Goal.com previews an intriguing match-up between a Koeln side who can see light at the end of the tunnel and a Wolfsburg team who just cannot get it together this season.
It has been a rather difficult but eventful season for the supporters for FC Koeln, a club who continually attract gates of around 50,000 despite no top-half finish in the Bundesliga in almost twenty years. The club has lurched from one crisis to another with Lukas Podolski criticizing the club's defensive style of play, Faryd Mondragon being sent home from the team hotel, coach Zvonimir Soldo being sacked and most recently a management crisis involving president Wolfgang Overath and general manager Michael Meier.
However, all that was forgotten when Koeln gave their best performance of the season last week to stun a resurgent Stuttgart and record a 1-0 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Arena. Caretaker coach Frank Schaefer was anxious to stress the recent positive development of his team.
"Of course it's going a bit better for us now after our win in Stuttgart. It's also true that we can only maximize the true worth of our win against Stuttgart if we are successful again this Sunday. If we succeed, then we will be able to make great strides forward," he told the pre-game press conference.
"For me it is important that the team are fully aware why they won in Stuttgart. The team can now understand that it is possible to play successful football, even when the team is going through a tough period."
Schaefer went on to explain what he saw against Stuttgart and what he expects once more against Wolfsburg - team unity, compactness on the field of play in defense as well as in attack and a high level of discipline. The latter will be particularly important given that Wolfsburg have what Schaefer describes as "the best strike-partnership in the Bundesliga.". And even if Grafite doesn't make it, don't bet on an easy ride for the Koeln defense.
How To Solve A Problem Like Diego
Wolfsburg had been expected by many to challenge at the very least for a Europa League place and most probably the top three given the significant sums of money with which Dieter Hoeness parted in the summer. Of the close season acquisitions, Diego was the most expensive and most high-profile. A proven performer in German football, the ideal replacement for and perhaps maybe an upgrade on, Zvjezdan Misimovic. He has perhaps not lived up to the hype but he has nevertheless contributed three goals and four assists in twelve games. However, his suspension will leave a gaping hole in the Wolfsburg line-up as they look to haul themselves up the table and emerge from a poor run of form. Last time out, they labored to a 1-1 draw at home to relegation candidates St Pauli and only intermittently looked like a team playing to their potential. Coach Steve McClaren is as yet unsure how to alter his side in the absence of the Brazilian playmaker.
"On Sunday I will know exactly how the team will shape up. I will make a decision after I have seen the training session on Saturday, " he told the pre-match press conference.
There is feverish speculation that the Englishman will hand a debut to young 18-year old midfielder Tolga Cigerci, which McClaren played with a straight bat, offering a perfect example to England's under-pressure batsmen in the Ashes.
"I have come across many young prospects like Tolga in my coaching career. They were all of course capable of playing football but we only know how they will cope on the big stage of the Premier League or Bundesliga once they actually take to the field. Tolga has trained very well and is close to the team. We will give him a chance soon. We are not sure exactly yet when though."
McClaren then turned his attentions to his under-performing team and acknowledged that it will be no easy task to turn the season around but he remained nonetheless upbeat.
"It is important to have expectations and feel pressure but it is equally important to know how to win football matches. To do that, the performance is just as important as the result. There are no easy games here and everyone can beat everyone else. It becomes even more difficult away from home."
"If we do the right things then we can take a victory away from Koeln. It's a case of how we play because lately we have been conceding far too many goals. However, we will soon find a solution for it."
Die Geissboecke are without Martin Lanig who is suspended after picking up a fifth yellow card, the outcast Adil Chihi and Manasseh Ishiaku who is undergoing rehabilitation work. Adam Matuschyk is the most likely candidate to deputize for Lanig while Lukas Podolski should take up a more central role, freeing up a space on the left flank for Mato Jajalo.
Probable Starting XI: Mondragon - Brecko, Geromel, Mohamad, Ehret - Petit, Pezzoni - Matuschyk, Jajalo - Podolski, Novakovic
Die Woelfe are still of course missing Arne Friedrich with Fabian Johnson and Ashkan Dejagah also joining the German international in the physio's room. Most crucially, stellar playmaker Diego is suspended after picking up five bookings and Thomas Kahlenberg will attempt to fill his shoes. Grafite is still doubtful with Mario Mandzukic on standby and young midfielder Tolga Cigerci could make his Bundesliga debut tomorrow.
Probable Starting XI: Benaglio - Pekarik, Kjaer, Barzagli, Schaefer - Josue, Riether, Cigerci - Kahlenberg - Dzeko, Grafite
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