Eintracht Frankfurt 2 – 1 SC Freiburg: Alex Meier Inspires Comeback Win

Eintracht Frankfurt continue their surprising undefeated start to the 2012/2013 Bundesliga season, as they defeated Christian Streich’s hardluck Freiburg side in a 2-1 victory at their Commerzbank Arena home Sunday.  Alex Meier was the hero for Die Adler with two second half goals that erased Freiburg’s lead and gave Eintracht all three points.  Eintracht have a clear hold on second place in the standings, only two points behind perfect Bayern München and five points ahead of their nearest rivals with a 5-1-0 record.

Lineups and tactics

Unsurprisingly, Armin Veh maintained his XI from the last match against Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Erwin Hoffer kept his spot in the starting role in place of the injured Olivier Occéan while once again Veh looked to rely on the speed of his wingers, Inui and Aigner, to run at the Freiburg defence, allowing Hoffer and Meier to pick up the pieces and Schwegler and Rode to contribute from the engine room. The impetuous Zambrano partnered Anderson Bamba in central defence and once again, Jung and Oczipka lined up to defend and attack equally.

Christian Streich changed his 4-4-1-1 formation to a more attacking 4-4-2, with the only personnel change being Sebastian Freis coming in for the Slovakian Karim Guedé, with Max Kruse pushing a bit further up but also dropping back to connect with the midfield if needed. For those unfamiliar with Freiburg’s team, 18-year old Matthias Ginter started again at centre back.  The German U19 player has been catching the eye of big teams of late. Makiadi and Schuster were positioned in holding midfield but a bit deeper than most flat 4-4-2 systems, and Jonathan Schmid and Daniel Caligiuri, brother of Mainz’s Marco, started on the wings.

Each coach had the luxury of having their goals guarded by two of the brightest young German keepers in the league, Kevin Trapp for the hosts and Frank Baumann for the visitors in an interesting duel that will no doubt draw comparisons.

The match

This was never going to be an easy match for Eintracht despite Freiburg being in lower-mid table and the premise turned out to be right. A cagey start to the game brought few chances for either side, as Streich’s defensive midfield tactics frustrated Eintracht when they arrived to the visitor’s area. Frankfurt had the possession but the first big chance of the game fell to the visitors, as a training-ground move saw a free kick threaded behind the wall and into the path of Schuster, whose shot was blocked by Trapp. Eintracht’s first chance was a free kick by captain Schwegler that Baumann tipped for a corner, with both goalkeepers keeping their sides level.

On 26 minutes, the biggest chance of the match thus far fell to Takashi Inui, who was put through 1-on-1 against Baumann by Rode. Despite having plenty of time, he could only shoot at the legs of the Freiburg keeper, who covered the space very well. Inui was left with his head in his hands and Veh was furious on the sidelines, as a golden chance had gone begging. The disappointment could have been a lot worse just seconds later, as Daniel Caligiuri skipped past the Eintracht defence but shot straight into the side netting. Eintracht were gifting the ball away in their own too often and Inui’s head still seemed on his earlier 1-on-1 opportunity as his terrible clearance fell to Sorg.  Had it not been for Jung’s last ditch tackle, the Japanese attacker’s afternoon could have gone from bad to worse very quickly.

Eintracht had gone quiet up front but it took one of the team’s most emblematic players to try and turn things around. Freiburg missed a clearance which fell to Schwegler, who headed it for Alex Meier who pulled off an excellent scissor kick that whistled past Baumann’s far post, an excellent move that normally wouldn’t be expected from such a big man.  The first half ended scoreless.

Eintracht came out of the dressing room half asleep for the second half and they were made to pay for it after just 5 minutes. Schmid received the ball on the right wing and put a cross in that Anderson should have cleared easily but failed to do so. The ball fell to Sebastian Freis, whose shot was saved by Trapp, but in another example of lack of concentration by the Eintracht centre backs, the rebound fell to Max Kruse, who shot across the goal past Trapp and into the net to put the visitors into the lead, although replays showed that he was half a yard offside.

Things could have unraveled for Eintracht shortly after as, once again, the Eintracht centre backs weren’t able to clear a seemingly easy ball which fell to Congolese midfielder Makiadi, who could only manage to sky his shot to the relief of the 45000 Eintracht fans at the Commerzbank-Arena.

Veh tried to change things around as the once-again invisible Erwin Hoffer came off for Karim Matmour, adding more speed and movement to the home frontline. Freiburg were still on top and it took an excellent save by Trapp to keep the score at 0-1, as he managed to fly and tip the ball for a corner after an excellent 25-yard shot by Julian Schuster.  The crowd’s discontent seemed to rub off on the home players, as Aigner came close minutes later and Inui had a goal rightly ruled out for offside, although his excellent finishing from a tight angle will have kept many asking why he wasn’t able to put the easy chance away in the first half. And from one goal ruled out for offside to another at the other end, as Trapp parried a shot from Schmid and Freis slotted it in the rebound, only for it to be rightly disallowed for offside.

