Yesterday afternoon, Eintracht Frankfurt beat Chelsea 2-1 in a friendly. I was alerted to the scoreline by the reliably orotund Sky Sports News, the network expressing mild consternation at the result.
Bundesliga followers will have been less *shocked*: Michael Skibbe’s well-drilled side were one of the league’s better teams last season.
Die Adler commence the 2010/11 season amidst minimal emendation to the squad. The XI facing Chelsea contained eight 2009/10 regulars, more than matching a side containing a similar number of starters.
Two of Frankfurt’s newbies featured. Left-back Georgios Tzavellas looks an exciting prospect, and the Germans beat off stiff competition to capture the Greek international.
After an incredible campaign in which he provided a league-high 11 assists, ongoing (Olympiakos) and fallen (AEK Athens) regional giants were interested in the 23-year-old Panionios captain.
Fellow Aegean signing and starter Theofanis Gekas showed spells of waspish potency while on-loan with Hertha BSC at the tail-end of last season.
Leverkusen were the recipients of Commerzbank-Arena cash for his services, and he’ll offer a new line-leading option for the 44-year-old Skibbe.
AEK Athens missed out on Tzavellas, but Frankfurt kindly sent back Nikos Liberopoulos. Lethal in 2008/09, the 34-year-old’s 2009/10 tally of multiple skied free-kicks and 1 goal in 1188 minutes rendered him unrequired.
–> A typical 2009/10 Frankfurt XI. Meier could also be deployed behind Altintop, with Teber or Chris sitting deeper in the midfield. In this scenario, the formation became more of a natural 4-1-4-1 with Schwegler pushing forwards. Caio also dropped back off-ball to form the side’s often impenetrable banks.
Frankfurt’s German coach likes to set his side out in a 4-1-4-1 style. Content to let their opponents boss the ball, the side from Germany’s Hessen state are difficult to break down.
‘Bankfurt’ finished in 10th place last season, taking feet off the gas after their Europa League bid was snuffed out by the bullying presence of Dortmund, Hamburg, and Stuttgart.
The midfield boasts enviable versatility, with defensive midfielders also lining up behind the central striker or back at the heart of defence.
On the flanks, the wingers double up as capable full-backs, and vice-versa. Yet the two mainstays, particularly in the latter half of the season, were ropey goalkeeper Oka Nikolov, and Halil Altintop.
The Turk did a sterling job on-loan from Schalke, earning himself a two-year-deal with Eintracht in the process. He’s such a capable frontman; carrying, flicking, poaching and holding with the same aplomb.
The classy Martin Fenin often replaced him to see games out, the Austrian jinxing his way in from one of the channels. If he scored more goals, Fenin would be with a bigger club than this particular Bundesliga outfit.
Flanking either of these two was one of a differing pair. Brazilian Caio is more threads, flicks, and long-range missiles. However, the tidy-footed free-kick taker’s tally of just 19 on-target shots was pretty miserly.
A far more incisive option is Alexander Meier. The towering German, also comfortable in a deeper midfield position, is a great all-round, all-action midfielder.
His height garners most of the headlines (6 ft. 5in.), and it certainly makes him a target to flick on hoofs. However, the direct German is brilliant bursting into the box at vital moments, and 10 goals made him 2009/10s club top-scorer.
Behind the foremost attackers were two midfielders, the pair altering the side’s formation into a fluctuating 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1.
Chris and Teber were most regularly stationed there, although the more dynamic but unpopular latter has departed to Turkish side Kayserispor.
Technically-limited Chris is a player of the wave-breaking, defence-screening mould, and also shows up at centre-back.
Other options in the position include Pirim Schwegler, a 23-year-old likely to see increased game-time this season. Exceptionally mature for one so young, the Swiss’s tireless application makes him a fan favourite.
His grip on responsibility is marvellous, and strikers enjoy the kind of player who arrows a dart from the edge of his own box to the opposition full-back region, climaxing the run with a ball that pleads to be attacked.
Last season’s full-backs were Sebastian Jung on the right, and Christian Spycher on the left. Spycher has since moved to Young Boys, but it seems Skibbe has a deputy readied in the aforementioned Greek newbie.
Other options in this position include Benjamin Köhler, a selection that makes the left far more potent as an attacking outlet.
Köhler is most often used as a left-winger; the kind of player who gives oppositional right-backs nightmares. His left foot is sweet, those hasty head-nodding slaloms panic-inducing, and his presence menacing.
Either on that flank or over on the right is Austrian youngster Ümit Korkmaz. I must confess to being rather taken by the tricky speedster prior to his capture by Frankfurt.
EURO 2008 was when I first witnessed his abilities, the Rapid Wien starlet entering the host nation’s game versus in-form Croatia from the bench.
Korkmaz was a revelation, the spark, snarl and impetus his side had been crying out for. Handed a mere 10 starts last season, the defensively-lax Korkmaz provided three assists.
<<<- Eintracht Frankfurt, 2010/11? This would be the only to incorporate both Gekas and Altintop, for starters. Likewise, two explosive wingers and two wing-backs would make Frankfurt a far more intimidating and exciting prospect. However, the naturally cautious Skibbe is likely to go with Jung at right-back and Ochs further up in order to bolt down at least one of the flanks.
His Round 28 performance in the win at Bochum lingers long in the memory though, the 24-year-old destroying Bochum’s Swedish-born Chilean Matias Concha.
Quite justifiably, Patrick Ochs was Skibbe’s first choice on the right-wing. Contributing eight assists and suffering Frankfurt’s second highest amount of fouls (Schwegler led the way), Ochs was imperious during 09/10.
The right-footer delivered Die Adler’s right-sided corner-kicks as outswingers, with left-footed Köhler doing the same from the left flag.
Like Köhler, Ochs was also deployed as an attacking full-back. Generally though, subdued but safe 20-year-old Sebastian Jung was assigned that mission.
Jung had great cover on his immediate left in the shape of two 6ft. 3in. centre-backs. Maik Franz and Marco Russ are as mean, mighty, and mucky as they come.
The deadly duo weren’t just brave and honour-saving at the rear last season, but also pivotal to the side’s concise zonal marking system.
As previously mentioned, tactical discipline permeates this Frankfurt squad, the attack/defence switches being made with seamless ease. It’s narrow without, chalk-hugging with the ball.
Cynics and critics might besmirch the team’s style as game-destroying kick-&-rush. Nevertheless, Frankfurt can be a lot of fun too, as the 3-2 triumph at Dortmund epitomised.
An improvement on 10th would be asking a lot, despite last season being mind-bogglingly average – W/D/L/F/A records were nigh-on identical both home and away.
Eintracht Frankfurt must hone their ruthlessness, and devise a Plan B for teams who let them dictate the encounter – a pitiful two-goal winning margin was as good as it got during 2009/10.