Five weeks ago one would not have anticipated that the MatchDay 4 fixture between 1. FC Nürnberg and Eintracht Frankfurt would see the winner awarded the prize of sitting top of the Bundesliga for at least one night. It was Eintracht Frankfurt who seized that opportunity in the clash between the two surprisingly unbeaten teams and won a hard-fought match at the easyCredit-Stadion. Goals in each half by Erwin Hoffer and Takashi Inui were enough to seal the win despite a late goal by substitute Sebastian Polter for the hosts, who couldn’t quite get the equaliser, and which sees Der Club’s unbeaten record fall as Eintracht’s remains intact.
Lineups and tactics
Both sides were unchanged from their previous matches and they both lined up in 4-2-3-1 formations. These are two teams with fullbacks who enjoy pushing up into attack and two quick sets of wingers, so a lot of their attacking play relies on the performances on the flanks and high balls and crosses to the tall men up front, such as Pekhart for Der Club and Alex Meier and Oliver Occéan for Eintracht. Also, this was to be a big midfield battle between both sets of holding midfielders and the Japanese duel between Hiroshi Kiyotake and Takashi Inui.
Nürnberg got the better of the opening stages with a few set pieces being placed majestically by Kiyotake into the box, with Kevin Trapp proving to be equal to the home advances, especially an excellent save from a Pekhart header. Eintracht weren’t seeing much of the ball in the opening minutes and the pre-match expectations that it was going to be a tough match for Armin Veh’s men looked to be well founded. However, the first big incident of the match was not a goal-scoring chance but a clash of heads between Eintracht captain Pirmin Schwegler and Hanno Balitsch. Schwegler seemed to come off worse after blood immediately started pouring from a cut over his eyebrow and while Balitsch managed to carry on, the Swiss midfielder had to come off, with Martin Lanig substituting him, dealing an early blow for the travelling side.
Nürnberg kept pressing, with Carlos Zambrano lucky not to see a second yellow card after a challenge on Pekhart on the edge of the box following a reckless challenge minutes earlier. It soon got worse for Eintracht as Oliver Occéan had to come off with what seemed like a hamstring problem, with on-loan Napoli striker Erwin Hoffer replacing him. These two early substitutions could have been a problem for Veh but they seemed to be a blessing in disguise as Hoffer, with his first touch of the match, put Eintracht ahead on 25 minutes. Inui’s corner was cleared by the Nürnberg defence but it reached as far as Anderson Bamba’s head, which fed Hoffer, who shot on the half-turn inside the area without looking at goal, drilling the ball low to Schäfer’s far post.
The goal was against the run of play but it turned the game around, as Eintracht now began to boss the ball in midfield and create the better chances, with Inui having an effort shortly afterwards brilliantly saved by Schäfer. Der Club tried to reply with their own Japanese attacking midfielder, whose set pieces and striking of the ball were exquisite the whole match. Kiyotake picked up the ball in midfield and forced Trapp into a save from 25 yards, a chance from nowhere that reminded Eintracht that whilst they were still in control, the former Cerezo Osaka player had to be watched. Nürnberg were limited to long shots since Eintracht’s pressure and discipline in midfield were making it hard for the home side to put a few passes together, credit going to Lanig and Rode for that.
The second half started evenly with both sides seeing chances come. The hard-working Hoffer had a shot just over the bar and Swiss defender Timm Klose had a header from another excellent Kiyotake corner cleared off the line by Rode. But in the battle of the Japanese, Takashi Inui, quiet for his own standards until now, decided to take a step forward. Picking up the ball on the left flank, he dribbled through two home defenders and faked a shot past another one, unleashing a right-foot shot that curled beautifully into the far corner of Schäfer’s goal. The incredible goal reminded one of his strike last week against HSV.
At 0-2 up, Frankfurt seemed to be cruising. Dieter Hecking made a double substitution, swapping Esswein and Mak, both of whom had failed to get into the match properly, for Gebhart and Frantz, with a last roll of the dice move that has worked so well for him in the past. However, the home side were lucky not to be three down, as Sebastian Rode broke loose on the counter attack and laid it off for Hoffer, who couldn’t quite make good contact with the ball and could only shoot into the side netting. Nürnberg however couldn’t get shots on target, with a few efforts by Pinola and substitute Polter not troubling Trapp at all. Eintracht were displaying excellent work ethic and commitment, defending all together and pressing the home players every time they were in possession.