The game was now open and frantic, and the vociferous Eintracht fans willed their team on despite their defensive frailties. And so, the support paid off. Oczipka received a ball on the left and whipped it in for Meier on the edge of the area, who flicked it up with his left foot and unleashed an unstoppable volley with his right on the turn past Baumann, a goal that had it been scored by some of Europe’s top names, we would have heard about it for a long time. This goal lifted the team and the crowd, and Eintracht suddenly seemed inspired.

With the score knotted, Inui was once again put through 1-on-1 but his heavy first touch meant that Baumann was able to catch the ball.  Eintracht however were still pressuring and Freiburg’s tactics didn’t allow for much else other than weathering the storm.   Bastian Oczipka took an inswinging corner that met the head of Alex Meier in the 73rd minute.  Meier had risen above the whole defence and headed it past Baumann, a goal that perhaps whilst not deserved overall was definitely coming.

Streich made his last attacking attempt by taking Schmid off for Dembélé, but it wasn’t enough for his side, as Eintracht saw their 2-1 advantage for the remaining fifteen plus minutes. There was still time for some more drama at the death though, as Karim Guedé was sent off in the 90th minute for a hard challenge in the air against Zambrano, although replays suggest that his foot didn’t make contact with the Peruvian defender and that the clash was with the shoulder. Zambrano made the most of the situation once again and the red card proving to be a tad harsh.

The verdict

Eintracht continue their unbeaten run and their resilient approach to matches after going a goal down cannot be overlooked. However, and unlike the Borussia Dortmund game a few days ago, Freiburg shouldn’t have been in the driving position in the first place and the crowd definitely spurred the team on, something which won’t happen if this situation repeats itself away from home.

Frankfurt have two serious problems: central defence and their striker. Zambrano and Anderson haven’t exactly filled the fans with confidence this season and while they have had some lucky escapes, slip-ups are starting to come thick and fast. Zambrano had his dodgy moments a few games ago but it’s been Anderson Bamba who has not been on top of his game recently. First it was Götze’s goal the other day and today he was to blame for not picking Kruse up on his goal. Freiburg also let them off today a couple of times but if it had been Huntelaar or Lewandowski instead of Freis today, it would have been game, set and match for the opposition.

Veh has shown that he’s not one to change his starting lineup this season, fielding the same starting XI in all league games except for the forced change of Hoffer for Occéan due to injury. However, Eintracht are playing with fire here and with Demidov on the bench, he must be at odds as to why he hasn’t been given a chance, and surely the performance at Aue should not be a precedent since Zambrano and Anderson have also made their fair share of mistakes since.

As for the striker, Hoffer has struggled in the two matches he’s started, and he’s been substituted for Matmour on both occasions, so something needs to change if he is to keep his place. Whether Occéan can bring the goals to the side remains to be seen.

Freiburg’s tactics of playing two deep holding midfielders clearly worked for them in the first half and up to the first goal but their capacity of reaction was non-existent, and this was the problem once again in midweek against Werder Bremen. Streich needs to change things around a bit earlier if the pressure is on rather than try to ride it.

Eintracht once again rode their luck today but got away with it. Despite the three points and the unbeaten run, one cannot ignore their lack in some departments and that’s something that Veh will need to look at and not ignore. Also, playing the same XI every week could have negative consequences later in the season and rotations should also be something he should look into, since he’s got capable people on the bench such as Demidov, Celozzi, Lanig and Matmour, with Occéan still to come back. With a team that presses so much and that has so many players who run their socks off all game like Rode, Jung, Schwegler and Oczipka, perhaps giving them a break every once in a while would be beneficial in the long term. Although, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that seems to be Veh’s philosophy at the minute, but his club allowed more shots and shots on goal than they took Sunday as well as allowing as many corner kicks to the visitors as they earned themselves.  Despite Eintracht’s having a 10 point advantage in passes completed while completing 140 passes more than the visitors, the match could easily have seen Veh’s team drop points.

Man of the match

Today’s match was a tricky one that came unstuck thanks to Alex Meier. His effort in the first half and two goals in the second one attempted to, and then to and managed to, revive his side running out of ideas. The man who has been at Eintracht since 2004 scored an excellent goal that was worthy of the best in the world and his game combines physical presence with flair and skill, and his goals that earned Eintracht promotion last year might just save them a few times this season. Additionally, Meier led his team Sunday in tackles won and was second among his teammates to Aigner in ground covered. Honourable mentions go to Kevin Trapp for producing some excellent saves and Daniel Caligiuri for being a constant threat although Meier was the only real contender for this award today.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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