Glancing at the league table with only three matchdays remaining, the relegation battle looks as close as always. There are only seven points separating 11th place Hamburg and 17th place Eintracht.
The relegation battle looks increasingly bleak for Eintracht Frankfurt (SGE), even after their win Sunday over Mainz. Die Adler appear ready to join already-relegated Hannover 96 in Germany’s 2nd division next season, which seems likely considering how SGE’s weaknesses have been exposed this season. The frustration is intensifying for Eintracht fans. Frankfurt has been on a steady downward trajectory since the middle of the Hinrunde.
So what’s gone wrong for Eintracht this season? Let’s do some diagnosing and see what’s been ailing Die Adler this season …
Bad Mentality and Lost Identity
First, there are issues beyond the on-pitch management of Eintracht that need to be addressed. The current footballing mindset has changed the game faster than anyone could have imagine.
The injection of money into the clubs like Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, fellow relegation strugglers Hoffenheim, and presumably newest additions, RB Leipzig has left the old grand clubs like Eintracht, Werder Bremen, Hamburger SV in the dust and out of the contention for the title and effectively excluded from the gravy train of the UEFA Champions League.
This immense change of footballing situations in Germany has forced, even for the traditional clubs, to aspire big for the Champions League or Europa League to an extent. The ambitions of the well-funded German clubs resulted in a downgrade for tradition clubs with a big following and decent history but lacking in recent quality in comparison to clubs like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and even the ever-inconsistent FC Schalke. This effects Eintracht and its identity, as it does Werde rBremen. HSV, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96, who are in the same boat. as well as 2nd division clubs such as 1.FC Kaiserslautern, who are in an even worse situation.
Eintracht, with an amazing fan support and a glorious infrastructure as well as the city itself, being the metropolitan capital of Germany, is finding it tough to succeed in the Bundesliga and will be no surprise for the fans having a dig at the ‘Champions League era of football’.
Series of Mediocrity
Eintracht Frankfurt officials shot themselves in the foot after getting rid of Thomas Schaaf, despite the manager finishing a respectable ninth with Eintracht last season. In came Armin Veh, who’d left the club the year before to rejoin Stuttgart, to improve the result but his ambition towards a brighter future never came close to fruition.
For the first couple of months, Eintracht’s performance looked destined for a mid-table or a Europa League finish but because of any lack of support to the coach, the tables started to turn around and soon the Eintracht fans and officials started to turn their backs on Veh, causing the coach to have no answer to the club’s poor performance on the field. In fact, banners reading “Armin Geh” (Leave Armin) were seen among the fans.
The newest man to take Eintracht’s coaching reins, Niko Kovač, hasn’t been able to change Eintracht’s plight much either since being appointed March 8. In fact, Eintracht’s performance level gone bad to worse since Kovač, with the assistance of his brother Robert, arrived at the Commerzbank Arena. (Just two wins and four losses in six games)
This quick change of managers in Frankfurt negates any possibilities for the club to embrace a particular philosophy and identity, while also leaving the players wondering about their future with the new coach, which affects the team’s performance. As much as Veh and to a lesser extent, Kovač are coming in for criticism, there are ingrained problems at play as well causing Eintracht to suffer.
Lack of Philosophy
The club playing with no particular philosophy has been one of their many problems for this season and perhaps, the most significant one. Tactical flexibility separates good teams from bad teams, especially in the Bundesliga. A good team has a precise idea of how to press or how to pass and has a clear strategy, which is reflected in their playing style.
Newly promoted SV Darmstadt for example as a team has a certain idea of how to approach the game against different opponents. Battling long balls, capturing the gaps and closing opponents out, Darmstadt have a circumscribed game which has helped them collect 35 points in Germany’s top division after being in 3.Liga just two years ago. Then again, Coach Dirk Schuster has been in his role since December, 2012 creating a stable situation in which the Darmstadt squad know their Schuster’s expectations and the manner in which they are to achieve their goals. But this not only applies to Darmstadt. Bayern and Dortmund’s positional play, Bayer Leverkusen’s extreme pressing, Andre Schubert and Julian Nagelsmann’s man oriented pressing system as well as Markus Weinzierl’s defensive rigidness have helped their respective teams to find success in the Bundesliga.
But this isn’t the case for Eintracht whatsoever! Eintracht’s pressing system sometimes get complicated and sometimes they press too high. Generally, Frankfurt are known to be a team who relies on its attack to try to outscore opponents, but since their attack has heavily underperformed this season and poor defensive work has been frequent, Eintracht has seen been dawdling on the relegation zone for most part of this season.
Eintracht’s attack have let them down big time this season especially in the Rückrunde. Apart from last season’s top scorer Alex Meier, no one really kicked into gear this season. Meier is the top scorer for Eintracht with 12 goals but his injury in the Rückrunde has been a real blow for Die Adler. But the blame should also be given to other attackers for not showing up in the absence of Alex Meier.
Frankfurt have scored only ten goals in the Rückrunde, of which five of have been scored by Alex Meier. It has gotten worse under Niko Kovač’, since his arrival, Die SGE have managed only three goals and managed a paltry total of 46 shots in six games.
Third worst by any team, Eintracht has managed 31 goals in the whole season but it could have been much less had it not been for two big 4:1 and 6:2(that’s 10 goals!) victories against VfB Stuttgart and Köln respectively in the opening stages of the season.
Eintracht need 12 shots to score a goal this season which is the second worst in the league. Only Hannover(22.7%) have managed a worse shooting accuracy than Eintracht’s 23.3% this season.
24 years old striker Haris Seferović has been the biggest flop for Eintracht this season. There was a lot of expectation from Seferović at the start, as the Swiss managed to score 10 goals last season but the pressure got the better of Seferović this season.
Despite being fit, Seferović only managed to score three goals from 25 appearances for Eintracht this season, with a poor 39% shooting accuracy.
No wonder why he has been doomed as one of the worst attackers in the Bundesliga this season. “He is no goal scorer”- Veh once said during his time at Eintracht this season (well said indeed!). Seferović’ poor form and a strong ego has been one of the reasons for Eintracht’s poor attack this season.
[You can see those diagram thanks to the brilliant work by FussballRadars team on Twitter]
Frankfurt’s defense has also been a reason for their demise, albeit to a lesser extent. For most part of the season Eintracht’s defense struggled with injuries and failed to cope with the opposition attack having the fourth worst defense in the league with 50 goals conceded.
One of the main reasons of their poor defense has been the injuries to the key defenders for most part of the season but having said that, players like Zambrano, Russ and Oczipka, who were fit during the season, didn’t do too well either.
Kevin Trapp was one of the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga last season but since his departure, Eintracht have found it difficult to replace him. Lukas Hradecky, who was brought in to replace the PSG bound goalkeeper, enjoyed a good start to the season, but his performance has started to disappoint Eintracht big time. Coming to the end of the season, Hradecky has been one of the worst goalkeepers of the Ruckrunde.
These kind of mistakes have haunted Eintracht Frankfurt this season and coach Niko Kovac should be looking for some improvement if they are to have any chances of survival with three matches remaining.
Injuries have played their part too
It’s fair to say it has been the story of Eintracht’s season so far. The Eagles have had a lot of injuries this season especially in the defensive department. Key defender Bamba Anderson has missed the whole season due to a hyaline cartilage as well as Stefan Reinartz, whose hamstring injury will keep him on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Frequent injuries to defenders once forced Eintracht to play with 20-year-old David Kinsombi against Borussia Dortmund(He only played 1 minute of Bundesliga football before going into the match). The lone bright spot has been new singing Luc Castaignos, who has done relatively well but it has been the same story of injuries which kept him out for 12 games this season.
Injuries have also forced Eintracht to change the lineups 67 times this season and the team is bound to struggle with so much changes without having any real depth in their squad.
Here is a table of key Eintracht players who have missed a handful number of matches due to injury.
Apart from aforementioned points, there are other reasons too for SGE’s dismal performance.
Prior to the Mainz match, Eintracht had created only 245 chances this season and in the last four games they have created just 21 chances. Marc Stendera, who was meant to be their main supplier of goals, has performed below expectations this season, managing only 25 key passes and providing only one assist in 24 matches. That’s about one chance creation per match, which is not a thing to be proud of, especially for a player of Stendera’s caliber. In fact, Szabolcs Huszti, who came in through the winter transfer window has already created 23 chances in just 11 appearances but that’s where another issue comes in – Conversion of chances!
“If you are having bad time, you need to make full use of your opportunities” – But Eintracht haven’t been able to do so. The Eagles have a poor chance conversion rate of 8.57% and a shot conversion rate of 8.58%, both of these figures are in the mix of worst in the league, approving their lamentable form in front of goal.
Eintracht has been given a glorious oppoturnity to make amends for their dismal performance whole season in these final three games. Niko Kovac’s must now give his team into a clear strategy for these final matches. And Eintracht will have the momentum going into the these final three games thanks to their morale boosting 2:1 win over Mainz. Next week, Eintracht will travel to Bollerfaltor to face a fellow relegation candidates Darmstadt (35 points). If they can gather at least four points from their next two games against Darmstadt and Dortmund, they will be in a very good position before the final showdown against Werder (31 points) on MatchDay 34!
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