Manuel Veth –
The big question in this week’s World Football Index Bundesliga Podcast was whether Eintracht Frankfurt’s bubble had burst. Eintracht were fourth with 29 points going into the winter break, but have collected just six points in six matches in 2017.
Taking into account the six matches since the winter break, Frankfurt are ranked only17th, just ahead Darmstadt 98, and behind VfL Wolfsburg, who recently fired head coach, Valerien Ismaël, and have replaced him with Andries Jonker. This is not to suggest that Eintracht Frankfurt should fire head coach, Niko Kovac.
Kovac, in fact, still presides over the most successful seasons in Eintracht Frankfurt’s recent history. Frankfurt are currently sixth in the table and, with 35 points, are just five points away from the magic 40 point mark that would guarantee them safety from relegation.
Last season Eintracht had to go through 180 minutes of hell
This is a huge jump for a club that, last season, had to go through the toughest 180 minutes in German football when they faced 1.FC Nürnberg in the promotion/relegation playoffs after finishing the 2015-16 Bundesliga season in 16th place. Now Frankfurt have a legitimate shot at finishing the season in one of the top six spots, which would qualify them for international football next season.
That chance, however, seems to have been slipping away in recent weeks. The number one reason for the decline is the fine balance between overly aggressive football and the tough full-throttle football that Frankfurt displayed week in and week out in the first half of the season.
In the first half of the season Frankfurt often combined toughness with fine technical football. The Hungarian, Szabolcs Huszti,, and the Mexican, Marco Fabián, were especially important during that run. But then Huszti returned to China to re-join Changchun Yatai, and Marco Fabián has been down with a hip injury since the winter break.
Without the two midfielders, Frankfurt have not only looked ordinary, but have also lost the stability that kept the qualities of the team in the correct proportions. Both the midfielders could combine technical abilities with the necessary cheekiness to win games. Fabián in particular was impressive when it came to making the difference for a side that looked very ordinary without him this season.
The absence of Huszti and Fabián has hurt the club
Without the balance of Huszti and Fabián, Frankfurt have been leading the unfairness table in the Bundesliga. This weekend against Hertha Berlin, Haris Seferović received Frankfurt’s fifth red card.
Frankfurt have now already broken their record five straight red cards from the 2000-01 season, and only Dynamo Dresden in 1992-93, 1860 München, Hamburger SV, both in 1994-95, and Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2010-11 managed five straight red cards at this stage of the season. Kovac recently admitted to the media in Germany that Frankfurt are “the unfairest team in Germany.”
Kovac added, “We are damaging ourselves, and we are destroying everything, that we have built with good games in the first half of the season.” But the problem is not just red cards. Frankfurt also missed the likes of Jesús Vallejo, and Omar Mascarell because of yellow card suspensions.
The fact is that Eintracht Frankfurt are not deep enough to compensate losing players on a weekly basis. With Fabián’s injury in mind, the club was perhaps wrong to let go of Huszti during the winter transfer window. Furthermore, suspensions through the accumulation of yellow cards and straight red cards have meant that Kovac needs to re-juggle his squad on an almost weekly basis.
Kovac has the talent to find the balance
Because of Eintracht’s lack of depth and resulting difficulty in compensating for the loss of top players, it is no surprise that Kovac’s style of playing full throttle football (which at times is reminiscent of Diego Simeone’s style of football at Atlético Madrid) brings with it the danger of players missing games and a disruption in the style of play.
Frankfurt will face Arminia Bielefeld midweek in the DFB Pokal (read the preview here), and then will host Freiburg, before traveling to Munich to face Bayern München. Those three matches will determine Eintracht’s course for the rest of the season, and whether Kovac has learned the lessons of the last few weeks.
Kovac, however, is still a young coach and, while the club has recently been criticized for playing unfairly, Eintracht have demonstrated in the early parts of the season that their playing philosophy is attractive to watch. The key now will be to find the sort of balance that allows Eintracht to be both a tough and a fair team to play.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.