Even after a dismal start, Eintracht Frankfurt have high hopes for the 2013-14 campaign. The team has acquired depth through the transfer market following their best season in decades, but remains short on strikers.
Eintracht Frankfurt could hardly have expected a worse start to the season after their 6-1 defeat to newly-promoted Hertha Berlin. But it's too early to write off the team that dazzled the Bundesliga last year.
"The world isn't over, even when it's a bitter 6-1 loss," head coach Armin Veh said after the match Saturday, adding that he still had confidence in his squad. "I can't preach for weeks that I have a team with character and then, when I lose 6-1, say that they have no character. That doesn't work."
Frankfurt, who returned to the Bundesliga in 2012-13 after a forced one-year absence due to relegation, turned out to be one of last season's most pleasant surprises. After spending much of the first half seriously challenging for a Champions League place, the "eagles" drifted back to earth late in the season, finishing in 6th, good enough to put them into the Europa League playoff.
European qualification also played a role in helping Frankfurt keep hold of the key players in their young team.
Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, whose saves singlehandedly earned the club several points in the standings last season, is back between the sticks, fully recovered from a hand injury that kept him out of the lineup late in the campaign.
However, Eintracht won't have the aging legend Oka Nikolov to fall back on should Trapp go down with injury this season. After spending his entire career in Frankfurt, the 39-year-old Macedonian crossed the pond to join the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer.
This season, Felix Wiedewald, 23, who was signed in the off-season, will be Trapp's back-up.
Key figures stay on
The captain, defensive midfielder Pirmin Schwegler, and up-and-coming defender Sebastian Jung both turned down more lucrative offers to join Wolfsburg and Schalke respectively.
Sebastian Rode is expected to again be a starter alongside Schwegler in the defensive midfield. Freiburg's Johannes Flum gives them more depth here.
Further up the pitch, not only are Takashi Inui and Stefan Aigner still in the fold, but Jan Rosenthal has been brought in from Freiburg as an alternative to the central attacking Alex Meier who had a career-high 16 goals in 2012-13.
The first-choice back four of Bastian Oczipka, Anderson , Carlos Zambrano and Jung also remain in place. Defender Stephan Schröck is one of two Hoffenheim players to have moved north for new season.
The other is a German-born Spanish striker, whom Veh and technical director Bruno Hübner are hoping for big things from. Frankfurt secured 23-year-old Jose Luis Sanmartin Mato, who goes by Joselu, on loan from Hoffenheim for a fee of 750,000 euros.
Cold feet over Bendtner
Coach Veh had demanded that Hübner buy him at least one other striker to go into the new season, but his efforts so far to lure Vaclav Kadlec across the border from the Czech Republic have failed due to Sparta Prague's unwillingness to part with the young winger.
The team also very publicly flirted with the idea of bringing in Danish national striker Nicklas Bendtner, with the chairman of the board, Heribert Bruchhagen even reportedly agreeing a transfer fee with Premier League side Arsenal. However, that deal fell through, apparently due to Bendtner's high wage demands.
"After considering all the arguments, signing (Bendtner) simply wasn't realistic," Bruchhagen told the German football magazine Kicker.
While Hübner impressed with several clever acquisitions last summer, one position he had no luck with was at striker. Neither of the Canadian duo of Olivier Occean and Rob Friend proved capable of finding the back of the net.
And then there were two
All three have since departed, and Hübner can only hope that the two out-and-out strikers on Frankfurt's books; Joselu and Srdjan Lakic, find a way to raise their production significantly during the upcoming campaign.
Joselu, who was once on Real Madrid's books, had just five goals in 25 appearances for Hoffenheim last season, while Lakic, who joined Frankfurt on loan during last year's winter break, had just four in 22.
Barring that, Hübner still has until the end of August to pull a rabbit out of the hat, just the kind of magic that might ease any rift between him and Veh – something that has been widely speculated about by the Frankfurt media but denied by both parties.