Summary

  • Köln second and Hertha fourth after seven games.
  • Both teams boast a prolific forward, miserly defence, and strong team spirit.
  • Go head to head in Berlin on Saturday.

When 1. FC Köln and Hertha Berlin clash at the Olympiastadion on Saturday (kick-off: 15:30 CET/13:30 GMT) both teams know that a victory could leave them looking down upon the rest of the Bundesliga table at the culmination of Matchday 8.

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The sight of record champions FC Bayern München atop the standings after seven games played of the 2016/17 season may surprise few, but two of their three closest challengers being Köln and Hertha - ninth and seventh respectively last term - would have been less easy to envisage before a ball was kicked.

The successes enjoyed so far by the Billy Goats and the Old Lady have been built on similar bedrocks. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at what they are.

Lethal strikers

In Anthony Modeste and Vedad Ibisevic, Köln and Hertha each have a centre forward who has been striking fear into the hearts of opposition defenders this season.

Modeste scored a respectable 15 goals in 34 Bundesliga last season - his best haul in Germany since arriving from SC Bastia in the summer of 2013 - but one more strike would see him over halfway to that tally barely two months into the new campaign. The Frenchman is the league’s top scorer with seven, though has been helped by the team behind him: only Borussia Dortmund, with 15, have created more clear-cut chances that Köln’s 14 so far.

Watch: Modeste's brace against Ingolstadt that took him to the top of the scoring charts:

Ibisevic is only two goals behind Modeste, and has already scored half as many times in seven games this campaign as he managed in 26 run-outs last year. Unlike Modeste, the Bosnia-Herzegovina striker has not had a glut of opportunities to feast upon, either. Pal Dardai’s side have only needed five chances per goal this season, making them the most clinical team in the division.

Solid defences

Modeste and Ibisevic may have been grabbing the headlines, but the miserly defences behind them have also helped propel their clubs up into the upper echelons of the table. No team has conceded fewer than Köln’s four this season. Persuading Germany left-back Jonas Hector to stay in the summer was a boon to the club, but it is goalkeeper Timo Horn whose star has shone brightest. The Olympic silver medallist has saved an incredible 83 per cent of the shots he has faced in 2016/17.

Watch: Free-scoring Dortmund frustrated by Hertha's miserly defence:

While Köln carve out more chances than Hertha, they also concede more, making Horn a busier custodian than his Norwegian counterpart Rune Jarstein. Under Dardai, Hertha have only conceded 64 goals in 56 Bundesliga games. His record of 1.1 goals conceded per game is the best of all current Bundesliga coaches. Hertha have also not conceded from a free-kick or a penalty this season - a record Jarstein, to his credit, kept alive with his spot-kick save from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang against Dortmund last Friday.

Consistency

Both Köln and Hertha line up with traditional back fours, but where Peter Stöger’s men have another bank of four in front of that with Yuya Osako typically partnering Modeste in attack, Hertha play a 4-2-3-1 rather than the resurgent 4-4-2 so universal in the 1990s.

Both teams are incredibly settled in their systems, though. Köln’s starting line-up is almost identical this season compared to last, with the VfL Wolfsburg-bound Yannick Gerhadt’s spot in the midfield engine room taken by Marco Höger - a like-for-like replacement signed from FC Schalke 04.

Hertha, meanwhile, have seven players who have started every game, with Ibisevic and Jarstein joined by Genki Haraguchi, Sebastian Langkamp and Marvin Plattenhardt - to a man players who have been in the starting line-up since at least last season. Alexander Esswein is the only new player to have penetrated the first XI consistently, and with a goal and an assist already, the former FC Augsburg winger is settling quickly.

Köln's players are good friends off the pitch - something Höger attributes to their recent success.

Camaraderie

Well-drilled they may be, but one notable feature of these Köln and Hertha teams is that they are enjoying their football, too. Köln’s players are friends as well as teammates. "We’re having a lot of fun and joke about guys doing things with their girlfriends instead of the team," said Höger after Saturday’s 2-1 triumph over FC Ingolstadt 04 - hence the invisible instrument celebrations. "We call that 'having a concert at home'. That’s why we celebrated the goals that way."

Mitchell Weiser - who has had a direct hand in two Hertha goals this season - has turned out for both clubs. "The city of Cologne is more football-mad than Berlin,” he says. “But we also have great fans… in the dressing room I am still the DJ, and it is hip hop that plays!”

Saturday might produce a loser, but with the cornerstones of success firmly in place, both clubs are sure to be making music in the weeks and months to come, regardless of the result at the Olympiastadion.

Keep up with all the build-up, action and reaction - head to the Köln vs. Hertha Match Centre!

Watch: Hertha's magnificent home, the Olympiastadion: