In the heart of Europe 2.0? Eintracht's recent run analyzed

Continuing the multi-part Eintracht series, this analysis left off with the defensive personnel changes, which in my argument are the foundation of the recent success of the Bundesliga’s most in form team. In the final part, we’ll go through the rest of the matches and see how this Frankfurt team came together collectively and whether this success is sustainable.

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IV. Defense wins games?

The reason why I described the shift in personnel in Frankfurt’s defense is because they were responsible for massive improvement. In the first 13 matches, Frankfurt conceded 22 goals vs 20.4 xG allowed, while in the 9 matches since they shipped just 8 goals vs 6.4 xGA. That’s basically the difference between having the BEST defensive vs the 11-12th in the league.

Moreover, since the 2.0xG allowed vs Augsburg, Frankfurt’s defense has kept every team under 1 xG until the Bayern match (2.0). In addition, they allowed 15 fewer direct completions (non-crosses/passes inside of 20 yards completed) than in the previous 11 matches. Their PPDA is also down from 9.67 to to 8.87, which would (surprisingly) be the most intense one in the Hütter era!

A good example for this defensive blueprint was the 2-1 vs Leverkusen, where Eintracht’s 3421 matched up well vs the 433 of Peter Bosz.

The man-orientations in the center, the Kostic/Durm duo showing a lot of dynamism in covering the Leverkusen fullbacks and the fact that Leverkusen had to play Dragovic and Weiser, their third choice fullbacks with severe limitations, favored Eintracht and other than the brilliant Wirtz, Amiri goal B04 failed to create much.

Meanwhile, Ndicka and Sow (4 tackles, 5 interceptions) won the ball and would get it to Hasebe or Younes to create in transition for hit the direct ball to Andre Silva\Kamada.

Given that this was the first game of 2021 and B04 were carrying a thin squad full of injuries + still in the cup and UEL, you could’ve chalked this Frankfurt win up to the “it happens” category.

Nobody thought it was huge news, the only one that really made a big deal out of this performance was Peter Bosz, who conceded that “Eintracht were clearly better in all phases of the game”. In fairness to them, Leverkusen got the revenge with a 4-1 cup win (Silva had 2 chances to go up 2-0, but Diaby and co. countered Frankfurt to death in the 2nd half), and Eintracht were still only in 8th place with a 0 goal difference after 14 matches.


V. Beating the teams you are supposed to beat

Their visit to Mainz - 1 win on the season and fresh off the 2-0 turned 5-2 vs Bayern with new coach Bo Svensson - seemed easy on paper, but Adi Hütter has until that match collected just 1 point from 4 outings vs the local rivals. Still, their 3421 exploited a lot of its natural advantages vs the 4231, threatened in transition with Kamada switching to Kostic, beat the pressing with extra CBs joining the attack high. (Mainz would later start its escape from the relegation zone in their 532 with not one but two Frankfurt players, Danny da Costa and Dominik Kohr as fixtures in that lineup).

Then there was Amin Younes, who went from this innocuous situation

past Latza and Boetius and threaded the ball to Andre Silva who was brought down and converted the subsequent penalty.

Silva and Durm probably should’ve finished this game off early in the second half, but their misses allowed Mainz to stay in it, though Burkardt could not convert three good to great chances in the first 20 minutes of the second half: a point blank header hit the post, he missed a shot from an angle inside the box and Trapp came out well to close down space in 1v1. Silva put the game to bed, after Niakhate committed his second foul leading to a penalty to win 2-0.

On Matchday 16, they began with 3 chances inside 2 minutes vs the other worst team in the Bundesliga up to that point: despite Aymen Barkok, who started alongside Younes, missing his chances, Schalke was never allowed to break out of their defensive shell. Frankfurt’s counterpressing was suffocating, as we can see from this open play situation before Andre Silva’s goal. Just how are Schalke supposed to run a counter from this? How little of a threat did they pose if all the defensively-tasked Frankfurt players are near the box?

The fact that Schalke were still in this game in the second half was due to 2 factors:

1.the miscommunication between Trapp and Hinteregger allowing Hoppe’s goal

2.and Ralf Fahrmann making 7 saves conceding 3 goals vs the post shot xG of 3.5 and winning the Michael Esser memorial trophy (looking great as a GK because your defense constantly “gives” you opportunities)

VI. Sidebar Jovic and the squad remake again

The other takeaway from the Schalke match was the debut of Luka Jovic, who returned as part of a stunning loan-move/coup just 2 days earlier, and promptly scored two great goals late to seal the 3-1 win. It was #narrative (at the time) to write that his return would be a smash success and he would instantly start for what seemed to be a team that could use another prolific goal scorer. That isn’t a bad take when the second leading scorer Bas Dost was sold to Belgium - out of the blue in January - presumably due to his previously described limitations, his 4m + 3m/year in salary close to age 32 with a massive history of injuries. The problem is that other than that debut brace, Jovic scored just once - a meaningless goal vs Bielefeld, and hasn’t gotten (reportedly thought he would start vs Cologne) or shown the ability to be a Silva replacement. In the Bayern match, where Silva was out, Jovic was anonymous with just 28 touches and 0 shots, and he was certainly outshined by the brilliant Younes and Kamada, but probably even his replacement Ragner Ache, who was unlucky not to get a penalty vs Alphonso Davies. What was more troubling is that Jovic, whose effort level can wax and wane is far off the pressure numbers he was putting up a couple years ago.

