Last season, Eintracht Frankfurt's aggressiveness got the better of them. DW analyzes how they have turned into a serious contender for a spot in Europe.
With their 1-0 win over Hannover in Commerzbank Arena on Saturday, Frankfurt increased their chances of returning to European competition for the first time in six seasons. Their victory bumped them up to fourth place in the tight race for second, way adrift of Bayern Munich.
The Eagles were in a similar position last season as well, sitting in third after 19 league matches. But they did not win the rest of the season and ultimately finished in the bottom half of the table. The only consolation for Frankfurt fans was a trip to the German Cup final in Berlin for the first time since 2006, where they lost 2-1 to Dortmund.
Frankfurt face stiff competition for Champions League and Europa League places this season as Schalke and Leverkusen, who also won their respective Bundesliga games on Saturday, push to return to European competition themselves. However, sporting director Fredi Bobic and head coach Niko Kovac have taken steps to prevent the Eagles from tailing off again this time around.
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Aggressiveness backed by squad depth
Kovac's Frankfurt set the league alight last season with aggressive football — hard tackles and vehement attempts to win the ball quickly. But that approach often got them into trouble: They led the division with 84 total yellow cards and 6 total red cards by the campaign's end. The lack of discipline resulted in a slew of suspensions. By the end of the season, Kovac was struggling to field a full team and bench.
Their fiery defending hasn't gone away this season, but Bobic ensured his coach had enough squad depth this time around. Frankfurt have been much more resilient as a result; they have bounced back from every league defeat this season, winning their next Bundesliga match on all seven occasions.
Frankfurt's depth was on full display against Hannover on Saturday. Kovac elected to keep several of his regulars — defender Marco Russ and midfielders Kevin Prince Boateng and Mijat Gacinovic — on the bench on Saturday. When defender Simon Falette picked up a yellow card in the first half, Russ replaced him at the break. Boateng and Gacinovic also came off the bench to help the Eagles see out the victory.
This is a luxury Kovac has not had in the past in Frankfurt, and it might just help him guide Frankfurt back to Europe.
For many years, Frankfurt relied on attacker Alexander Meier to get them the goals they needed. This season, Frankfurt have five players who have at least four goals, the first time that has been the case since the 2009-10 season.
Sebastien Haller is Frankfurt's top scorer with eight this season. But even though he hasn't scored in six straight games, Frankurt have still managed to win four of those matches.
Teams who can get goal contributions from a number of different sources tend to be more consistent — consider Cologne's collapse after they parted ways with striker Anthony Modeste.
Patience pays off
For a team that defends so hectically, their passing play is both judicious and yet direct when an opportunity arises. They are 13th in the Bundesliga in passes per game this season and yet are sixth in assists, which shows how effective their passing can be. Marius Wolf is perhaps the best example of that as he leads the team with six assists this season.
But patience doesn't apply to just passing, but also waiting for individual opportunities. Players like defender Danny Da Costa and forward Luka Jovic had to wait for their chances to play, but both pounced on chances when they came their way. Da Costa, who's started Frankfurt's last four, scored the only goal of the game on Saturday against Hannover. Jovic has started just four league games this season, but has scored four times for Frankfurt, twice as a substitute.
If Frankfurt can maintain their consistency — especially as the bigger fish around them continue to flounder — then European football is a real possibility.