Frankfurt’s 3-0 win over Hannover on Sunday came ahead of a much-needed week off from Europa League play. Eintracht looked tired and sluggish for much of the game, and the victory came after five straight draws (four in the Bundesliga, one in the Europa League).
Although still unbeaten so far in 2019, those draws saw them slip two spots in the standings. The Eagles currently lie sixth in a table that is jam packed, with only 11 points separating third from tenth. Sitting six points behind Borussia Mönchengladbach in third, the race is on to finish the season in a Champions League spot. The schedule could work in their favor down the stretch, although Eintracht will need to handle their business well to qualify for Europe’s biggest competition.
On paper at least, Eintracht have been through the most difficult part of their schedule. From now until the end of the season, the only teams left to play that rank ahead of them are Wolfsburg (match-day 30) and Bayern Munich (match-day 34). Given that Eintracht need to make up six points, and with Leverkusen and Hoffenheim nipping at their heels, the pressure is on to convert these remaining games into three points. They will be looking for help from Dortmund (Wolfsburg MD 25, Gladbach MD 34), Bayern Munich (Gladbach MD 23, Wolfsburg MD 24, Leipzig MD 33) and others to help clear the way ahead of them.
As three of their next four domestic games are on the road, Eintracht still seem to have their work cut out for them. Nonetheless, they’re only two points off of their total from a year ago, although Eintracht must find ways to maintain consistency down the stretch. While their path begins with them handling their own business on the pitch, they also need a little help from from others to open a hole in the standings.
A familiar setting for Eintracht
Moreover, a year ago today, Eintracht sat in a very similar position. On match-day 23 last season, Die Adler were in third place, with 39 points in the bank. The only real blemish on their December and January record had been a loss to Augsburg. Having just beaten R.B. Leipzig 2-1, Eintracht were in the midst of a dogfight for a spot among the Bundesliga’s top clubs.
Fast-forward just a few weeks to match-day 30: word had just come out about Niko Kovac’s agreement with Bayern. The wheels subsequently came completely off, and Eintracht lost four of its last five games. The club fell out of the Europa League qualifying spots and all the way down to eighth in the standings, getting blasted by Leverkusen, HSV, and Kovac’s future club Bayern by a combined margin of 2-11 over a three-week span.
While the situation is similar, this is a different team
Last season’s squad was much different in terms of personnel, philosophy and attitude. This year’s side has a high-octane, quick-hitting attack that comes at you in many ways. The trio up top (Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic) are all primary targets in the final third, and they have played very unselfishly for each other.
Although those three receive the lion’s share of the credit, Filip Kostic and Danny da Costa have been just as spectacular. The pair have been a tremendous tandem in both defending and attacking from the flanks. Both have been extremely accurate and timely with their crossing, and they’ve allowed Jovic and Haller to attack the middle of the box in search of goals.
This season, Eintracht also trust themselves more when they’re in the lead. A year ago, they appeared content with simply scoring a goal and then sitting back and defending. They often played to not leave themselves open in defence and made little attempt to attack or counter. This season, though, they’re pressing for more and more goals, and they never let up. Instead of playing possession football, they continue to attack the ball and move forward quickly, leading to the highest number of counter-attack goals (tied for the lead with six) in the Bundesliga.
Another big reason for Frankfurt’s good performances is the reliability of the back line. No matter who has been selected in defence, they have covered up for the mistakes in front of them. Aging veterans (Abraham, Russ, Hasebe), youngsters (N’Dicka), barely used players (Falette) and newcomers (Hinteregger) have all fulfilled their roles very well, playing with controlled aggression and patience.
They have also drastically reduced the number of cards from last year and are sitting in the bottom-third of the league in terms of goals against. In addition, the Eintracht defence currently ranks second in the Bundesliga in drawing offsides (2.6 per game), and the back line has done a great job playing high, aggressively and smartly, rarely leaving keeper Kevin Trapp exposed.
Tired legs need rest
A common theme among Bundesliga teams playing in European competition for almost two decades has been their inability to compete both domestically and continentally. Going all the way back to S.C. Freiburg in 2001/02, several clubs have climbed their way up the Bundesliga ladder only to be relegated the following year under the pressure of playing on two fronts. Eintracht currently have seven players (da Costa, Kostic, N’Dicka, Haller, Trapp, Hinteregger and Hasebe) who have already logged more than 2,000 minutes in the Bundesliga and Europa League combined. Gelson Fernandes is only 29 minutes behind that benchmark as well.
Da Costa’s workload of 2,700 minutes in the very demanding wing-back position makes you wonder how much longer he can hold this up. He also ranks second in the Bundesliga in sprints, and third in intensive runs. Kostic is right behind him as well (fourth in sprints), and the two have combined to cover in excess of 500 km in Bundesliga play alone.
Eintracht lead the Bundesliga in sprints (averaging 7.7 km/game) and rank third in intensive runs. Sporting director Bruno Hübner also brought in reinforcements during the winter transfer window. Martin Hinteregger provides the club with another quality central defender to add to the mix, which has given Adi Hütter some flexibility with his lineup, allowing him to move Hasebe from center back to defensive midfield.
The other January arrivals were Sebastian Rode, a quality defensive midfielder who had seen limited time this season in Dortmund, and Almamy Toure, who can play multiple positions but had only been on the field for less than 400 minutes this term at AS Monaco. Timothy Chandler, Lucas Torro and Gonçalo Paciência also add strength to the squad as they return from injury. Chandler should allow players on both wings to enjoy some much-needed rest, while Torro proved a capable midfielder before his knee injury. And although Paciencia never really got started this season, he should still be able to deputise for all three first-choice forwards.
While the many Eintracht fans all across the globe who are part of Eintracht-Internationale have to be concerned about heavy legs, one also has to trust that a few of these legs are young enough to hold up. N’Dicka (19), da Costa (25), Jovic (26), Haller (24) and Hinteregger are all on the right side of 30 to be able to finish the season strongly. While a few aging legs (Hasebe 34, Abraham 32, and Fernandes 32) need to be watched carefully, the additions made in the winter break should keep the rotation fresh in the coming months.
With a tough match-up against Inter Milan in the next round of the Europa League, Hütter will have to keep hitting the right buttons in Frankfurt to keep his team fresh and ready to go. This is exactly why Hübner and Fredi Bobic brought him here, of course. His experience playing in Europe will be a key factor for the Eagles in the coming weeks. It all begins with what should be an exciting match up Saturday vs. Hoffenheim. As Hütter said in a recent interview, “It will not be boring.”
You can find another recent article on Eintracht Frankfurt here.
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