Luka Jović. Sébastien Haller. Ante Rebić. These were the names Eintracht Frankfurt fans looked to in seasons past to deliver the attacking performances that made them such a surprise package both in the Bundesliga and in the Europa League in the last couple seasons. Each played a significant role in propelling the team to success that seemed far beyond their reach. In the 2017-18 season, for example, it was Sébastien Haller’s four goals that ensured Frankfurt would lift the DFB Cup after thrashing German record champions Bayern Munich. In the following season, Rebić, Benfica loanee Jović, and Haller formed one of the Bundesliga’s deadliest tridents, amassing a total of 41 goals among them. It was this frontline that spearheaded Frankfurt’s Europa League charge to the semifinals, where they lost out to Chelsea on penalties. In essence, this frontline was the heart and soul of an exciting Frankfurt side on the rise; another strong team to challenge for the upper echelons of the German Bundesliga.
And then, come this past summer, they were all gone. The loss of any singular player of influence can be extremely devastating. But the loss of three at once is a difficult hurdle to surmount. Taking Borussia Dortmund as an example, when Dortmund lost the likes of Mats Hummels, Henrikh Mikhitaryan and İlkay Gündoğan at the end of the 15/16 season, the team struggled immensely to find proper replacements. Defensive struggles have since been a never ending plague, and the club has yet to replace Gündoğan properly, 4 seasons on.
In the case of Frankfurt, however, while many lamented the fact that the losses of Rebić, Haller and Jović would perhaps be too much for the club to handle, the replacements they have brought in have shown signs that they are capable of filling the gap left behind by the star studded front line of the 18-19 season. In attack, new additions Bas Dost and André Silva have aided Gonçalo Paciência in carrying goal scoring duties up top. Filip Kostić, for his part, has proven to be an immense workhorse, pretty much equaling Rebić’s tally for assists last season. As of current, these are the names Frankfurt fans will look to when there is a need for creative flair and attacking prowess to deliver results for the team, week in, week out. Let’s take a closer look at how each has fit into this revamped Frankfurt team.
Gonçalo Paciência-Bit part player to reliable goal scorer:
The first player that deserves a closer look is Frankfurt forward Gonçalo Paciência. Paciência joined Frankfurt in 2018 after Porto decided the player was not part of their future plans. The Portuguese international joined the club and scored on his debut in the DFB Pokal, but was injured quickly thereafter in September, which hampered his playing time. Even after his return, Paciência was undoubtedly seen as a second string player to the likes of Jović and Haller, but with the club likely knowing they wouldn’t hold on to all their star assets, Adi Hütter certainly set his sights on grooming Paciência as a potential heir, and so far this season, he hasn’t disappointed.
Taking a look at Paciência’s stats from the 18/19 season, the forward only featured in 11 games, scoring three goals in the Bundesliga and assisting once, playing a total of 43 minutes for Frankfurt. The overall number of dribbles he attempted throughout last season stood at 17, with a success rate of 1.55. In that timeframe he created 6 clear cut chances and completed a total of 9 crosses. Since he has been granted more playing time, however, these stats have in many cases doubled. As of this season, Paciência has already exceeded the number of games he played last season (11). In those 12 games, he has scored 6 times and assisted one, which is a tidy return for a player of his quality. The amount of shots Paciência has taken in those 12 games has also almost doubled from 19 to 31 in this season alone. The number of dribbles that Paciência has attempted has also skyrocketed to 45 from the previous season’s 17, and the completion rate has jumped to 2.37, which is a substantial leap. The amount of chances and crosses created have also increased, with chances created doubling to 12 and the number of attempted crosses reaching 17.
While it would be easy to say that any player given more time on the pitch will produce more, Paciência’s numbers are a testament to the hard work he has put in to repay the faith of his manager, Adi Hütter, for playing him double what he played all of last season. His productivity has been essential to Frankfurt picking up some big wins, the 5-1 scalping of Bayern Munich coming to mind first and foremost. It was the foul on Paciência that initially handed Frankfurt the advantage as Jerome Boateng picked up a red card in the opening stages of the game. It was also his goal that topped off the 5-1 victory, after sweet interplay with his compatriot André Silva, who we’ll discuss in more detail in a moment. All in all, the performances Paciência has put in have spoken volumes as to how much the confidence of regular play has impacted his form.
