Eintracht Frankfurt: The Bundesliga’s surprise package
As Bayern Munich continue to create ripples across German football with their fantastic start to the season, which has seen them go 12 points clear of reigning champions Borussia Dortmund after winning 9 of their opening 10 games – including the setting of a new Bundesliga record for winning the first 8 games in a row – the football team arguably creating the biggest waves in German football is Eintracht Frankfurt.
The newly promoted team finished as runners-up in Bundesliga 2 last season, and find themselves in the dizzying heights of 3rd place in the Bundesliga. Under manager Armin Veh – who won the Bundesliga with Stuttgart in 2006/07 – Frankfurt were promoted back to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking after they suffered relegation in 2010/11.
So far this season, Veh has guided ‘Die Adler’ (‘The Eagles’) to the best ever start in the Bundesliga by a newly promoted team.
Building on Promotion
After being one of the 16 founding members of the Bundesliga, it is quite apt that the team are back in the league and performing so well during the Bundesliga’s 50th year anniversary. Despite operating on limited funds compared to some of the power-houses of German football and lacking many – if any – household names, Frankfurt are definitely disrupting the status quo.
After finishing behind Greuther Furth in the Bundesliga 2 last season and being promoted, Veh spent the summer strengthening the squad, with the ambition being to survive in the league. After selling striker Mohamadou Idrissou and midfielder Matthias Lehmann who were part of the first team, the squad was boosted by the permanent signing of central defender Anderson Bamba and the extended loan of striker Erwin Hoffer from Napoli, who were both on loan at the club during their promotion season.
The team was further strengthened with the signings of Germany under-21 goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, and Canadian striker Olivier Occean from rivals Greuther Further, attacking midfielders Takashi Inui and Stefan Aigner, holding midfielder Martin Lanig and defenders Bastian Oczipka and Vadim Demidov.
The club also retained the services of Meier, who along with new signing Occean, both topped the goal scoring charts in Bundesliga 2 with 17 goals last year.
An Unexpected Start
After the first 10 games of the season, Frankfurt have picked up 20 points from a possible 30 and find themselves as joint Champions League contenders, along with Schalke and 2 points ahead of Europa League hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen. This great start saw Frankfurt go unbeaten in their first 6 games and win 8 out of the 10 games they have played so far.
Most notably, they have beaten European representatives in Bayer Leverkusen (2-1) and Hannover (3-1), as well as held reigning Champions Borussia Dortmund to a thrilling 3-3 draw. During this run, Frankfurt can boast the best home form in the league after making Commerzbank-Arena a daunting place to visit for the opposition, as the home team have amassed 14 points from a possible 18. They also remain only one of the two teams yet to lose at home, the other being Bayer Leverkusen.
Frankfurt are also the 2nd highest scorers in the league – not surprisingly behind free-scoring Bayern Munich – and they have the 3rd best goal difference of all teams. Despite this great start to the season, Frankfurt find themselves in their first mini-crisis of the season.
After losing away to Stuttgart 2-1, then only managing a 1-1 draw against fellow new promotes Greuther Furth, Frankfurt find their next game away to Bayern Munich at the daunting Allianz Arena which could mean the likely scenario of only picking up 1 point from a possible 9.
The Importance of the Midfield Five
Praise should be given to Veh for the way he has shaped and blended the team so quickly. A key reason for this is that the manager has played the same 4-2-3-1 formation in each match, and has kept a relatively consistent starting 11 which will have helped each individual understand what is required of themselves and the team. The key to Frankfurt’s impressive start to the season is their 5 man midfield – Rode, Schwegler, Meier, Aigner and Inui. The first 2 providing defensive cover for the latter 3 who like to attack.
The attacking midfield trio of Meier, Aigner and Inui have been the driving force behind Eintracht Frankfurt’s goals this season. Meier has continued his goal scoring exploits from last season by netting 7 goals from the central position, making him the joint 2nd highest scorer in the Bundesliga.
Either flank next to him is Aigner and Inui, who have both scored 3 goals each and provided 5 assists together. Including the 2 assists that Meier has also provided, this means that the attacking trio have been directly involved in 20 of the 21 goals Frankfurt have scored.
Behind these 3 are the defensive midfield pairing of Rode and Frankfurt captain Schwegler, who not only set the tempo with their passing (averaging 54.4 and 52.1 passes per match respectively – the most in the team), but also provide defensive steel to break down opposition attacks. The pair have made the most tackles (2.7 and 2.8 per game on average) and interceptions (2.3 each per game on average) for Frankfurt.
The problem for Frankfurt may arise if there is a key injury to one of these five players or teams learn how to deal with their attacking threat. The team does concede goals – averaging 1.4 conceded per game and keeping only 2 clean sheets – and their 3 striking options of Occean, Hoffer and Matmour are yet to consistently get themselves on the score sheet.
Occean has been the preferred lone striker so far this season, but the Canadian international has only found the net once in 7 starts, although his determination and work-rate cannot be questioned.
Contenders or Pretenders
So what does the future hold for Eintracht Frankfurt? They of course won’t be letting themselves get carried away with their great start to the season, which currently finds them occupying a Champions League spot. However, a quick comparison with the teams promoted at the same time as them should provide both confidence and realisation.
Greuther Furth and Fortuna Dusseldorf have only picked up 3 wins between them all season, which is half the number that Frankfurt have achieved on their own. With away trips coming up to the current top 2 – Bayern Munich and Schalke – either side of a home tie to bottom club Augsburg, the next 3 games will have a big say in how seriously Frankfurt should be taken – are they genuine top-half contenders or a team a couple of key injuries away from free-fall?