With the first game of the Bundesliga season fast approaching this weekend, Eintracht Frankfurt will be looking for a strong start as they host TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at the Commerzbank-Arena on Sunday. Both teams are coming into the season having undergone some serious changes over the summer; changes that have seen both squads stripped of some of their more talented players.
The two teams finished last season with three points separating their respective 7th and 9th place finishes, and it’s likely that this season they will both be vying for similar places in the table. For Adi Hütter’s men, this game will be an opportunity to show they have the ability to replicate the form that had the entire league in awe of the football they played last year, while for Hoffenheim a good result would signal the club’s ability to compensate for the loss of Julian Nagelsmann and instill more confidence in new head coach Alfred Schreuder. Let’s take a look at how this matchup may pan out for Frankfurt and their opponents.
Eintracht Frankfurt have had an early start to their competitive fixtures for the season. Having finished 7th in the table last year, Die Adler have been very busy working on qualifying for this year’s Europa League; a competition in which they went as far as the semifinals last year, losing out to Chelsea on penalties.
The Eagles started their pre-season preparations with a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Swiss champions BSC Young Boys, however this loss hasn’t set the precedent for Frankfurt’s results since. Last year’s surprise package in the Bundesliga would go on to impress in their following games, notably beating Austrian side FC Wels 7-0 at the end of July, and cruising through Europa league qualification with relative ease.
Their first game in the DFB Pokal got off to a wild start as they faced SV Waldhof Mannheim on the road in the first round. The visitors were down by two goals within the first 11 minutes, a score line that threatened to have Frankfurt dumped out of the competition in the first round two years in a row. Through goals by new boy Daichi Kamada, Filip Kostić, and hat-trick hero Ante Rebić, Frankfurt were able to pull the result out of the fire and move on to the next round of the DFB Pokal. The ease with which Frankfurt conceded the three goals in this match indicates that while the offensive side of their game is sharp and ready as ever, the defense still needs some time to improve and get up to speed.
Hoffenheim, on their part, have had a much less impressive stint of results across the board since July. Three draws in club friendlies were followed by a friendly 2-1 loss to Sevilla and a less than comfortable 3-3 result that went to penalties against Würzburger Kickers in the DFB Pokal. Hoffenheim were able to come away with the win on penalties, but none of their results suggest that the team is prepared to make a push for a top six spot in the season to come, something that had become commonplace under Julian Nagelsmann.
Players to Watch:
Coming into this weekend’s clash, both teams have seen a plethora of talent leave their ranks for pastures new. In the case of Frankfurt, Die Adler have seen big names such as Sebastian Haller and Luka Jović move to West Ham and Real Madrid respectively. Haller and Jović formed one of Europe’s most exciting attacking tridents with Ante Rebić last season; a trident that almost propelled the club to a Europa League final.
Their loss has been compensated for with the arrival of new young talents to take their place, however. In Dejan Joveljić, Frankfurt have acquired yet another talented forward from the ranks of Red Star Belgrade in the Serbian Superliga, and they will hope that Joveljić can have a similar impact to his compatriot, Jović. So far, the former Red Star man has shown promise, scoring in a few of the club’s friendlies this summer, as well as getting the winner in Frankfurt’s 2-1 win over FC Flora Tallinn in Europa League qualification. He will surely be one to watch in the game against Hoffenheim, as it will be his first taste of real Bundesliga quality opposition.
While the newcomers will likely be watched very closely by fans and the coaching staff alike, most of the attacking impetus will fall on the more seasoned players that have been with the team for an extended run, namely Ante Rebić.
Rebić is the only remaining member of the Frankfurt front line that lit up the Bundesliga last season, but the losses of Haller and Jović will only put more responsibility onto Rebić’s shoulders. Rebić has already seemingly showed that he is ready to take on a more leading role in the club. He was the hero in Frankfurt’s 5-3 win over SV Waldhof Mannheim, scoring a hat trick that ensured his team made it to the next round.
