Today’s 2-0 win at Hamburg, accompanied by Schalke 04’s inexplicable loss at home to Greuther Fürth and their recent poor form have strengthened Eintracht Frankfurt’s bid for Champions League football next year. However, today’s match was all about one man: Srdjan Lakić.
Ineffective, frustrating, inconsistent, invisible… these are just some of the adjectives to describe Eintracht’s strikers this season so far. Olivier Occéan arrived from Greuther Fürth in the summer with a decent goals record behind him, only to score a single goal this season in 16 appearances, with it coming back in mid August.
Erwin Hoffer also got a single goal this season and his loan has been cut short from Napoli (he’s now currently on loan at Kaiserslautern, a division that many believe is his natural level). The other striker, Karim Matmour, is not a striker per se but has been employed in that position a few times by Armin Veh. Matmour’s speed and the other strikers’ poor record pushed the veteran coach to start him up front but with only a goal in return, the Algerian international evidently wasn’t the answer. Enter the room Srđan Lakić…
Late in the January transfer window, Eintracht Frankfurt announced the arrival of Srđan Lakić from VfL Wolfsburg on a loan deal until 2014. May 14th 2011 was the last time Lakić scored a Bundesliga goal, a 3-2 home win for his side 1. FC Kaiserslautern against Werder Bremen.
His excellent season at the old Fritz-Walter Stadion with 23 goals in 35 games earned him a move to Wolfsburg in the summer of 2011, but succeeding at Wolfsburg under Magath was an almost-impossible task. His chances in the first team were few and far apart, with his only goal for the club coming in the 3-2 DFB Pokal loss at RB Leipzig. Loaned to Hoffenheim in the later part of last season, Markus Babbel didn’t count on him much and he didn’t manage to score any goals.
Fast forward to February 2nd 2013. Lakić accomplished more in 36 minutes than he had in almost 20 months, and more than any other Eintracht striker had done in two years. Handed a starting spot in his debut match by Armin Veh, the former Croatian U-21 did not disappoint.
He warned HSV goalkeeper Rene Adler with an excellent header which went just wide and minutes later got on the end of a parried shot to tap it into an empty goal to make it 0-1 to Die Adler. Less than fifteen minutes later, he doubled his team’s lead with an excellent bouncing header from a Stefan Aigner cross that Adler couldn’t get his hand to. In little more than a half hour, the ghosts of his Wolfsburg past seemed forgotten.
However, Lakić isn’t just perfect for Eintracht because of the goals. Lakić’s main strength is his heading, which we saw exemplified today. For a team that plays wide rather than narrow, with excellent crossers of the ball such as Aigner, Jung and Oczipka, to add someone in the area other than Alex Meier who can get onto the end of those crosses and cause problems for the defence is primordial.
Neither Occéan, Hoffer or indeed Matmour have any area presence and Eintracht have relied far too much on their attacking midfielders (Takashi Inui, Meier and Aigner) to cause most of the attacking danger, effectively playing with 10 men all game, since the team striker’s impact has been minimal most of the Hinrunde.
With Lakić’s arrival Veh now has a player who can act as a poacher or as a target man. His first goal today was the classic example of a striker in the right place at the right time. Without the ball, Lakić did not allow the HSV defence to move forward comfortably from the back by putting pressure on their defence, as neither Westermann or Bruma were allowed much time on the ball, especially in the first half.
That pressure caused both to give away possession cheaply. Lakić ended the match making 11 tackles, third most among Frankfurt players Saturday behind Meier (13) and Bamba Anderson (12)—especially ironic considering that Magath benched the Croatian for his perceived lack of defensive commitment. The Croatian was visibly tired in the second half due to lack of playing time but if today’s match is a sign of things to come, he could well be the missing piece in Eintracht’s jigsaw.
Lakić showed good linking with Inui and Aigner and can easily play off Meier, allowing his side to have different attacking options. The Croatian was also effective by completing 12 of his 15 passing attempts. His addition to Veh’s squad and presence up front could mean that Eintracht can realistically start thinking that 4th position, or even 3rd, is a strong possibility.