By Ross Dunbar
It is not even Halloween, yet Eintracht Frankfurt are already writing their name into the Bundesliga record books. Last Friday evening, they became the first newly-promoted side to win their first four matches in the league. On Wednesday, which the Germans are describing as an “English week” due to the hectic midweek schedule, they produced an inspiring second-half performance to draw 3-3 with champions Borussia Dortmund at the Commerzbank Arena.
The Bundesliga table makes attractive reading for die Adler, as they sit in second-place behind the dominant FC Bayern who currently have a 100% record in the Bundesliga. Betting on Frankfurt to do this well would’ve been like watching a German bet on NFL football.
Head coach Armin Veh is an experienced-timer in the German game. He is a pragmatist, yet knows the importance of attacking football. His managerial career has gone from clinching the German championship in his 125-game spell at VfB Stuttgart to creating conflict at board-level and subsequently being sacked at Hamburg. The experience of being able to handle so many difficult situations - and some positive ones, too - can only be a reliable factor for Eintracht in their return to the top-flight.
The 51-year-old even recalls watching the legendary Johan Cruyff and the Dutch ‘Totalvoetbaal” style of the 1970s. "It’s always impressive to see how they have the ball in runs, with a lot of creativity.” Veh told BILD last week. “It’s something I like to remember. And to this day, it is still wonderful to see and very successful.”
In an interesting contrast with fellow new-boys Fortuna Düsseldorf, Eintracht Frankfurt have continued their attacking system from the 2.Bundesliga, and seem to have made the transition to the Bundesliga with complete ease. Perhaps acting as an early wake-up call, Veh’s side were dumped out the DFB Pokal in the First Round against Erzgebirge Aue from the second-division.
At the Commerzbank Arena, Eintracht Frankfurt had three of the sternest opponents in the Bundesliga to kick-off their season, dispatching of Bayer Leverkusen (2-1) and Hamburg SV (3-2) whilst, holding Borussia Dortmund (3-3). On their travels, Frankfurt thrashed Hoffenheim (4-0) and in the battle of the Japanese talents, Takashi Inui and Hiroshi Kiyotake, they held-on to beat Nürnberg (2-1).
Inui, who joined in the summer from VfL Bochum, has been a revelation for Eintracht Frankfurt, costing south of around £1m. His spell in the 2.Bundesliga has undoubtedly allowed him to settle into the competitive nature of the German top-flight, but he possess so many of the same characteristics that made Shinji Kagawa an instant hit at Borussia Dortmund, before making a lucrative switch to Manchester United.
Inui, of course, is a bit older than Kagawa – 24 years old – although, there is certainly no question that many of Europe’s stronger sides will be keeping tabs on the attacking-midfielder. Like Kagawa, he is quick on the ball, dynamic and picks up some really advanced positions from midfield – in Inui’s case, from the left-hand side, as opposed, to a central role.
The Japanese star was not the only arrival at Frankfurt this summer, with Veh bolstering his squad shrewdly, collecting the best talents from the 2.Bundesliga to make the move to the Bundesliga. Olivier Occean, for example, had helped Greuther Fürth to the championship last season, hitting 17 goals in 33 appearances for the club. Not only that, but Occean’s general hold-up play, strength and intelligence made him a perfect focal-point to Eintracht’s attack – with could complement the attacking arrivals, like Inui and Stefan Aigner who also signed from 1860 Munich.
It’s hard to find a side with a better all-round balance than Eintracht Frankfurt. Veh has moulded together, a relatively young squad, with enthusiasm, flair and maturity. The central-midfield duo of Pirmin Schwegler and Sebastian Rode has looked up there with the very best in the Bundesliga. They have struck a chord with one another, having played sparingly during Eintracht’s relegation season, two years ago, and the following campaign in the 2.Bundesliga.
Schwegler, the captain of the team, provides defensive assurance and is a real ball-winning midfielder, which complements the playmaking qualities of 21-year-old Sebastian Rode perfectly. Schwegler, also, is dominant in challenges – winning 55% of his tackles, 65% of aerial battles this season. In Eintracht’s 3-2 win over Hamburg on Matchday Three, he won 15 tackles in midfield, the joint-highest, with Aigner, of that victory.
But probably more impressive has been the exciting performances of Rode, which has attracted interest of FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund already this season. He may only be 21; but Rode has shown that he is hitting well-above his age range, showing leadership, composure and mature performances. Their 2-1 win over Nürnberg on Matchday Four showed the two sides of Eintracht Frankfurt, as a team: attacking quality and resilience at the back.
They might have had to hold-on, and at the fore was Rode, who coped with the loss of his captain, Schwegler, during the first-half. The Swiss midfielder was substituted after collecting a nasty head wound, yet that did not face young Rode and he stepped up to the mark with ease, producing one of his best performances, so far. The midfielder covered over 12km in 90 minutes, touching the ball more than any other Eintracht player and also, making 23 sprints and 85 ‘fast runs’.
Despite being a very committed attacking outfit, the real source of Eintracht’s quick tempo comes from their positive full-backs – Sebastian Jung and Bastian Oczipka. Both players are far from being technically excellent but physically, have the attributes required of a modern-day full-back. Against Hamburg, Jung covered over 12km on the park, linking well with Aigner on the right-hand side.
A final mention is certainly deserved in the direction of former Kaiserslautern goalkeeper Kevin Trapp who has looked worth every penny of the £1.5m switch to Eintracht Frankfurt this summer.
Naturally, of course, Eintracht will have a number of hurdles to jump this season, namely consistency, the influence of suspensions and injuries, and how they cope with the Winter Break in December/January. They may have missed Schwegler for over an hour last week, but there will come a time when Veh will have to rely on less-experienced players.
As thing stands, though, they have not looked like a side making their return to the Bundesliga and there is no reason why they should not aspire for a European/Top-Half finish. Athletic Bilbao may have won the hearts of many neutrals in Europe last season, and Eintracht Frankfurt are quickly doing the same, albeit in a much different fashion.
Statistics are courtesy of the official Bundesliga website.
This piece was written by Ross Dunbar. You can follow him on Twitter at @rossdunbar93. Comments below please.
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