Holstein Kiel coach Ole Werner has a couple of large holes to fill in his side for the first leg against 1. FC Köln on Wednesday evening.
Midfield stalwarts Jonas Meffert and Alexander Mühling both saw their fifth yellow cards of the season in the defeat to Darmstadt on Sunday and will thus miss the game in Cologne.
When Mühling has had spells out of the team in recent months, his role next to Lee Jae-sung has usually been taken by Niklas Hauptmann – on loan from Effzeh –or Ahmet Arslan, until he suffered an ACL tear against Hannover a few weeks ago.
There has been no suggestion that Hauptmann will miss the two games because of any conflict of interest – which had been the case in 2019, when Agyemang Diawusie, on loan at Wehen Wiesbaden at the time, missed their play-off matches against his parent club Ingolstadt.
The alternative would be Finn Porath. He has played centrally over the course of the season but will probably be needed to relieve the starting wingers – probably Fin Bartels and Fabian Reese – in the second half.
Replacing defensive midfielder Meffert, who has started every game in league and cup this season, will be more complicated given his role in the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 formation.
Defensive utility man Aleksandar Ignjovski looks set to start, with Werner admitting “there aren’t too many other options.” However, he has hardly played this calendar year and not at all since battling back to fitness after a COVID-19 infection.
Marco Komenda – normally a centre-back who has also filled in at left-back –could also play in the role, whilst a longshot could be 19-year-old Jonas Sterner, whose only previous first team appearance was at the back end of last season.
Werner could just put both Hauptmann and Porath in together, with Hauptmann as the holder, but it is not a role he will be familiar with, and a more defensive option would be more responsible against a side that, despite its flaws, still have enough individual quality to hurt the Storks.
The odds will be stacked against Kiel given the history of the ‘Relegation’ play-off – just two 2. Bundesliga sides have overcome Bundesliga teams in the past decade – and the game coming so soon after the heartbreaking defeat at the weekend will not help them – especially with Köln themselves coming off a high following their victory over Schalke.
Nevertheless, they have played a very strong season, and they have proven they are capable of prevailing against Bundesliga opposition this year as well – no less than Bayern Munich.
Predicted Holstein Kiel XI: Dähne; Dehm, Lorenz, Wahl, van den Bergh; Ignjovski; Bartels, Hautpmann, Lee, Reese; Serra.