While Hütter was quick to defend Jovic, who last played the full 90 in November in the Nations League, Fredi Bobic is on record saying that keeping the Real Madrid loanee will be difficult. A lot will depend on the future of Silva, whose contract Bobic was quick to extend until 2023 in December, and the prospect of Champions League next season is sure to be appealing to all parties.

The two caveat here - Silva is a Jorge Mendes client and the rumors about a 30m buyout clause (though there are contrasting reports about its existence) are abound, so perhaps an exit after next season seems like an obvious solution. But, if they can’t keep Jovic, it would seem ill-advised to sell Silva, though as we saw with Haller/Rebic/Jovic their history of eventually replacing top strikers is not bad!

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VII. Zooming through 5 winnable matches before Bayern

Before we get too much into the transfer weeds and since this analysis is already getting long, I’ll just keep it brief on the last few matches: the 2-2 draw at Freiburg and the subsequent 4 relatively comfortable wins (Arminia, Hertha, Hoffenheim and Cologne).

Facing the rather atypical 4132 of Freiburg, Frankfurt used Amin Younes and some overloads in really creative ways to ensure presence between the lines and to create chances.

there was a lot of instruction on the part of Christian Streich for Roland Sallai to close down Younes quicker in the first half

while Frankfurt adjusted

with Hasebe stepping up into the left number 8 spot to form a diamond vs a 433 shape.


In the end, the draw was a strange result:Freiburg’s 0.06 open play xG sums up their efforts - they looked out of ideas once the dangerous Roland Sallai went off (took a hit from Hasebe in the 2nd minute and had to be subbed out early in the second half), but wasted first half chances from Silva and Hinteregger plus two mistakes from Ndicka meant that Frankfurt need Kamada’s deflected shot to take a point.

The match vs Bielefeld was perhaps the easiest one all season:

some nice passing by Hinteregger, a long-range Kostic goal and comical defending to gift Silva a goal was enough to put Frankfurt 2-0 up vs Arminia. The Portuguese striker smashed in a Kostic assist and it meant 3 goals in 32 minutes, game over.

Will the real Daichi Kamada please stand up?

An interesting takeaway from that match was Kamada adding 22 pressures and 8 shot creating actions. At the other half of the double ten, the Japanese playmaker has 16 goal creating actions, the same as Jadon Sancho and is tied for the league lead. In some ways, his season is mirroring Frankfurt’s: 36 SCAs in the opening 7 games with 5 goals created was followed by a downturn: in particular after the November international break (he was with Japan) in the next 7 matches he had 11 of his 16 SCA in the Union (3 goals created) and Mainz matches, despite starting 6 of them. After losing his starting job to Barkok, he bounced back with the tying goal in Freiburg and then erupted for 8 SCA and 3 goals created vs Bielefeld and in the last 4 matches has 12 SCAs and 4 goals created. Kamada’s a really unique player due to his technical ability to receive deep in opposition half, which despite the tendency to lose the ball in physical battles, he uses to create for others, ranking 3rd in expected assists and 5th in actual assists.

In terms of creating for himself, Kamada has made a lot of improvements via being more efficient: last season, he took just 2.19 shots per 90 and hit the target 40% of the time, in addition to ranking in the 17th and 15th percentile in goals and goals per shot. This year, his shot volume is down to 1.47 and his accuracy declined to just 24%, but Kamada has jumped to the 40-60th percentile in the goals and goals per shot categories. The reason is shot quality, as he’s gone from taking 12% shots (non penalty xG per shot is 0.12) to 15%-ers (0.15) and how every second of his shots on target is a goal (0.5) vs every 9th (0.11). He’s still underperforming his xG and in his second full Bundesliga season at age 23, there’s certainly a lot to be excited about.

Hertha’s man-orientations force Frankfurt CBs to make plays

Similarly to the Mainz match, Hertha were another opponent undergoing a crisis as they faced Eintracht, with Pál Dárdai once again returning to keep them in the Bundesliga, after a nightmare year for the “Big City Club”.

Given the Hungarian’s focus on defense, basic tactics and aggressive man-marking, it was up to Frankfurt’s CBs to make plays and with the help of their withdrawn DMs Hasebe and Sow, they did a very good job of playing through the scheme.

