The three German teams go into the second Europa League matches needing a win to stay in the hunt for the knockout stages. In Cologne, police are bracing for an influx of hundreds of possible troublemakers from Belgrade.
Around 2,300 police officers were to be deployed in Cologne on Thursday to prevent or contain possible trouble between the local ultras and supporters of Serbian powerhouse Red Star Belgrade in and around the stadium in the Rhineland city. Police estimate the number of supporters prone to violence at around 500 on either side.
Officials expected a total of around 5,000 Serbian fans to make the trip, and some had already arrived in Cologne a day before the match. On Wednesday evening police detained eight known Red Star Belgrade hooligans in a downtown Cologne hotel, according to local daily Express. They have since been released.The Belgrade fans are expected to try to walk as a unit from downtown Cologne to the stadium in the city's west end and police will be out in force – with water cannons deployed in case of trouble.
In terms of the match itself, Cologne, like the other two German teams in action on Thursday night are very much in need of a result after they lost their opening Group H match 3-1 away to Arsenal. Not only that, but Peter Stöger's men will be looking to shed their general malaise, as they are still without a win in their first six matches of the Bundesliga season, leaving them dead last in the table.
Their match against a club from one of Europe's less prominent leagues could be a good opportunity for Cologne to begin pulling themselves out of their doldrums. However, the perennial Serbian champions are in good form and have been dominant in the Serbian Super Liga this season. They are tied for second in Group H, having played to a 1-1 draw at home to BATE Borisov in their first match.
Depleted Hoffenheim in Bulgaria
Hoffenheim, meanwhile, are set to embark upon their first-ever road match in the group stage of the Europa League.
Head coach Julian Nagelsmann faced considerable criticism after resting around half of his top 11 when Hoffenheim made their debut in the Europa League – a 2-1 defeat at home to Braga of Portugal back on September 14.
However, on Thursday, when Hoffenheim are away to Ludogorets Razgrad – Nagelsmann will have no choice but to improvise – after four more players were declared unfit to play on Wednesday. Striker Sandro Wagner and Florian Grillitsch are both ill, while Serge Gnabry and Benjamin Hübner are recovering from thigh muscle injuries.
Kerem Demirbay, Ermin Bicakcic, Nadiem Amiri and Adam Szalai had already been ruled out, meaning that Nagelsmann will be down eight potential starters.
Dyego Sousa (left) scored the winner as Sporting Braga beat Hoffenheim 2-1 in their first group-stage match.
Having lost their first match in the group, Hoffenheim cannot afford to lose their second as well. The club sit bottom of the group with 0 points, one fewer than Thursday's opponents, who earned a scoreless draw against Istanbul side Basaksehir in their first match. Still, the 30-year-old coach saw no reason for panic before the team boarded their plane for Bulgaria.
"The personnel puzzle will not be difficult. The human body is capable of playing every four days," Nagelsmann said. "We want to play a meaningful role in the group and reach the next round."
Just how much of a challenge Ludogorets Razgrad may pose is hard to gauge. Since they first entered to Bulgarian top-flight, they have established themselves as a force domestically. And three seasons ago, they showed that on a good night, they were capable of giving some of the big boys of Europe a game – at home at least – losing a Champions League group stage match to Real Madrid by a single goal and earning a draw against Liverpool. So on Thursday night, Nagelsmann may be well advised to put out his best-available 11.
Hertha head north
In the other game featuring German involvement,Hertha Berlin head north to face Ostersund in Sweden. Ostersund sit atop Group J after beating Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine in their first match. Hertha, on the other hand, after playing to a scoreless draw against Athletic Bilbao a fortnight ago. Pal Dardai's men are third in the group, tied on points with Athletic.