It’s a tale of two front lines as Eintracht Frankfurt host Inter Milan in the Europa League round of 16. Frankfurt's attack has won praise this season, while Inter's has been making headlines for the wrong reasons.
"What kind of team is Eintracht Frankfurt?" Inter Milan coach Luciano Spaletti mused ahead of his side’s visit to Frankfurt on Thursday night. "I would say one that tends to play the game in a disorderly manner.”
On the eve of a European knockout clash against Italian footballing royalty, most teams would be insulted to have their style described in such rudimentary terms by the opposition coach. Not Eintracht Frankfurt, though. Adi Hütter’s side are disorderly in all the right ways: solid at the back, hardworking in midfield but fabulously unpredictable in attack.
Frankfurt's magic marksmen
Chief among Spaletti’s concerns on Thursday evening will be the handling of Frankfurt’s forward line. In Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic, the Bundesliga side have an attacking trio to rival the very best in Europe. They’ve scored 47 goals between them across Frankfurt’s 34 matches so far this season with 12 arriving in eight European outings. They'll be without Rebic due to injury, but still have more than enough firepower to cause Inter problems. For Spaletti, the “disorder” Frankfurt create in attack makes them such difficult opponents.
“They come at you from every angle,” Spaletti said of Frankfurt’s front line. “There’s a rhythm they create with their energy and physicality. If you press them through the center, they just go wide. It will be one of those evenings when we need to do everything to survive.”
The disorderly style is owed to the willingness of all three players to pull wide and drag defenders out of position, creating space for the others to exploit. How Stefan De Vrij and Milan Skriniar, the Inter Milan center-backs, cope amid the chaos will be key in the first ever competitive match between these teams.
Inter's unruly attack
There’s an irony to being branded chaotic, even as a compliment, by the coach of Inter Milan. Spaletti oversees his fair share of disarray on a near daily basis. He will be without his star striker, Mauro Icardi, owing to a tumultuous contract dispute between the player, his wife-come-agent Wanda Nara and the club chairman Giuseppe Marotta.
Icardi was stripped of the captaincy last month and has failed to make the previous five matchday squads. His partner-agent, meanwhile, took it upon herself to burn photos of the two of them together and share the charred remains on social media last week. Spaletti, evidently, is dealing with a few unpredictable characters of his own.
It's by no means the first controversy surrounding Icardi, who, rumor has it, never wants to play for the club again, but Frankfurt center-back Martin Hinteregger has a considerably easier task on his hands without the Argentine leading the line on Thursday. Icardi is Inter’s top goalscorer this season with 15 goals in 28 outings. In his absence, the inexperienced Lautaro Martinez will fill-in.
This is, by far, Frankfurt's biggest test on the European stage since they were knocked out of the same competition by Porto, a round earlier, in 2013. How they cope with the pressure will be just as big a factor when things kick off on Thursday night.
If Frankfurt's forward line can handle the pressure, however, one thing's for certain: chaos is very much guaranteed.