Attacking depth and the additions of Silva and Dost prove fruitful investments for Frankfurt
Whilst Gonçalo Paciência has done a worthy job of leading the line for Frankfurt, it’s almost never possible for one player to carry the burden of scoring alone. In the beginning of the season we saw Frankfurt’s front man stutter and struggle slightly with only having new boy Dejan Joveljić to share the role of central forward with. The additions of both Bas Dost and André Silva have lifted the load slightly, and this sharing of the burden has benefitted both the players, and Frankfurt as a whole.
In the case of Bas Dost, Frankfurt added a striker to their ranks that already has a fair amount of experience in the league, with the player spending 5 years with VFL Wolfsburg. Dost has scored three for the club in seven games so far in the Bundesliga, while suffering some injury issues along the way. His tall form allows him to be a danger at set pieces, and his ability in the penalty area to attack loose balls makes him a slightly different option to Paciência up front, should Frankfurt need to shake things up. His goals against Fortuna Düsseldorf and Union Berlin do a great job of illustrating Dost’s potency in these areas. In the game against Düsseldorf, for example, Dost’s height and heading ability paid dividends in the 57th minute when Paciência lobbed the ball into the box for Dost to head home past the keeper. This instance itself also shows that the two can work together on the pitch well, in essence not excluding the option for Adi Hütter to play the two of them together.
In addition to being yet another option for Frankfurt up front this season, Bas Dost has been the most clinical with his chances. Of the 3 forwards being discussed thus far, Dost has the highest shots on target (0.63) and the highest conversion percentage (0.38) despite suffering from said aforementioned injuries.
In a similar vein, the introduction of André Silva to Frankfurt’s frontline has been similarly positive. The Milan loanee has also contributed with 3 goals of his own and an assist, all of which have come in the span of 406 minutes on the pitch. Like Bas Dost, Silva’s strength has come from being in the right place at the right time to receive a pass from a teammate and slot home.
His first goal came against Borussia Dortmund and was a mix of good positioning and comical defending from the opposition. While the Dortmund defense remained rather static, Silva found himself in the perfect position to slot home after the entire defense missed a well-placed cut-back from his teammate. The one-time strike is easy on the eye, unless your inclinations are Schwarz-gelben. The same can be said for his second goal, which came in the game that followed his strike against Dortmund.
A very well lofted cross from fellow new signing Djibril Sow gave Silva the opportunity to head past Union Berlin’s Gikiewicz. It was a well placed header that took the keeper completely out of the equation, and also a definitive goal that helped Frankfurt seal all three points. He too has proven a well suited partner for Paciência up front, one that his compatriot can play off of, and their national team chemistry shouldn’t hurt this partnership either.
Filip Kostić: Frankfurt’s talented utility man
While Filip Kostić isn’t necessarily a player that finds himself in just one position these days, his influence in attack has been felt from wherever the player has started this season. Kostić was acquired by the club this season after a successful loan spell at Frankfurt, so coming into the season many already knew he was a capable player that could help compensate should Frankfurt’s front three be sold.
Kostić’s value to the team is underlined by his energetic performances and ability to create threatening chances from wherever he plays. His dynamic runs from the wing back position have often ended in dangerous crosses into the box that the likes of Paciência, Silva and Dost can feed off of to propel Frankfurt forward. In addition, the player has also been a goal scoring threat himself. Playing alongside Djibril Sow in the game against Bayern Munich, Kostić scored from a much more advanced, attacking position.
In the 10 games (946 minutes) that Kostić has played, he has attempted a total of 687 attacking actions, more than any of the other players mentioned in this piece. He also has the highest number of passes (428) and chances created (14) of all the players mentioned. This is a testament to his workman-like performances, something that, on top of his value as a flexible utility player, makes him an important part of a Frankfurt Squad trying to break into the higher echelons of German top flight football.
In the grand scheme of things, the above analysis comes in the early stages of Frankfurt’s rebuild post the Jović, Haller and Rebić era. It is a time where perhaps the aforementioned players may not be lighting up the Bundesliga in the same exact way that their fearsome frontline did last year, but they are certainly laying the groundwork for a successful attacking quartet. Should Paciência and co. continue to go from strength to strength, and should the likes of Dost and Silva overcome their injury issues for the rest of the season, it is very possible that, alongside the other changes in the squad, they can surely help Frankfurt hit the heights of a top 6 finish, giving them a third consecutive Europa League berth for their fans to enjoy. Of course, with a club of Frankfurt’s magnitude, the hierarchy will surely be looking to reach greater heights, and therefore building a solid squad, and in extension an able attacking triad or quartet will be of paramount importance.
By Brian Szlenk.