Newly promoted Schalke 04 begin their Bundesliga campaign with a tricky away encounter against FC Köln, who qualified for the Europa Conference League with a seventh-place finish last season.
|Photo: FC Schalke 04|
As a result of finishing in seventh position last term, Köln are looking forward to a European expedition this term. They will face either Fehérvár FC or FC Petrocub-Hincesti in the Europa Conference League playoff round, but first, they must focus on the opening two weeks of the Bundesliga season.
Facing newly promoted Schalke in their opening league game presents the chance of a positive result, but they will be cautious of being complacent after crashing out of the DFB-Pokal last weekend.
Beginning the season with an away cup tie against second-tier opponents Jahn Regensburg, Steffen Baumgart's side started poorly, conceding two goals before the half-hour mark. Mark Uth managed to halve the deficit in the 28th minute before Dejan Ljubičić found an equaliser in the second period.
With neither side able to find a winner before inside 90 minutes or in extra-time, the encounter was decided on penalties. The 2. Bundesliga prevailed 4-3 in the shootout to progress to the second round, while Köln were left to contemplate a disappointing result.
Die Geißböcke will now turn their attention to their league campaign, and they will head into the new Bundesliga season seven summer signings. Baumgart will hope his new additions can help his side balance domestic action with a Europa Conference League campaign.
Despite scoring against Regensburg last weekend, Uth will miss out on Sunday due to a groin injury, while Timo Hübers is also expected to be sidelined for the league opener.
Schalke have made an immediate return to the top flight after winning the 2. Bundesliga last season.
When Dimitrios Grammozis was sacked in March, Schalke were sat in sixth place with seven points separating them from top spot. However, eight wins from their final nine games under the tutelage of interim boss Mike Büskens helped Schalke climb up the table to secure promotion and the 2. Bundesliga title.
Before taking over the role, it was agreed that Büskens would return to his assistant coach role at the end of the season, so Schalke had to go searching for a new head coach. They opted for Frank Kramer, who was sacked by Arminia Bielefeld in April.
While his former club could not avoid relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, Kramer will hope to enjoy a far more successful Bundesliga campaign with Schalke.
In an attempt to avoid a relegation battle, Schalke have signed as many as 12 players this summer. Sebastian Polter - who top-scored for Bochum last season - is among those that have joined, while Thomas Ouwejan, Rodrigo Zalazar and Marvin Pieringer have all signed on a permanent basis after enjoying successful loan spells with the club last season.
The newly-promoted side thrashed Bremer 5-0 in the DFB-Pokal last weekend, and they will now focus on their away meeting with Köln on Sunday. Schalke will look to draw confidence from the fact they ended last season with the joint-best away record in the 2. Bundesliga.
Former Köln player Simon Terodde scored 30 league goals for Schalke last season, but he will be unable to face his former club due to a muscle injury.