Recap last season(s)

Before we start, full disclaimer: I am a rabid 1.FC Köln fan and club member. Come on FC! I’ll still try to be neutral… So, last season: Finished 5th, direct qualification for Europa League, best season in 25 years. Very stable development, placing 12th, 9th, and now 5th after their promotion. Coach is Peter Stöger since 2013, which is extremely long for Cologne. Management also very stable with Schmadtke, Wehrle, and Jakobs pulling the strings. Last season was a bit problematic regarding injuries, with Bittencourt, Risse, Horn, and Osako all missing a significant time.

Personnel movements

Well, the big one is obviously Anthony Modeste. After a brilliant season with 25 goals, he left for China to the tune of 35 Million Euros. Wow. That’s a a huge part of offensive production gone right there. In addition, Neven Subotic returned to Dortmund after the half-year loan and Marcel Hartel moved to 2nd league Union Berlin. On the plus side, we have Jhon Cordoba (striker, 16 Mn. EUR) from Mainz, Jannes Horn (left fullback / left midfield, 7 Mn. EUR) from Wolfsburg, Jorge Mere (centre back, 6 Mn. EUR) from Sporting Gijon. Before we look at the on-field impact, let’s appreciate the genius of FC Cologne’s Management team since they arrived in 2012: According to kicker, they have a positive transfer balance of 22.34 Mn. in these 5 years. Add this year (roughly +10 Mn.), and they managed to earn money while building a second league team into a Europa League participant. Let that sink in (and how you doin’, Wolfsburg?). Ok, that’s out of the way, let’s look at the changes:

Outgoing players

Name Age Games (Minutes) played Goals (per 90) Assists (per 90) Average kicker grade Trasfer fee New club
Anthony Modeste 29 34 (2972) 25 (0.76) 4 (0.12) 2.96 35 Mn. TC Quanjian
Neven Subotic 28 12 (890) 3.5 Return after loan BVB (after loan)
Marcel Hartel 21 2 (93) 4.5 350k Union Berlin
Total   48 (3955) 25 (0.76) 4 (0.12) 35 Mn.

Incoming players

Name Age Games (Minutes) played Goals (per 90) Assists (per 90) Average kicker grade Trasfer fee Old Club
Jannes Horn 20 13 (976) 2 (0.19) 3.73 7 Mn. VfL Wolfsburg
Jhon Cordoba 24 29 (2344) 5 (0.19) 5 (0.19) 3.37 12 Mn. FSV Mainz 05
Jorge Mere 20  31 (2773)  – 6 Mn. Sporting Gijon
Total      73 (6093) 5 (0.19)  7 (0.38)  7 (0.38) 25 Mn. – 

On first glance, that’s pretty straightforward: Cordoba replaces Modeste, Mere replaces Subotic, and Horn replaces Rausch so Hector can move full time into midfield. All three new guys are young, but reasonably experienced. Still, compensating Modeste’s prodcution will be impossible for Cordoba alone. So where will the goals come from? I think Cologne will be dangerous enough. Let’s look at all attacking players (incl. midfield) and their goals scored last season:

Name Games (Minutes) played Goals (per 90)
Anthony Modeste 34 (2972) 25 (0.76)
Artjoms Rudnevs 18 (699) 3 (0.39)
Milos Jojic 19 (1090) 4 (0.33)
Bittencourt 16 (968) 3 (0.28)
Yuya Osako 30 (2366) 7 (0.27)
Jhon Cordoba 29 (2344) 5 (0.19)
Simon Zoller 26 (1039) 2 (0.17)
Marcel Risse 13 (1103) 2 (0.16)
Christian Clemens 12 (790) 1 (0.11)
Total 197 (13371)  52 (2.66)

Again, in absolute numbers that looks bleak. Modeste scored more goals than all other FC attackers (from last season) combined. But the Per90 numbers tell the story: Jojic, Bittencourt, and Risse only played around 1000 minutes each (mainly due to injuries), that’s roughly a third of Modeste’s total minutes, but their per90 goals are decent: If those three manage to stay on the field longer, some of the Modeste’s goals will be replaced even without an increase in effectiveness.

One more thing regarding transfer moves: Cologne also brought in two new youth players in Joao Queiros (central defense, 19 years old from Sporting Braga youth team), Tim Handwerker (left back, 19 years old from Bayer Leverkusen), and promoted Nikolas Nartey (central midfield, 17 years old) from the second team. I think it’s very encouraging to see that young players of this quality again see Cologne as a good destination. Especially Queiros played a very good role at the U21 Euro, losing the final with Portugal against England and playing all 5 games full time.

Starting 11 / Tactical approach

Cologne has proven to be very flexible tactically last season. Their main system was a kind of 4231 / 442 with Osako as second striker / attacking midfielder. As Cordoba is basically a direct replacement for Modeste, I think the system will stay intact, maybe with a little more focus offensively on the wingers (if Bittencourt and Risse manage to stay healthy). It will be very interesting to see if Jannes Horn and Lukas Klünter will be the permanent solutions for the fulback positions. Both are relatively inexperienced, but very fast. In midfield, I think that Hector will always play if fit but the other holding midfielder position is wide open. Jojic had a clear upward trend at the end of last season and is probably the best option if a more attacking player is needed. Höger provides a more robust alternative (and is very experienced), while Lehmann is still Captain and a clear leader on and off the field. The second interesting question will be “Who plays in central defense?”. Maroh, Heintz, Sörensen, and new guy Mere all have a starting position in mind.

 

This leads nicely to Cologne’s second tactical option: A 5-3-2 with three central defenders, especially Mere was explicitly brought to the club because his passing from centre position is very good. Heintz and Sörensen both can play (and have played last season) at the fullback positions, so this would be no problem for them. This formation would actually be very flexible. Depending on who are chosen as the wingbacks, this will be pretty defensive with J. Horn and Klünter or super aggressive (and then more a 3-5-2) with Bittencourt and Risse. In the second case, Jojic might also be sacrificed for a third holding midfielder (Höger) to provide more cover. All in all, almost all positions have a good second option (with the exception of left wing and goalkeeper, I don’t rate Rausch or Zoller and Horn is just too good to be replaced adequately).

Conclusion

Well, the offical goal for the season is “Top 10 Bundesliga, get out of group stage in Europa League” and I think that’s a) very smart and b) very realistic. The transfer moves have been very good: Modestes’s career season has been optimally monetized, sufficient replacement has been brought in, and two very young defenders have been brought in who could immediately start. Overall, turnover is again very low; only one key player lost and at most three new players in the starting 11. This stability has been a key part in the success of the last years.

All in all, I think Cologne will finish between 8th and 10th and (barely) reach the EL’s knock-out round. 

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