A terrible start to the season had many doubting Eintracht Frankfurt’s top-six credentials – now they’re one of the most in-form teams in Europe. But will the bubble soon burst for Adi Hütter and his team?
"For weeks now our stands have been full with scouts from some absolutely top clubs, who are sending their best people,” said Frankfurt sporting director Fredi Bobic. "That's recognition that we're being taken seriously in Europe again.”
Frankfurt's standing came under threat at the start of the season when one win from their opening six fixtures fed the narrative that regression was inevitable after catching lightning in a bottle with Niko Kovac.
However, the Eagles managed to turn a over new leaf after the rough start, which new man in charge, Adi Hütter, put down to "speculation, injuries and players returning from the World Cup at different stages of their preparation” when talking with German newspaper Sport BILD.
Since the 2-1 win over Marseille in September, the Eagles have picked up 11 wins from a possible 13 in all competitions. That includes five wins out of five in the Europa League – a feat only matched by Salzburg and Chelsea – culminating in Thursday's 4-0 success against the French side, who finished as runners-up last season.
"We've experienced an absolute spectacle, beating Olympique Marseille 4-0 is something special,” admitted Hütter post-match. "That we've got 15 points on our account after five games and have won our group so convincingly is naturally a bit surprising. But it's a wonderful feeling.”
Frankfurt's new-look 'magic triangle'
It's not just in Europe that the Eagles are making great strides though, as a run of six wins out of seven has catapulted the early-season ‘relegation candidates' into third place in the Bundesliga.
While the team spirit has received praise from all corners, there's no getting past the fact that individual performances are taking the Eagles to greater heights – chief amongst them those from the most potent front three in Germany at present.
Having scored 23 of Frankfurt 29 league goals in 2018/19 between them, Sebastien Haller, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic are striking fear in the hearts of opposition backlines. While Haller claims the trio is "just trying to have fun playing together”, Jovic believes their jaw-dropping form boils down to having "chemistry on the pitch”.
With Haller and Rebic tied down to long-term deals, Frankfurt are making the permanent signing of Jovic, who Hütter believes can "become world class”, a priority. According to reports, the Eagles have an option to buy the 20-year-old for €12.5M – a steal in today's market and just under double what they've earned for their Europa League performances this season (€6.75M).
Hütter building on Kovac's foundation
Under Kovac, performances were predicated on a well-drilled backline and a never-say-die work ethic. Since his arrival, Hütter has added a dash of dynamism and an injection of ambition to their build-up play, which has seen the Eagles take a sizeable step forward in their development instead of the anticipated regression.
"We don't know how to play any differently than putting the pedal to the metal,” said defender Danny Da Costa. "We're not setting ourselves any upper limits. We're extremely hungry and highly motivated. We want to keep this run of form going as long as possible.”
The questions now are: how long can Frankfurt continue to exceed expectations? And will there be a reality check further down the line? At their current rate, the Eagles would finish the season on 65 points, which would have been enough to finish second in the 2017/18 campaign.
"Right now we've got a team on the pitch that is producing impressive and attractive football,” said Hütter. "I don't have the feeling that a drop off is coming.”
Frankfurt's first-half of the season concludes with the visit of Bayern Munich and, whether or not they're still ahead of the reigning champions by then, it will be the perfect chance to underline how far they've come since Kovac swapped sides in the summer.