Another Bundesliga season secured and Köln are increasingly ridding themselves of the image of a yo-yo club that they earned with six relegations between 1998 and 2018. Under Steffen Baumgart they have found a way to play that keeps them away from the relegation scrap and makes a top half finish the target nowadays. The trainer regularly makes good players better and the Billy Goats are reaping the rewards with largely stress-free seasons.
After a hiccup in the cup, Köln began the season with a five-match unbeaten run with wins over Schalke and Wolfsburg and respectable draws against both Leipzig and Frankfurt. The first defeat came against high-flying Union Berlin before a confidence boosting home win over Borussia Dortmund spoilt Anthony Modeste’s return to the Rhein-Energie Stadion.
A 5-2 loss in the Rheinderby at the Borussia Park followed, but a win over Augsburg saw them pick up a fourth victory. However, the run-up to the World Cup break saw them winless in five and picking up just a solitary point in a 1-1 draw with Hoffenheim. The winter break was spent in 13th place after losing to struggling Hertha in the final game of 2022. They had missed out on progression in the Conference League with Nice and Partizan pipping them to the top two spots, but after the scandalous scenes witnessed in France, an exit from Europe was perhaps not a bad thing.
The New Year started in epic fashion with a 7-1 hammering of Werder Bremen and a deserved point achieved at the Allianz Arena against Bayern. Successive draws with Leipzig and Schalke combined with a win against Frankfurt extended the unbeaten run, but a 3-0 loss to Stuttgart stopped the party. Consecutive home defeats to Wolfsburg and Bochum were followed by a heavy 6-1 loss at the Signal Iduna Park as BVB gained revenge for their earlier defeat.
Since beating Eintracht 3-0 on matchday 20, the results and the goals had dried up for Köln. In the six games that followed they only scored once and picked up two points. The last eight games of the season however brought four more wins (Augsburg, Hoffenheim, Leverkusen and Hertha) and with Bundesliga safety secured they could play a more relaxed end phase.
The Billy Goats bade an emotional farewell to legendary captain Jonas Hector and keeper Timo Horn on the final day and were heavily involved in the title decider. Unfortunately for Dortmund, they were unable to keep Bayern at bay and Jamal Musiala’s 89th minute winner at the Rhein-Energie Stadion proved to the Meisterschale clincher.
The win over Dortmund on matchday 8 was welcomed as both Anthony Modeste and Salih Özcan saw the grass wasn’t necessarily greener on the other side. The 7-1 thrashing of Werder Bremen was the biggest win of the season, while there were other impressive victories over Eintracht Frankfurt (3-0) and Hertha Berlin (5-2). The point picked up at Bayern was also worthy of note.
A first round exit from the DFB Pokal wasn’t the ideal start to the season and the 5-2 loss at the Borussia Park in the Rheinderby hurt. Losing 5-0 at Mainz on matchday 11 was a lowlight as was the 6-1 hammering received at the Signal Iduna Park. The horrible scenes witnessed in Nice, both inside and outside the stadium, were a low-point with the European adventure tarnished by the behaviour of certain sections of the fanbase.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 10-12-12, 42 points (1.24 per game), 11th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 23 points (6-5-6) Away Record: 19 points (4-7-6)
Goals: 49 (1.44 per game), Goals Against: 54 (1.59 per game), Diff: -5
xG: 47.9, xGA: 42.6, Diff: +5.3
The last-minute sale of Anthony Modeste meant Köln’s attack was thrown into disarray right at the start of the season with a solution needed quickly to replace their main source of goals. Steffen Tigges and Florian Dietz were tried at the start of the campaign with Mark Uth’s continued absence another blow. Sargis Adamyan was a player who defied the norm in that Steffen Baumgart improves players.
The January arrival of Davie Selke gave the attack a real boost and the hope is that the Domstadt can finally be the place Selke’s true potential is fulfilled. Tigges scored six goals, while Selke bagged five. Köln scored 49 goals, which was only three fewer than the previous season with the midfielders doing their bit to boost the goals tally.
Köln conceded five more goals than the 2021-22 season, but coach Baumgart found a settled core for his back four. Keeper Marvin Schwäbe continued to keep the number one spot and was an ever-present this season. A back four of Jonas Hector, Benno Schmitz, Timo Hübers and Julian Chabot was the go-to line-up with Chabot particularly impressing on loan from Sampdoria and his move has since been made permanent.
Luca Kilian provided the back-up, while Nikola Soldo (son of Zvonomir) made six starts. In terms of stats, Köln ranked third in the league for tackles in the defensive third, and second overall for interceptions. Jonas Hector led the entire league for tackles in his defensive third, while Timo Hübers mad ethe most clearances in the who Bundesliga and was third overall for interceptions.
The star of the show was once again Ellyes Skhiri and Köln’s inability to persuade him to sign a new contract means they are losing a key part of their team this summer. He scored seven goals this season to add another string to his already talented bow. Florian Kainz continued to deliver consistent performances and he scored six goals as well a providing a stream of set-piece deliveries.
Linton Maina was a big hit in his first season scoring three and adding seven assists, while fellow newcomer Eric Martel also settled in well. Key midfielder Dejan Ljubicic missed a chunk of the season through injury, but the discovery of Denis Huseinbasic went some way to compensate with Mathias Olesen also providing cover.
Köln were shopping around for bargains last summer and were canny enough to bring in eight new players while spending less than €7 million. The sales of Anthony Modeste and Salih Özcan to Dortmund easily covered this. The late departure of Modeste in the transfer window was a blow but striker Steffen Tigges and Sargis Adamyan were both signed in the summer window for €1.5 million apiece.
Luca Kilian came in from Mainz for €2 million, while midfielder Eric Martel arrived from RB Leipzig for €1.2 million and added another option in the middle. Defender Nikola Soldo was a €5000,000 signing from Croatian side NK Lokomotiva, while the bargain of the season was Denis Huseinbasic- a €50,000 capture from Regionalliga side Kickers Offenbach. Linton Maina came in on a free from Hannover as did Kristian Pedersen from Birmingham City. Maina was the one to cement a regular place in the first team.
The January transfer window saw striker Davie Selke arrive on a free from Hertha Berlin and he settle in quickly with trainer Baumgart instantly playing to his strengths and he scored five in the Rückrunde.
Player of the Season
Ellyes Skhiri only added to his impressive reputation this season and his departure from the club this summer will be a huge blow. The Tunisian once again led the entire Bundesliga for distance covered with a whopping 393.6 km covered- that’s the equivalent of running 9.3 marathons! He added a goal threat to his game this season scoring seven goals to give him his best-ever haul in German football. There is a club out there about to acquire a very good player for nothing.
It has been quite the rise for 21-year-old Denis Huseinbašić as one minute he’s in the Regionalliga-Süd in front of a crowd of 6,176, the next he’s in the Bundesliga scoring in the Rheinderby in front of 54,000. A meteoric rise if ever there was one.
The Köln midfielder signed from Kickers Offenbach for 50,000 was made just two appearances in the Regionalliga-West for Köln II before Steffen Baumgart called him up to the first team. He has taken no time at all to adjust to the higher level and looks set for a bright future at the Domstadt.
The club will be happy to notch up another season in the top flight and the contract extension given to coach Steffen Baumgart shows that they believe they are on the right path and it’s hard to disagree. Steering well clear of relegation while having the odd season flirting with European qualification is not a bad state of affairs, and a big improvement on the years when their sojourns in the Bundesliga lasted just 12 months.
How they compensate for the loss of both Hector and Skhiri will be key, but this season should be seen in a satisfactory light.