By Bulldog Drummond
Approaching the game against 1. FC Köln I was pondering how a team that could do well enough to get into the Europa, could then be bottom of their league by the time the first Euro game came around.
The answer turns out to be not too hard to fathom, and it comes about because the German league is so dominated by Bayern Munich that it makes the Spanish League look like a real competition (which of course it isn’t).
|1||Bayern Munich (C)||34||25||7||2||89||22||+67||82|
|5||1. FC Köln||34||12||13||9||51||42||+9||49|
|16||VfL Wolfsburg (P.O.)||34||10||7||17||34||52||−18||37|
|17||FC Ingolstadt (R)||34||8||8||18||36||57||−21||32|
|18||Darmstadt 98 (R)||34||7||4||23||28||63||−35||25|
In last season’s table Wolfsburg went into the play offs to survive – which they did. The 17th and 18th team were relegated.
But let’s look at Köln. They finished an enormous 33 points off the top of the league and just 24 points off the bottom of the league – much closer to the bottom than the top. Indeed they were only 12 points (ie four wins) above having to play in the play off relegation games.
Thus they were closer to relegation than winning the league. Closer than the 13 points than they were away from getting into a champions league play off game. And yet they made the Europa.
In short because of the uncompetitive nature of the League, a team just getting into the Europa spot is in fact relegation fodder.
Now just to complete the picture, Hertha BSC also qualified for the Europa League qualifying stage since Borussia Dortmund won the 2016–17 DFB-Pokal. Therefore, the vacant spot in third qualifying round is given to the team that finished seventh, SC Freiburg.
So Köln is not really a top team, and unfortunately for them this summer as they lost their top scorer Anthony Modeste to Tianjin Quanjian of China.
It is true that the rest of the squad remain unchanged, but Köln have yet to find a way of replacing Modeste and have only scored once in the Bundesliga this season, and they are still waiting on their first goal from an attacker.
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Here’s the bottom of the table as it stands – Freiburg aren’t doing too well either. In Germany it is always close at the bottom, but never at the top.
|18||1. FC Köln||3||0||0||3||1||7||-6||0|
Newspaper reports say that while 1. FC Köln had 67 percent possession of the ball against Augsburg, they were unable to turn their dominance into goals — just like in their previous game when they had 71 percent possession in the 3-1 defeat to Hamburg.
“We only had around 40 percent possession on average last term,” the manager added. “We were able to rely on our transition play.”
But the captain Matthias Lehmann, was less upbeat saying, “The situation can not only turn into a dangerous one, it already is. We should not underestimate it. The games are happening quickly now and we don’t get a lot of time on the training pitch.”
At the end of last season the club got a run of two wins and three draws to secure their place in the Europas but this season is has been a 1-0 away defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach, a 1-3 home defeat to Hamburger SV and then the 3-0 away defeat to Augsburg.
All this suggests that Arsenal could put out a fair number of “fringe” players and still win, but Mr Wenger may well want to start Alexis and then substitute him in the second half, to get him fired up for Chelsea, who as you may have noticed, beat Qarabag 6-0 yesterday using a number of players who might not make it into the weekend’s squad.
Incidentally speaking of last night, on the domestic front the results gave us something we have not seen in a while – Leeds United are top of the Championship, having spent quite a few years exploring the delights of League One, or the third division as we call it.
On 4 May 2003 Leeds beat Arsenal at Highbury, to end our challenge for the title, leaving me thoroughly depressed as I left the stadium, since I was convinced we were going to do it. We did however win the FA Cup – which in those days was a trophy.
Leeds had been one of the top teams in the league in both the 1970s and 1980s (although with a slip into the second division in between), and won the last ever first division trophy before it became the Premier League. By the start of 2007/8 they were down in the third tier. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall, but it’s a lot harder to get back up. If they do return this year it will be 13 years in the lower leagues, and nearly as many totally barmy owners on the way.