FC Koln host Bayern Munich in a top vs. bottom clash in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
In domestic terms, it has been a tale of two very different seasons for each of the two sides, as is reflected by their positions in the Bundesliga table.
Bayern currently sit a whopping 24 points clear of second-placed Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga table, having comfortably secured their sixth consecutive domestic crown almost a month ago.
Contrastingly, Koln’s relegation to the 2. Bundesliga was confirmed last month following defeat to fellow strugglers Freiburg.
Following Bayern’s bitter elimination from the Champions League to Real Madrid on Tuesday, Saturday’s clash at the RheinEnergieStadion could prove to be a battle between two wounded lions in need of a lift.
Koln come into Saturday’s game fresh off the back of that relegation-confirming 3-2 defeat away to Freiburg, in which they succumbed to a sickening stoppage time winner from Freiburg, having fought back from 2-0 down against the home side.
Picking themselves up from the crushing nature of that defeat, and its broader implications, will be a huge test for Koln, as Stefan Ruthenbeck’s side return to home comforts against Bayern.
Koln can take some heart from a hard-fought 2-2 draw at home to second-placed Schalke the week before that defeat to Freiburg, as Ruthenbeck’s side again clawed their way back from 2-0 down, that time holding on to claim a point against the Gelsenkirchen-based side.
Bayern’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid on Tuesday night sealed the Bavarians’ exit from the Champions League at the semi-final stage, narrowly eliminated by Los Blancos with a 4-3 aggregate score.
Bayern must learn from such defensive sloppiness but can also be greatly encouraged by their recent domestic form around the European disappointment. Their recent league outings have been victorious, each with emphatic score lines.
A 5-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga was followed by a 6-2 hammering of Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB Cup, with a 3-0 success away to Hannover and a 4-1 thumping of Eintracht Frankfurt following suit in the league. Regaining such domestic form on Saturday could see Bayern blow Koln away.
The result was less emphatic the last time these two sides met, and that may be the greatest cause for optimism in Koln’s approach to this game.
Bayern edged the away side 1-0 when the teams met at the Allianz Arena in December, with a Robert Lewandowski strike proving to be the slender difference between the teams on the score line that day.
As expected, Bayern were the overwhelmingly dominant side on that occasion, enjoying 84 percent of possession and having 26 shots on Timo Horn’s goal. Of those 26, however, only eight were on target.
Based on those stats, and Bayern’s performance in Madrid on Tuesday, perhaps Koln’s greatest hopes for any success in this match could be based on Bayern’s occasional tendency to be wasteful and their guilt-edged inability to be clinical in front of goal.
Though Bayern are occasionally inconsistent in converting their chances into goals, the biggest threat from either side on Saturday will inevitably be posed by Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski.
Having proved to be the difference between the two teams when they last met in December, the Polish striker is likely to once again take centre stage this weekend. Having endured a frustrating night in front of goal at the Bernabeu in midweek, Lewandowski will surely be keen to get back amongst the goals on Saturday.
Bayern’s no. 9 remains the Bundesliga’s premier striking force, with his 28 goals making him the league’s top scorer by a distance of 13 goals. Lewandowski’s scoring ratio of 72 minutes per goal continues to make the Pole a formidable opponent for any defence to face, and Koln must make him their primary focus ahead of this weekend’s clash.
Stefan Ruthenbeck’s three-at-the-back setup should be ideal for attempting to shackle Lewandowski, as well as the likes of Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller operating around him in Bayern’s attack. Dominic Maroh is likely to play in the centre of Koln’s defensive three, making Lewandowski his chief responsibility, with Dominique Heintz and Frederik Sorensen, operating either side of the German.
Koln will be without first-choice defender Jorge Mere on Saturday, following the Spaniard’s yellow card against Freiburg last weekend, which meant that the defender’s accumulation of offenses makes Mere suspended for the match against Bayern.
The home side will also be without injured forward Sehrou Guirassy, who continues to recover from ankle surgery, whilst midfielder Matthias Lehmann remains absent with an elbow injury.
Bayern, meanwhile, have a growing injury list of their own. First-choice goalkeeper and club captain Manuel Neuer remains out with a broken metatarsal, whilst Kingsley Coman, Arjen Robben, Jerome Boateng and Arturo Vidal are other high profile casualties from Jupp Heynckes’s selection.
Koln (3-4-2-1): Horn/Sorensen, Maroh, Heintz/Risse, Hoger, Hector, Handwerker/Osako, Bittencourt/Terodde
Bayern Munich (4-1-4-1): Ulreich/Kimmich, Sule, Hummels, Alaba/Thiago/Muller, Tolisso, Rodriguez, Ribery/Lewandowski
With Koln now firmly down and out, the confirmation of their relegation following the heart-breaking 3-2 defeat to Freiburg last week leaves the home side with a mountain to climb on Saturday, both in terms of morale and their opposition.
Bayern are a wounded lion following their disappointing exit from the Champions League, though their offensive performance against Real Madrid in midweek proved there is still plenty of gas left in the tank at this late stage of the season, and should be enough for the champions to claim a comfortable victory over the Bundesliga’s basement side.
Prediction: FC Koln 0-4 Bayern Munich
Prediction: FC Koln 0-4 Bayern Munich