at left-back and 20-year-old Ismail Jakobs on the left-wing. 17-year-old Jan Thielmann started on the right-wing against Leverkusen and has started every match since.

Katterbach and Jakobs have enormous room for improvement, and while Thielmann might find it tough to hold onto his starting spot, there is no need to rush with the club recently extending his contract until 2022.

Playing Mark Uth in a key role in his first appearance is a strong sign that Gisdol and the club have clear intentions on how they plan to avoid relegation. Such decisiveness sends a great message to the squad and they are responding on the pitch.

Youth is the future

Köln managing director Horst Heldt recently stated as much after extending Jan Thielmann’s contract: “The talents from our youth academy are our future. We want to bring them step-by-step into the first team and give them the chance to develop and establish themselves there. The good work in our academy was important for), so that he could make this step in an exemplary manner. He is doing very well for his age, both as a person and physically, as well as a good understanding of the game. We trust him to play in the first-team for the long-term.”

Giving young players opportunities at the highest level is essential in every sport and currently paying dividends in Köln. Katterbach, Jakobs and Thielmann have all come through the academy and are securing the future of a club where home grown talents are an important part of their identity.

There is still a long way to go this season but winning four straight games is a significant achievement for the Billy Goats. Gisdol is steering Köln in the right direction, time will tell if they can stay on course once the honeymoon is over and opposing teams adjust their tactics.

FC Köln 3-1 Wolfsburg – Matthew Marshall – RheinEnergieStadion

Wout Weghorst headed Jerome Roussillon’s cross over the bar before forcing an important save from Timo Horn. Kevin Mbabu then got past Rafael Czichos and Ismail Jakobs before his dangerous cross was cleared.

The Wolves paid for their wastefulness and left it too late put any serious pressure on Köln. Centre-backs John Brooks and Marcel Tisserand struggled for much of the match and Daniel Ginczek was largely ineffective in his first Bundesliga start of the season.

Córdoba conquers

Jhon Córdoba was a one-man wrecking ball against Wolfsburg and an integral part of the victory. He caused Brooks to pick up an early booking, repeatedly getting past and frustrating Wolfsburg’s defence before heading in Mark Uth’s free kick for the opening goal.

Wolfsburg turned to Tisserand who was fortunate to avoid a booking for feeble and clumsy attempts to stop the Colombian striker. The domination continued as Córdoba’s hold-up play was exceptional, he created chances for Ismail Jakobs and Jonas Hector before a surging run went close to winning a penalty.

There was still time to double Köln’s lead before the break however, Córdoba firing past Koen Casteels after Ellyes Skhiri had collected Tisserand’s terrible turnover. Córdoba has rarely looked like justifying the €17m transfer fee paid to Mainz in July 2017, but the 26-year-old was too hot to handle for Wolfsburg, justifiably receiving a standing ovation when replaced late on and has now scored in five consecutive home games.

Useful Uth

Mark Uth returned to his hometown club on loan from Schalke and was thrown straight into the starting side. He repaid Gisdol’s faith by producing a solid performance and creating goal scoring opportunities with his set piece delivery.

Uth combined effectively with Skhiri, Hector and Köln’s left sided duo of Noah Katterbach and Ismail Jakobs. It was Uth’s free kick that resulted in Córdoba’s opener and Uth’s corner that was flicked on by Rafael Czichos for Hector’s goal.

Dominick Drexler will feel hard done by to lose his starting spot but capturing Uth has immediately improved the quality of Köln’s squad. The former Köln youth player provides an important link between defence and attack, his combination play will only improve and it appears that Uth’s homecoming could be a match made in heaven.

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