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Bundesliga Review – Week 22

Hannover 96 must be kicking themselves. €500,000 for that? How the heck did that happen, how in the name of all that is holy and sweet could they allow that to happen? While Hannover are stuck and busy blaming each other, Niko Kovac and Fredi Bobic are quietly enjoying the fruit of another astute work of art. The signing of Marius Wolf, a player that is a real challenger for a place in the Germany national team, must be one of the best pieces of business in the last five years in German football.

Some claim it was all over last weekend. A devastating loss at Augsburg that showed the world that Eintracht Frankfurt have been over performing. But having bounced back against both 1. FSV Mainz 05 and 1. FC Köln in the same week, scoring seven goals and conceding two, shows the opposite. Eintracht are where they are not due to form, but due to quality and they must be considered real contenders for both Champions and Europa League. While last weekend was one of the most horrible performances an Eintracht team has seen under Kovac, this week has seen two of the most thrilling ones in return. They’ve used their loss as fuel to make themselves stronger, better and more compact. This must be as a sign of proper strength.

Eintracht’s rise to the top is as tactical as it’s overwhelmingly structurally institutional. As one of the biggest clubs of German football, they were on their way towards traditional mediocrity a’la Kaiserslautern or Nuremberg when they were relegated in 2012. But just a year after, they secured a place in the Europa League. This was quite insane. Getting relegated and then bouncing right back up and, in addition to that, finishing sixth. Well done, one must agree. But since that great Europa League campaign, in which they performed better than many of the German teams this season, the Eagles haven’t seen much European football. They’ve been closer to relegation than to ever reaching Europe. Many thought that 2016 would be the year they got relegated and boy, was it close. Newly appointed head coach Kovac managed to save them in the last minute. Crucial, considering the state the club was in.

Last season was an odd one, as many have noted. Beginning the season on a high, over performing more than they’ve done in many years. The autumn was fantastic and Eintracht managed to go undefeated at home soil until they lost in February. However, that loss at home changed things. The momentum that had built was quickly stripped from them and we saw an Eintracht that looked disjointed and out of form. Kovac had no idea what had happened, with many calling for his head.

This season has been something else. Sure, they started the Hinrunde as well as they did last season and many were surprised. Most thought last season’s form was a bare fluke, but it seemed like Eintracht could withhold their form. Maybe, but just maybe, it wasn’t a fluke. Perhaps, Eintracht were and still are as good as they seem. The season kept going and Eintracht Frankfurt kept on surprising us all. When they waltzed into the January break, Eintracht were one of the key contenders for European places. They were the best away team in Bundesliga and their injuries were slowly solving themselves.

Most would have considered a repeat, that Eintracht would crumble under pressure while that might still happen, there’s still a long time to go. But something is different am Main. There’s another kind of stability to it now than we saw last season. There’s a new kind of togetherness within the squad, a new type of love between the players and the club. It’s become symbiosis and the club has become the pride of the city, like it once was. The players play for the city of Frankfurt, for the eagle on their chests and it shows week in, week out.

It’s a marvellous story, mainly because it is no fluke. It’s no Leicester City or Kaiserslautern that becomes fiery and feverish, but then burns out quickly. Eintracht Frankfurt have shown they’re the real deal and this is what makes their rise to the top even more spectacular. The club has become a model. A model for clubs wanting to perform on a higher level. It’s not necessarily about money anymore. It’s about building a foundation to stand on. It’s to have a coach that knows his tactics and his players as well as he knows himself. It’s about having an academy that can withstand the tests of time. It’s about having a sporting director that genuinely cares about the club and that trusts both his scouts and his coach. It’s to have training facilities that are up to the task, a stadium that can inspire and it’s to have fans that care and love, no matter what. The club has become a model and therefore it’s such a fantastic story. We all love an underdog, but what if the underdog is on its way towards the stars?

The signing of Wolf is the epitome of all this. To be able to find a player like him in the freezers of Hannover is a difficult task, but to mould him into a national team prospect is even more blissful, especially for €500,000. It’s the way football works in Germany. Players can arrive for nominal fees while they go on to become some of the best players in the league. It’s truly inspiring. Mind blowing in fact.

The scouting, the patience, the brilliance, the tactical clarity. Wolf is the perfect example of what can happen when all these tie together. It’s beautiful. It’s planned. It’s fantastic. It’s an underdog gunning for the stars. It’s Eintracht Frankfurt, 2018.

 

1 | Marco Reus is back. It seems like it doesn’t really matter how long he’s gone for, he will always be loved and cherished by the masses. The winger’s injury has kept him on the sidelines since last spring while he has been a missed feature in this Borussia Dortmund squad. The Germany international never even played for Peter Bosz and has seen the club switch coaches twice since he got injured. His return against Hamburger SV was as longed for as it was beautiful and he even impressed us all, showing that the quality still is there.

2 | Köln’s problems seem to be hard to solve. While Stefan Ruthenbeck has managed to fix the attacking side of things, the defence is still weak. They have scored four goals in the last two games, but managed to lose both. This is not good enough and it’s a sign of weakness from a team in crisis.

3 | Gap? Not really. We have seen the first small gap in weeks in the race for European spots. Augsburg’s loss at the capable hands of RB Leipzig has formed a three-point gap behind Schalke 04. A few teams have even created a greater gap for themselves. It seems more and more likely that Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt will reach Europe. But, the table is a ’momenaufnahme’ as Niko Kovac said after Eintracht’s win against Borussia Mönchengladbach a few weeks back. It can change quickly and it often does.

4 | Mainz seem to be in peril now. Last season they barely managed to escape relegation by a few points and this season might become as tough for them. They’ve had a rough week as well. Their midweek quarter-final of DFB-Pokal against Eintracht Frankfurt was a horrible performance where the teams seemed to be separated by divisions while their defensive mayhem continued against Hoffenheim, losing 4-2. Sandro Schwartz’ Mainz look chaotic and meaningless. Relegation beckons?

By Axel Falk.

 

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