By Ben Sully @SullyBen
After failing to win any of their last six away league games, FC Köln will attempt to end their poor run of away form when they face a struggling Schalke side on Sunday.
Schalke will have a mountain to climb if they are to avoid relegation this season. They are currently bottom of the Bundesliga table with only nine points to their name from 17 games, leaving them seven points adrift from safety.
In their first game of 2023, they were beaten 3-0 by Eintracht Frankfurt, and matters only got worse in midweek when they thrashed 6-1 at home by RB Leipzig. Schalke conceded four goals before half time, and although Sōichirō Kōzuki pulled a goal back, Leipzig went on to add two more to their tally.
Schalke have now lost 10 of their last 11 league matches, and they will need to improve at both ends of the pitch if they are to close the gap to safety. Die Königsblauen are currently the lowest scorers in the topflight with 14 goals to their name. Meanwhile, they have shipped 44 goals in the Bundesliga goals this season – only Bochum have conceded more.
Schalke have a lengthy injury list, with Sebastian Polter, Justin Heekeren,
Niklas Tauer and Sepp van den Berg are all sidelined for the hosts. Meanwhile, Alex Kral and Thomas Ouwejan are both doubts due to back and knee injuries respectively.
Köln will be pleased with their efforts in their opening two games of 2023. After hammering Werder Bremen 7-1 last weekend, Köln battled to a 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich in midweek. Die Geißböcke looked set to claim a famous victory after Ellyes Skhiri gave his side the lead in the fourth minute, but Joshua Kimmich’s long-range strike in the 90th minute ensured the spoils were shared.
Steffen Baumgart’s side will head into Sunday’s game in 12th place, and they will move up to 10th position if they secure all three points against Schalke.
Köln have won only one of their nine Bundesliga away games this term, and they are currently winless in six away matches in the topflight. Their struggles defensively have played a key role in their poor away form, having failed to pick up a clean sheet on their travels in the league this season.
Ahead of Sunday’s contest, Köln can draw inspiration from their recent head-to-head record against Schalke. They are unbeaten in their last nine Bundesliga meetings with Sunday’s opponents, winning their last four.
Baumgart has confirmed that Timo Hübers will be available after missing the midweek draw against Bayern with a cold. Jan Thielmann is also expected to return to the squad, although Köln are still unable to call upon Kristian Pedersen, Luca Kilian, Mark Uth, Florian Dietz and Sebastian Andersson.