The opening game of matchday three in the Bundesliga sees the meeting of two sides with many similarities under the floodlights in Cologne.
1. FC Köln are looking to continue they impressive start to the season, with four points from a possible six so far, and would even go top of the table overnight with a win.
Their opponents SC Freiburg have won the last four meetings though, and following returning to the top flight after a season away, will be looking to build on their win last week against Köln’s great rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Four in a row for Frieburg
This is traditionally a fixture which favours the home team, although Freiburg’s record in the cathedral city – four wins in 16 – is slightly better than Köln’s in the Black Forest, where they have only ever won twice. Friday night’s hosts have won nine of the 16 home games against Freiburg, but overall across 32 matches their 11 wins is three behind Freiburg’s 14.
Although due to Freiburg’s relegation the two sides didn’t meet last season, the year before they played three game, including one in the DFB-Pokal, and interestingly Freiburg won all three, with a run of four wins on the spin dating back to the 2011-12 season.
Both league encounters were won 1-0, with the game at the RheinEnergieStadion in early November won from the spot by Vladimír Darida, now at Hertha BSC, early in the second half.
Köln could leapfrog Bayern
Although it’s very early days, Köln fans will be feeling a little giddy with the side unbeaten, yet to concede, and currently sharing third-place in the Bundesliga table with VfL Wolfsburg, after the two sides drew 0-0 last weekend.
Following their 2-0 win over SV Darmstadt 98 on the opening weekend, it was a solid result for Köln, with 20-year-old goalkeeper Sven Müller keeping a clean sheet in his first ever senior game, filling in for the injured Timo Horn.
Freiburg fans were left fearing the worst after their Achilles heel of two seasons ago, conceding late goals, came back to haunt them against in their first match against Hertha in Berlin.
However Saturday’s win against Gladbach, coming from behind to win 3-1 thanks to a Maximilian Philipp double, was a hugely impressive result against a side who were preparing to play in the UEFA Champions League.
If Köln were to win on Friday night, they would shoot to the top of the table, temporarily at least, whilst realistically Freiburg could go second if they continue their winning streak against Peter Stöger’s side.
Mangers wary of similarities
“Realistically, we know that a potential top-of-the-table position would not stand long for us,” admitted Stöger at his press conference on Thursday. “Regardless, it would be pretty cool. Having lived in this city for some time now we all understand what it would mean to the people.”
His Freiburg counterpart Christian Streich was keen to see a repeat of their second half performance against Gladbach in the ‘Cathedral city’, when “the players were purely focused on what was still possible in the second half.” He added his side would have to show the same “graft” to get a result.
Both managers also feel that the way the two clubs go about things is pretty similar. “We know Freiburg is a team that will line up in a way to limit the strengths of their opponents,” said Stöger. “They are always prepared to give everything and they have earned my respect because of it.”
“With the 1. FC Köln we play against a team which from month to month show all the virtues that we proved against Mönchengladbach," said Streich on their battling qualities. He called them “tactically very clear”, and praised the side’s development since their own return to the Bundesliga two seasons ago.
Köln sweat on Horn’s fitness
The big selection issue for Köln is the fitness of Horn, who is recovering from the groin injury that kept him out last weekend. It could be left until the last-minute to decide whether he plays or if Müller keeps his place.
“Timo Horn will train once more on Friday morning and then we will evaluate whether he will be fit for the match,” said Stöger, who confirmed that the club’s medics would have the final say over his fitness.
Otherwise the Billy Goats will probably be unchanged, with Konstantin Rausch, Artjoms Rudnevs, Sehrou Guirassy, Marcel Hartle and Dominic Maroh all still out injured.
There are no fresh injury concerns for Freiburg, although defenders Marc Oliver Kempf, Marc Torrejón and Jonas Föhrenbach all remain injured, although Kempf and Föhrenbach are not far from returning to training.
Streich suggested he would not make any changes to his line-up from the Gladbach win, which would mean there would still be no place for striker Nils Petersen, despite putting aside his Olympic final penalty shootout heartbreak by converting from the spot last weekend after coming off the bench. His curtailed pre-season, and his limited amount of game time in Brazil, are probably not helping his cause at the moment.
1. FC Köln: (4-4-2) Horn; Sörensen, Mavraj, Heintz, Hector; Risse, Höger, Lehmann, Bittencourt; Osako, Modeste.
SC Freiburg: (4-1-3-2) Schwolow; Stenzel, Gulde, Söyüncü, Günter; Höfler; Bulut, Frantz, Grifo; Niederlechner, Philipp.