Two inconsistent Bundesliga sides face off on Sunday afternoon as FC Koln hosts Werder Bremen at the RheinEnergieStadion.
Koln are in the thick of the fight to avoid relegation. Recent results have seen them sink back down in the table, and they’re now only three points ahead of the bottom three going into this game. They aren’t panicking just yet, but Die Geißböcke will need to turn things around quickly if they want to avoid a late season battle for survival.
Bremen, meanwhile, are sitting quite comfortably in midtable after a shock win against in-form Eintracht Frankfurt put even more space between themselves and the drop zone. There is a very slim chance that Die Grün-Weißen could make a push for a Europa League qualifying spot, but even if they don’t, fans will just be happy to see the team stay up with relative ease, especially with a DFB-Pokal quarterfinal on the horizon.
Koln will be without a few key players for this contest. Sebastiaan Bornauw is out with a back issue, while Rafael Czichos is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Former Bremen man Florian Kainz only just returned to training after missing six months with a knee injury, so this weekend comes way too soon for him.
Captain Jonas Hector is also a doubt, but Die Geißböcke will be hoping that he can at least feature in some capacity.
It’s much better news on the injury front for Bremen, as reserve goalkeeper Michael Zetterer is the only player who will miss out for them on Sunday.
FC Koln: T. Horn, Cestic, Mere, J.K. Horn, Wolf, Meyer, Skhiri, Rexhbecaj, Jakobs, Dennis, Duda
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Veljkovic, Toprak, Friedl, Gebre Selassie, Eggestein, Mohwald, Schmid, Agu, Sargent, Rashica
Ones to watch
There was a lot of hype surrounding Emmanuel Dennis’ arrival in the January transfer window.
Coming to Koln on loan from Club Brugge, Dennis had made a name for himself with the Belgian side, most notably scoring twice in a Champions League game against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu.
The Nigerian had seemingly gotten off to a decent start to life in Germany, scoring in his second game for Koln in the DFB-Pokal. However, he went on to have a penalty saved in that same match, and Die Geißböcke were eventually knocked out by Jahn Regensburg.
Things haven’t really improved since for Dennis. He’s yet to score or assist in his five Bundesliga appearances, and he was taken off at halftime in Koln’s most recent loss to Bayern Munich. He’s just not adapted to his new surroundings yet, which is a concern considering how bad his team needs him going forward.
However, there’s little reason to lose hope. Dennis is still an incredibly dynamic player, able to either sprint past or dribble past defenders to cause havoc on the attack. He’s a quality finisher as well, so he just needs a chance or two to fall his way.
If the Nigerian can rediscover his top form, then Die Geißböcke will have someone who can lead them out of a relegation battle. That could all start with a solid showing this weekend.
Bremen’s star man might finally be back in business, which is good news for them and bad news for the rest of the country.
This season had not been kind to Milot Rashica. It started when he failed to secure a marquee move away, and then an injury in preseason ruled him out for the start of the campaign. Just as it seemed like he was fully fit, he got hurt once again.
Rashica’s second return to the side wasn’t going smoothly, either. He was obviously quite rusty, which prevented him from creating any sort of magic in the final third. Die Grün-Weißen suffered as a result, and there were genuine concerns surrounding the player.
That all changed last weekend, though. After slowly growing into the game, the Kosovo international started to run riot against Frankfurt. Constantly getting on the ball, he was the spark that Bremen needed to turn things around. He set up Theodor Gebre Selassie’s equalizer, and Rashica could have been even more involved in the scoring if a few bounces went the other way.
Now, the pressure will be on him to repeat that sort of performance this time around. If Rashica can put on another attacking masterclass, then Die Grün-Weißen will like their chances of picking up the win.
Last time out
The points were shared the last time these two sides faced off as the reverse fixture at the Wohninvest Weserstadion ended 1-1.
The home side were better following a frantic opening to the contest, but it would be Koln who took the lead after Bremen defender Niklas Moisander redirected the ball into the back his own net in the 67th minute.
Die Grün-Weißen responded well, though, and went on to equalize with about 10 minutes left to play. Sebastiaan Bornauw made a mess of a clearance, accidentally making contact with the ball with his arm. The referee pointed to the spot, and Leonardo Bittencourt stepped up to slot home the resulting penalty.
Josh Sargent had a late chance to score the winner, but his effort was saved as both sides were forced to settle for a draw.
How to watch
Fans in the UK will be able to watch the contest on BT Sport 2, while those in the United States can see the action unfold on ESPN+.