Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann summons more spuds ahead of his team's trip to to face Ludogorets. - © © gettyimages / Alexander Scheuber
Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann summons more spuds ahead of his team's trip to to face Ludogorets. - © © gettyimages / Alexander Scheuber

Bring it on! Bundesliga's Europa League contenders ready for action

It’s the return of the UEFA Europa League and with morale among the Bundesliga’s continental contenders climbing as they seek lift-off on Matchday 2, our stat team ponders the Great Lake Giddy Festival, Potatoes over Nutella and a carnival atmosphere fit to bridge a quarter of a century.

There are fewer things more upsetting as a Billy Goat with the blues, so it was pleasant to hear all of those connected with Cologne bleating somewhat easier following their scoreless draw with Hannover on Sunday. That result may seem modest (no pun intended, Cologne fans), but it meant that last season’s fifth-place finishers avoided equalling Fortuna Düsseldorf’s 1991-92 record of six straight Bundesliga losses at the start of a campaign. What’s more, Sunday’s result saw Peter Stöger’s side earn their first point while keeping a first clean sheet in the top-flight this term.

“We’re glad to have cleared the zero,” the bespectacled Austrian tactician Stöger said afterward, his goalkeeper Timo Horn adding of the Hannover game, “We fought. Our luck will come back. We will win again.” And what better moment for that to happen than Thursday, when Cologne have the chance to bounce back from their opening Europa League loss against Arsenal? Red Star Belgrade – or Crvena Zvezda – are back in the Carnival City, stirring memories of a dramatic 3-0 win for Die Geißböcke against their Serbian rivals back in 1989.

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Back in the day! Thomas Häßler (l.) and former Cologne coach Christoph Daum found a way past Red Star in '89. - © imago / Kicker/Eissner

A Falko Götz double and Frank Ordenewitz’s last gasp effort were enough to see Cologne through 3-2 on aggregate in that dramatic UEFA Cup, third round meeting between the teams. Christoph Daum’s side even marched on to the semi-finals that season. Cologne’s passionate fans will get to relive that big European night intensity again this week when the Billy Goats host a game in this competition for the first time since Celtic were downed 2-0 in Müngersdorf some 25 years ago.

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“The players will be eating turkey and potatoes instead of Nutella and bread,” Hoffenheim’s shrewd young coach Julian Nagelsmann said after his side’s opening 2-1 Europa League loss at home to Portugal’s SC Braga earlier this month. An earlier kick-off time in Die Kraichgauer’s following match with Hertha Berlin may have necessitated that dietary change, yet whatever Nagelsmann’s charges munch on prior to facing Ludogorets this week, it will need to provide the Europa League debutants with plenty of vim and vigour.   

Hoping to avoid a fourth successive defeat in their maiden European campaign against a team who have won their last three European home games, Hoffenheim can respond with the fact that no Bulgarian side has triumphed in eleven previous encounters with German opponents. “We wanted to play in all three competitions this season, to play this frequently and to feel the strain,” goalkeeper Oliver Baumann insisted ahead of achtzehn99’s trip to Razgrad. We just wouldn’t recommend spreading any Nutella on your turkey, Oliver.   

Hertha Berlin’s 92nd game in UFEA club competition comes in Sweden’s Vinterstaden – or Winter City – where Die Alte Dame face relative newcomers to European competition, Östersund, in Group J. Famed for its Great Lake Giddy Festival – dare we call it Sweden’s answer to Oktoberfest? – the central Swedish region hosts the fascinating ÖFK, in the country’s fourth tier as recently as 2011.

While Pal Dardai’s Hertha side were playing out a 0-0 draw against Athletic Bilbao on Matchday one, upstarts Östersund ran out 2-0 winners against Zorya. Having won all three of their previous UEFA encounters against teams from Sweden, Hertha will thus be hoping to avoid any slip-up on their travels to this winter wonderland.

Good luck to all of our Bundesliga teams in Europe this week!