Der Club seemed to be running out of ideas and getting desperate for not troubling Trapp, but the one man who gave them a lifeline was no other than Eintracht’s stand-in captain, Alex Meier. Meier stupidly handled the ball 35 yards out which was another perfect chance for Kiyotake to whip the ball in searching for one tall Nürnberg players. This time though, Polter rose above everyone else and headed to the far post out of Trapp’s reach and into the bottom corner of the net. It was Der Club’s fifth set-piece goal of the season and a lifeline for them with 15 minutes to go.
Once again, the goal changed the dynamic of the game and Nürnberg were once again on top. Frankfurt looked nervy in possession and Nürnberg kept playing balls into the box but not finding a way past Trapp. In the last minute, a Kiyotake corner was cleared by the defence as far as Pinola, who miskicked his shot on goal which Inui misjudged and fell to Gebhart inside the area, who squared it for Polter, but the substitute could only put it inches wide from the post. The three minutes added on were mostly eaten up by Zambrano’s play acting after Pekhart fell on top of him, but Herr Zwayer, the referee, did not add any extra time on top of the stoppage and the match ended. Nürnberg manager Dieter Hecking was furious on the sidelines and had to be escorted away but Veh and his men won’t lose sleep over that for a single minute, as they maintain their perfect start to the season and managed to take 3 points from what undoubtedly was their toughest match yet.
Once again, Eintracht delivered when it was asked of them and they will be delighted with the three points. What seemed to be a handicap with the early substitutions of Schwegler and Occéan proved to be a blessing in disguise for Die Adler, with Lanig and Hoffer putting in excellent hard-working performances and showing the excellent strength in depth that Veh’s squad has. Not many teams can lose their captain and main striker within the first 20 minutes of a match and come back to win an on the road and also holding onto a lead with not many fresh legs on the pitch.
Friday’s result was also a record-breaker for Eintracht as they’ve become the first ever promoted team to the Bundesliga to win the first 4 games of the season. Veh can be very proud of his men after they all put in a hard-working performance and showed a lot of discipline in general, excepting the two moments of madness by Meier and Zambrano, who once again proved to be a defensive liability, although the referee saved him by keeping a well-deserved second yellow card in his pocket.
On the other hand, Nürnberg will be disappointed to have lost today, but their poor defending for the first goal turned the game around. It was only after Polter’s goal that they got going again but trying to overcome a 2-goal deficit in 15 minutes is not an enviable task at all. Eintracht’s legs were failing at the end after having pressured strongly for the whole match and Nürnberg almost took full advantage of this. Once again, Frankfurt made life difficult for themselves in the final minutes, turning a match that was under control into a nervy affair due to silly mistakes. Despite the great discipline throughout, concentration has to be maintained for 90 minutes, since the Bundesliga is not very forgiving against the bigger teams, an issue that Veh will surely have to address.
In the battle of the Japanese, they both put in excellent performances. Kiyotake was the axis of Nürnberg’s attack during the whole game, and Inui’s goal was exceptional. The Japanese trend is fast growing in the Bundesliga and it’s certainly producing very exciting players.
Nürnberg will be looking to scrape some points from the tricky midweek trip to Hannover and Eintracht will host the double-champions Borussia Dortmund at the Commerzbank-Arena on Tuesday, in what will undoubtedly be the match of the season so far. If they can keep their concentration for 90 minutes, an upset might be on the cards. But, would it be an upset?
Man of the match:
Today’s best performances were not stand-out performances but hard-working performances. Had Nürnberg equalised, the accolade would have gone to Hiroshi Kiyotake but Eintracht had many players who ran their socks off today, led by Meier, who covered 12.79 km. Stefan Aigner and Erwin Hoffer put in tremendous efforts and Martin Lanig was calm and composed in midfield, making very few mistakes and defending well when needed, but the award goes to Sebastian Rode, whose box-to-box performance today was truly outstanding. His contributions in attack and defence were fantastic as he led the Die Adler in passes completed and touches, along with his goal line clearance and the young former-Kickers Offenbach midfielder perfectly exemplifies what Eintracht are all about under Veh.