Things have gone better than anybody could have expected for Eintracht Frankfurt this season. Having lost two matches in a row for the first time since August, though has the Eagles' energy – and luck – finally run out?
The news that Luka Jovic had become a permanent member of Eintracht Frankfurt's squad will have delighted fans of the club. The 21-year-old might not end up staying until 2023, but the deal means Frankfurt stand to profit however it pans out. The timing though, is curious.
Jovic signs from Benfica, the club Frankfurt face in the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal. The Portuguese team appear to have inadvertently handed Frankfurt more positive energy ahead of the second leg, and the timing couldn't have been better for the Bundesliga side.
"We need a perfect performance," head coach Adi Hütter told reporters at the pre-match press conference on Thursday. "We're behind and we have to score goals, but we still need to be patient and alert so that we don't concede ourselves."
In other words, everything will have to go Frankfurt's way if they are to turn around a 4-2 deficit and make the final four. And in truth, a lot has gone their way this season – particularly during their European adventure. The last-minute winner against Marseille in the opening game; Mijat Gacinovic's incredible strike in Rome; the dismantling of Shakhtar Donetsk and Kevin Trapp's penalty save in the first leg against Inter Milan – Frankfurt have had the rub of the green, and in most cases they deserved to as well. They have perhaps been the most fun to watch in Europe this season.
A sloppy defeat to Augsburg in the Bundesliga last weekend though, has left many wondering less about luck and more about fitness. The result brings them just one point clear in fourth and has sparked concerns that Frankfurt's balance of the physical and mental strain of competing in the league and Europe is starting to slip. Add to that the fact that Hütter rarely rotates his lineup, there is concern that 70 minutes shorthanded in Lisbon and the better part of the second half in their defeat at home to Augsburg have finally pushed this team over the edge.
Hope home atmosphere gives an edge
"I haven't noticed any physical fatigue in my team," Hütter said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have been able to cope so well shorthanded."
Hütter did concede though, that his players had been lacking mental sharpness in their last two games. "I expect that to be back tomorrow," added the Austrian, who had given his players Tuesday off to help them recharge their batteries.
Beyond questions of fatigue lie the injuries. Sebastien Haller, who has 19 goals this season, isn't expected to recover from an abdominal-muscle issue in time to face Benfica, and Martin Hinteregger, who has proved to be a tower of strength since joining on loan from Augsburg, is also a doubt.
But Frankfurt can rely on their fans in a sold-out Commerzbank-Arena. Their home ground has produced some of the most intense atmospheres in Europe this season, and will likely play a role again on Thursday.
"Our stadium wows Germany and all of Europe," said defensive midfielder Gelson Fernandes. "I always get lots of messages after our European home matches. We need to carry the positive energy from our fans into our game."
That energy has been transferred to the Frankfurt team from the stands time and time again. If that happens against Benfica, fatigue will fade away.
"I'm sure we'll be carried by the crowd tomorrow," Hütter said. "When we walk up the steps and feel the atmosphere, it'll be an incredible feeling. That electrifies us."
Frankfurt's European adventure has already been greater than expected. Seeing off Benfica though would write off their dip in form as nothing more than a harmless blip. But if it all goes wrong against a side who are not only strong at home, but also travel well, it could be a sign that the longer dip in form that most teams experience at some point in a long campaign has simply come at the worst possible time. Whatever happens, it should be fun to watch.