The Sunday evening match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Paderborn saw the hosts walk away with three points in their 2-1 win. According to the xG for the match, 1.84 – 1.82, slightly in favour of Paderborn, the two teams seemed even, however the hard-working Paderborn team clearly deserved the three-points against a disorganised Frankfurt side, even despite Frankfurt’s late push to grab a late goal and go for an equalizer. Paderborn did not look like a side destined to finish bottom as they executed their well-planned counterattack throughout the first half. Further, Adi Hütter’s Eintracht Frankfurt, whose recent form has been below expectations, did not look like a side competing for European places.
Frankfurt moved away from a three-man backline, likely a result of the combination of suspensions, injuries, and recent poor form. Instead, Hütter deployed a 4-4-1-1 that still contained an in-possession shape that resembled their previously reliable three-man backline formation. Frankfurt wingbacks, N’Dicka and Chandler, both pushed up the pitch overlapping Frankfurt’s wingers while seeking quick pass combinations.
In the middle, Fernandes dropped deep in between the two centre-backs to facilitate build-up play, essentially recreating the 3-5-2. The other central midfielder, Kohr, was positioned further up the field as he looked to support Dost and Gacinovic. Kostic’s positioning was deliberately out wide with Gacinovic pushing central to give Kostic room to create and take on Paderborn defenders.
Paderborn did not spring any surprises on Frankfurt as they continued with their 4-4-2. Their wingbacks provided them their width as they built up play out of the defence. The wide positioning of their wingbacks allowed angled passes to their wingers who sat in the half-spaces and central midfielders. Paderborn’s central midfielders remained disciplined in their central areas looking to negate Frankfurt attacks and support Paderborn’s quick forwards and wingers in the counter. Gjasula protected the backline as Sabiri ventured forward. Paderborn’s striker duo positioned themselves against Frankfurt’s centre-back, looking to occupy them while waiting for moments to make runs into the channel.
Frankfurt’s Disorganised Build-Up
Since Frankfurt’s 5-1 victory over Bayern Munich, which resulted in Niko Kovac’s sacking, Hütter and his team have only grabbed 1 point from the following 6 games, now 7 after the loss to Paderborn. The recent run of form has seen Frankfurt drop into 13th place, well below their ambitions of grabbing a European qualification. Frankfurt’s struggles during this run could be related to a mix of fatigue from their Europa League campaign and injuries. However, their lack of a coherent match plan during their recent winless run is the most concerning and was evident in this match against Paderborn.
Frankfurt made a drastic move away from their standard set-up of a 3-4-1-2 into a 4-4-1-1. In the new formation, Frankfurt were disorganised, especially in the first half, throughout their build-up play which led to easy turnovers. Frankfurt’s defence, without an organised midfield to support their transition into their final third, found themselves sending misplaced long balls to Dost or nervously passing the ball around their backline, almost resulting in a goal leading mistake by Wiedwald. This lack of structure is reflected in Fernandes’ first half contributions before he was brought off for Andre Silva at half-time. Fernandes, the deep of the two central midfielders could have been vital to breaking Paderborn’s pressing lines in Frankfurt’s build-up, but without any structure for Frankfurt, Fernandes only completed 9 passes, all of them backwards.
Instead of attempting to play through the middle and break Paderborn’s pressing lines, Frankfurt played the ball into the wide areas through their wingbacks. In the wide areas, Frankfurt’s focus was playing to Kostic out on the left-wing, potentially isolated by the positioning and central runs made by Gacinovic and Kohr.
Kostic was given the creative freedom for Frankfurt as they entered the final third and aimed to either drive inside or stretch the Paderborn defence. This was done similarly but in a more direct and urgent matter on the right side with da Costa. This offensive strategy did work in the second half with their one goal of the season. As Frankfurt focused their build-up into the final third down the left flank, stretching Paderborn’s defense, it allowed space for Dost to tap home a well-placed cross.
This focus down the wing, however, played right into Paderborn’s hands on the counterattack. As Frankfurt committed wide players forward, once the ball was lost, the space left behind by Frankfurt was quickly exploited by Paderborn’s wingers and forward who moved into the channels. For Hütter, the winter break did not come quick enough for him to reassess his team’s structure for the second half of the season. Based off their play against Paderborn, Hütter needs to bring back a more structured and organized build-up.
Paderborn might be heading into the New Year in last place in the Bundesliga, but their hard-working and fast team rightfully earned them the 3 points over Frankfurt, and it is not Paderborn’s first time demonstrating they are not going down without a fight.
As mentioned above, Frankfurt’s high positioning and commitment of wide players forward allowed space to be exploited by Paderborn’s counterattacks. This is the same counterattack that saw Steffen Baumgart’s side take a 3-0 lead into half-time against Borussia Dortmund. Paderborn’s counter is fairly simple but executed by their personality exceptionally. When Paderborn win the ball back, their main priority becomes find space and get the ball there. This is done either by dribbling, which is accomplished by Paderborn’s pacey wingers like Pröger and Antwi-Adjej, or a forward making a run into this open space.
For there on out, Paderborn rely on these lightning fast transitions into these open areas drawing out retreating opposition defenders as they look to close down Paderborn. This is then creating more open space for Paderborn to once again exploit.
Another mechanism that allows Paderborn’s counterattack to flourish is the placement of their wingers, or forwards if their wingers are forced back to defend, into half-spaces. This rigid positioning of Paderborn’s attacking outlets is critical, as Paderborn look to spring a quick attack, for two reasons.
First, the consistent positioning of attacking outlets on both half-spaces allows clearances from Paderborn defenders not be random clearances. Instead, Paderborn defenders have areas to aim their deep clearances, into the half-spaces where there is an attacking player to receive the ball or immediately pressure an opposition’s player in a 50/50 ball. Second, this positioning of an attacking player in the half-space becomes a double threat by Paderborn.
In Paderborn’s quest to exploit space, receiving the ball in the half-space immediately gives their attacker two options; the wide area along the touchline or on the inside, all depending on the location of the opposition. For Paderborn against Frankfurt, these attacking outlets proved pivotal as Frankfurt were susceptible to counterattacks as a result of their disorganised build-up and high number of misplaced passes. Paderborn have proven that in the first half of matches they can put teams under pressure and convert their chances, their they can carry their threat deep into critical parts of matches in the second half, we might be able to find them in the Bundesliga next season.
By Daniel McDermott.