Eintracht Frankfurt made a strong case for Champions League football next season with an astounding 3-0 win against local rivals 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Saturday. Goals from Kevin-Prince Boateng, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic moved the Hessen based club up into fourth, just one point ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.
The Eagles have been absent from European football since the 2013/14 season when they reached the Europa League Round of 32, losing out on away goals against FC Porto despite scoring five goals against the Portuguese giants. The last time they were in Europe before that? 2006/07 UEFA Cup and so if they did manage to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history, it goes to show just what a remarkable job Niko Kovac has done.
With games against Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke amongst others remaining, Eintracht Frankfurt have a difficult run-in but the feeling within the players is that they can achieve Champions League qualification.
“If we work hard and play like we played today, I always say everything is possible, but we keep both feet on the ground. We know exactly where we come from and we know exactly what it takes to be on the top or to achieve this [Champions League qualification]. We’re happy, we’re very positive and if we keep going like this at the end we’ll see where we stand,” Boateng told Bundesliga.com after the game.
This is a team that lost key players such as Jesus Vallejo, who returned to Real Madrid and Bastian Oczipka who joined Schalke 04 yet still find themselves up there with Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. A large part of that is down to Eintracht Frankfurt’s recruitment policy, which should certainly be commended because it really is remarkable.
Other than the arrival of Sebastien Haller from FC Utrecht, Eintracht Frankfurt have never spent more than £5 million on one player, yet they’re challenging for a place in the Champions League. Granted there isn’t as much money floating around the Bundesliga as there is in England and Spain, and while Kovac may have the money to spend, they’ve just chosen to use it wisely.
Even though they conceded just 43 Bundesliga goals last season, Kovac has shored up the defence which is evident given they’ve conceded just 30 in 27 games, three of those coming in a 3-2 defeat against Borussia Dortmund.
Following the departure of Vallejo, Eintracht Frankfurt turned towards Simon Falette who has been a revelation since joining from Metz who narrowly avoided relegation while they’ve added depth in Jetro Willems and Danny da Costa, both of whom add a wealth of experience with the former playing Champions League football for PSV Eindhoven while featuring in the Dutch national team.
From an attacking sense, Eintracht Frankfurt added Ante Rebic, who re-signed from Fiorentina while Luka Jovic joined on loan from SL Benfica, both of whom have played their part this season going forward with the duo given freedom to play in and around Haller, who has eight Bundesliga goals this campaign.
Players such as Mijat Gacinovic, who joined the club before the arrival of Kovac, have gone onto excel under the tutelage of the Croatian while this is another reason why Eintracht Frankfurt’s scouting system must be respected.
While most clubs tend to look at Partizan and Red Star Belgrade, Eintracht Frankfurt searched elsewhere in the Serbian Superliga. Gacinovic arrived from Vojvodina Novi Sad for a nominal fee with little experience of first team football. Now one of Kovac’s indispensable players, the 23-year-old has played in all but three Bundesliga games for the Eagles this season and while he hasn’t been as prolific in an attacking sense, his change of position is benefitting the team.
A winger by trade, Kovac has given Gacinovic a central midfield role where he’s able to control the game. The Croatian tends to opt for a 3-1-4-2 formation which allows both Willems and Da Costa to keep the width for Eintracht Frankfurt, thus allowing Gacinovic space in the middle alongside on of Boateng or Wolf, with two up top.
Many have tried and failed with three man defences in the Bundesliga this campaign, but you can’t put Kovac in that category. Alongside Domenico Tedesco’s Schalke and Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim, you could say that this trio have perfected the art of 3-1-4-2 which is why they’re all challenging for a place in the Champions League and with 11 games remaining, it’s all to play for with just six points separating Schalke in second and RB Leipzig in sixth.
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