Dortmund are still searching for the consistency they need if they are to gain ground on their title rivals, but Köln may not be the best place to do.
Despite showing signs of a dip themselves in recent weeks, they still have confidence from their performances this season, and are unbeaten against Dortmund since their return to the top flight in 2014.
Dortmund on a high, hosts losing form
After their impressive start to the season, Köln's form has started to slip, with just one win in four, against Borussia Mönchengladbach. The clearest sign that they are struggling to keep up the momentum came last Saturday, when they were beaten 4-0 by the still-unbeaten TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
Doortmund had their own blip in October, and are still recovering in the standings, sitting sixth, two points ahead of Köln but nine points behind leaders RB Leipzig. They have won three of their last four Bundesliga matches, including a 4-1 win over Gladbach last weekend, and managed an impressive comeback against Real in the UEFA Champions League in midweek to earn the draw they needed to finish above them in their group.
Despite form though, Köln have become a bit of a bogey team for Dortmund in the past couple of seasons. Their previous two meetings at the RheinEnergieStadion have both ended 2-1 in favour of the hosts, with Simon Zoller scoring in both, with draws in the games at Signal Iduna Park.
Dortmund have in fact not beaten Köln since the 2011-12 season, when the Billy Goats were relegated. Shinji Kagawa and Lukasz Piszczek were amongst the scorers in a 6-1 thrashing.
Köln looking to take advantage of Dortmund’s post-European dips
Despite the side’s defeat at Hoffenheim, Peter Stöger believes his team have “been in positive spirits” whilst preparing for this match. With three games left before the winter break, he believes his side are focused on finishing on a high. “I get the impression that everybody is fully focused. I think we have a very closely knit team,” he said.
Dortmund are eager to finish the first half of the season with more consistency than they’ve shown over the past couple of months. Thomas Tuchel has admitted that performances in games immediately after Champions League exertions have been a problem, with their most recent defeats against Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt coming after European matches.
"This team ideally needs a lot of training. This explains the dips after Champions League matches,” he said at his press conference. He added that his side were “very aware” and were determined to put that to one side. It is worth noting though that they have also thrashed SV Darmstadt 98 and Hamburger SV after European games as well.
Stöger meanwhile thinks that his side can learn from the Leverkusen and Frankfurt wins against Die Schwarzgelben, which for him showed “an effective formula” which they can follow. “We have to be well organized and have to establish our presence early on in the match”, he explained.
Risse and Modeste latest injury concerns for Stöger
Köln’s dip in form has coincided with an ever-growing injury problem. Marcel Risse ruptured his cruciate ligament after Hoffenheim and is set to be out until sometime in the New Year. He joins Timo Horn, Dominic Maroh, Matthais Lehmann and Leonardo Bittencourt on the treatment table, although Marco Höger is available again.
To make matters worse, talisman Anthony Modeste and Zoller have both been major doubts as well, having not trained for most of the week. Stöger has said “it may be a last-minute decision” over whether either will play. The indication on Friday was that Zoller would recover from his shoulder problem, whilst Modeste was also able to train with a bruised knee.
In additional to longer-term absentees of Roman Bürki, Neben Subotic and Sven Bender, Dortmund will be without Mario Götze due to the knee injured that kept him out of the trip to Madrid. Sokratis and Marcel Schmelzer are also doubts due to knocks picked up in that game.
Marco Reus is likely to be back in the starting eleven after being limited to a substitute appearance in midweek as he continues to return to full fitness. Tuchel has described his form since coming back as “remarkable”, with the 27-year-old scoring three goals and creating five in just four appearances so far this season.
1. FC Köln: (3-5-2) Kessler; Heintz, Mavraj, Sörensen; Olkowski, Hector, Özcan, Höger, Rausch; Osako, Modeste.
Borussia Dortmund: (4-1-4-1) Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Ginter, Bartra, Schmelzer; Weigl; Schürrle, Castro, Dembélé, Reus; Aubameyang.
Quotes via 1. FC Köln, Borussia Dortmund and Kicker.