Alongside Rebić, Gonçalo Paciência looks set to take on a more pronounced role as well and could really burst onto the scene with a good performance against Hoffenheim. The Portuguese center forward has already tried to make a name for himself in pre-season, notably scoring a hat-trick against Austrian side FC Wels and adding 3 goals to his tally in Europa League qualifying. A good performance against Hoffenheim would strengthen Paciência’s claim to a starting 11 position, and perhaps signal the budding start to yet another electrifying attacking force alongside the likes of Rebić and Joveljić.
For Hoffenheim, the losses of the likes of Joelinton, Kerem Demirbay, Nico Schulz and Nadiem Amiri have left massive holes in the team in terms of attacking, midfield, and defensive quality. Adding onto this hefty list of departures, former head coach Julian Nagelsmann has also left for RB Leipzig, hence not only have Hoffenheim lost many of their core players, they will also be without the mastermind behind their success in recent years.
Many teams in the Bundesliga and beyond have struggled to maintain a high quality of performances after such losses in the past, and Hoffenheim will be no different. The team are likely to depend heavily on the attacking abilities of Andrej Kramarić and Ishak Belfodil to take them forward for the coming season. Kramarić is coming off of a very successful Bundesliga season, scoring 17 Bundesliga goals and assisting four, while Belfodil was responsible for 16 goals and five assists across last year’s campaign.
Unfortunately for Hoffenheim, they will likely be without Kramarić in their first match, as their star man has been suffering from knee problems since mid-July. This will mean that much of the responsibility up front will fall onto Belfodil.
The loss of the likes of Demirbay, Schulz and Amiri will also play into Frankfurt’s hands by blunting Hoffenheim’s attack, as each was part of the creative supply line that fed both of Hoffenheim’s main attackers and their respective goal tallies for last season.
Hoffenheim has also added Sebastian Rudy back into their ranks after the defensive midfielder left the club to join Bayern Munich back in the summer of 2017. Rudy subsequently went on to move to Schalke a year later, where he failed to make his mark, resulting in his loan return to Hoffenheim this season. It will be interesting to see if his return to Hoffenheim can rejuvenate his career and help him find the form that made him a formidable force at the center of the park prior to his move to Munich. Judging by Hoffenheim’s pre-season form, they will likely need all the defensive help they can get.
A player I will have a special interest in watching in this Hoffenheim side will be new signing Diadie Samassékou. The Mali international is a player that was linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund earlier this summer and comes with a very solid reputation from Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. The defensive midfielder will add power, dynamism and a keen eye for a pass to the Hoffenheim midfield, and he will hopefully carry over his brilliant displays for Salzburg into the Bundesliga for fans to enjoy.
Eintracht Frankfurt have suffered an unfortunate injury blow in pre-season, with new signing Djibril Sow picking up a tendon crack that will likely keep him out until the end of September.
Hoffenheim’s list of missing players is rather longer, however. As already mentioned, Andrej Kramarić is likely to spend a fair amount of time on the sidelines as he continues to battle knee problems. Leonardo Bittencourt (abductor problems), and Sargis Adamyan (calf problems) are both out due to injury as well. Attacking midfielder Christoph Baumgartner will miss Hoffenheim’s first Bundesliga game of the season through indirect card suspension.
Judging by their moves in the transfer market and their pre-season forms, I expect this game to be a rather open affair. Both teams seem to share defensive frailties as a major weakness in their games, as both have shipped a fair amount of goals in both their competitive and noncompetitive games leading up to this fixture.
Frankfurt, however, have been able to out-score the opposition, despite their defensive errors. Their creative and attacking firepower should be enough to come away with a victory over a Hoffenheim team that has lost quite a bit of it’s core. I also feel that Frankfurt have done a better job replacing the players that have left, with the acquisitions of both Joveljić and Sow looking more like transfers that can have an instant impact on their side.
Whatever the result may be come Sunday, the game looks set to be a spectacle Bundesliga fans can look forward to eagerly.
By Brian Szlenk.