When Hertha pressed high (though they probably did not have the right personnel and execution with Guendouzi and Cunha), their fullbacks were pinned back by Kostic on one side, and Kamada drifting out wide (sometimes taking a DM with him), while Younes moved deep to open spaces for Sow and Hasebe to step into.

In the middle and final thirds, Frankfurt’s CBs penetrated well and

utilized superior structures to have numerous passing structures and deep runs that

Hertha could not cope with.

Against Hoffenheim’s 5212 there was once again tactical superiority via

  • the penetrating CBs (Ndicka had 57 carries, which was his 3rd highest total of the season in a game where Frankfurt had 53% possession)

  • Younes pulling out the RCB,

By the Cologne match, the recipe for Eintracht’s new found success came together:

  • the defense lead by Ndicka, who scored another goal, held Cologne to just 6 shots and 0.5 xG,

  • while also controlling possession vs the aggressive pressing of Cologne via Hinteregger’s touches in defensive third and progressing the ball (Ndicka and Tuta vs the to midfield. It wasn’t always pretty and there were occasional turnovers but they got the ball to the midfield

  • where either Kostic’s powerful runs or the deep-dropping Younes’s trickery (3 of 6 dribbles) or Hasebe’s carries would get it to the final third

  • where eventually Silva broke through midway through the second half before Ndicka’s set piece goal sealed the win.

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VII. Tired: 6 trophies in a season Bayern, Wired: Frankfurt with Younes

The most anticipated match between 2021’s two best Bundesliga teams saw Bayern not show up in the first half, perhaps due to the fatigue - mentally from having won everything and physically from flying around the world and playing their 5th match in 15 days.

To air out all the excuses: the Bavarians have been notoriously slow-starters this season and missed the pressing of Thomas Müller and the presence of Leon Goretzka (his entrance changed the dynamic and nearly got them the 2-2) and the summer signings (Bouna Sarr has been unplayable for weeks, putting Niklas Süle in the Filip Kostic torture chamber) especially the “featherweight” Roca in midfield (you could see how much Rode dominated him vs how much Goretzka added in the second half) and the artist formerly known as Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting as the number ten just looked overmatched.

Defensively, Hinteregger erased Lewandowski for much of the match and the wide CBs covered Sane-Coman well in the first half, while Touré was able to match Davies’s speed.


Then there was Amin Younes, who put in perhaps the best 45 minute performance in the league this season: it wasn’t that he completed 8\10 dribbles with 7 shot creating actions, scored a goal of the season contender and was just omnipresent. It reminded me of a basketball player “feeling it” that is if you got close to him, he would drive by you, if you laid off him he would beat you with a pass and then just get the ball back or create for others. It was just Younes finding spaces all over the pitch, seemingly wanting the ball and playing with an edge. It wasn’t the usual point to prove against Bayern or to show himself to Jogi Löw, but something deeper, more emotional, almost nostalgic in the pure joy he exuded on that emotional day commemorating the victims of the Hanau terror attacks.

It was the “gesture of the year” as the excellent Christoph Biermann called it and his analysis of Eintracht beating Bayern on and off the pitch (referring to Kalle Rummenigge’s awkward and evasive appearance on ZDF,) was as per usual on the money.

Eintracht are now at 65% to make the Champions League per Fivethirtyeight and with a Friday night win against Bremen, could really even get themselves into the title race and make it a four horse race….

In the heart of Europe again? What’s next for Eintracht?

Kicker asked nearly 64k participants about Eintracht’s end of the season ranking, with 11.7% voting for Bundesliga winners, 54.63% as UCL qualifiers with 31.68% for 5th-6th place and 2% saying they will miss out.

At the risk of raining on Frankfurt’s parade and bringing the Eagles back to ground - albeit when one has written upwards of 10k words, can he really be a party pooper? - there are a lot of unresolved issues that this analysis will conclude with. We are looking for the answers to the following questions:

  • as long-time sporting director Bruno Hübner is leaving, though given his recent move towards the background and Bobic/Manga running day to day things that might just be a bump in the road

  • but what happens to Fredi Bobic (contract until 2023) who has been in rumors with Hertha BSC? (Pirmin Schwegler’s name came up as successor, but Ben Manga would be the obvious choice)

  • what about Adi Hütter, who reportedly is a candidate at Gladbach and has a 2m buyout clause, would he really jump ship to a club that’s seemingly worse off than Frankfurt, now?

  • or the likes Andre Silva sticking around? What about the ability to hang on to loanees like Jovic, Younes or projects like Kamada in the long-term?

If indeed, Frankfurt do finish in the UCL spots and maybe fans return sometime in the fall, perhaps some of those questions (Bobic, Hütter) will answer themselves, but for now let’s just enjoy this moment.

Thanks for reading,

Abel

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