On April 14th 2012, Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Erzgebirge Aue in the 2. Bundesliga as they continued their push for promotion back to the German top flight. Ten years later, to the day, they were putting Barcelona to the sword at the Camp Nou in front of 30,000 travelling supporters, whose mere presence at the game caused the Blaugrana to change their ticketing rules for European competition in the aftermath. It has been a remarkable journey for all involved with the ‘Adler’, and there is still history to be made this campaign.
Of course, that 3-2 victory at Barca gave Frankfurt a 4-3 aggregate victory over the Spanish giants in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League. In the semi-finals, they will face West Ham United, who have also given this competition the respect it deserves. The two sides are similar in their set-up – high-energy, dynamic teams who rely on teamwork and organisation rather than individual skill, although they both possess players who can take matters into their own hands.
The obvious man to watch for the German outfit is Filip Kostić, who has three goals and five assists already in Europe this campaign. There are plenty of others, though, who could shine across the two legs. Daichi Kamada seems to save his best football for this tournament, while Djibril Sow, Martin Hinteregger and Jesper Lindstrøm have all contributed to Frankfurt’s second Europa League last four run in three years.
But how have West Ham fared? Freelance sports journalist and Hammers supporter Luke James has enjoyed the club’s run so far, and believes managerial nous is a significant component of their progression to this stage. He said, “I’ve been really impressed by West Ham’s performances in the Europa League, they’ve already shown that they’re more than capable of competing with the competition’s strongest clubs.
“David Moyes deserves credit for his role in the team’s run to the semi-finals: tactically, he hasn’t put a foot wrong in Europe and received full marks from me for how he responded to Aaron Cresswell’s dismissal (and ban) versus Lyon.”
Frankfurt fans will most notably be aware of Declan Rice, the midfielder who is the heart and soul of the Hammers XI. But James believes two other members of Moyes’ squad could play a pivotal role.
“Aside from Rice, Ben Johnson and Jarrod Bowen are West Ham’s players to watch in the semi-finals,” he explained. “Since breaking into the first-team squad last season, Johnson has emerged as a confident and composed full-back at Premier League level. He’s naturally a right-back but has also soaked up plenty of minutes on the left, including in the Europa League.
“Bowen is an obvious pick: he’s got an eye for goal and isn’t afraid of turning on the afterburners on the transition. Also of note: his statistical profile is similar to that of Lindstrøm. He has three goals and an assist in seven UEL appearances for us this season. He’ll be lively against Frankfurt.”
These are uncharted waters for West Ham, at least in recent years. Discounting the Intertoto Cup, their last European semi-final came in 1976, when they ironically beat Thursday’s opponents on the way to a European Cup Winners’ Cup final defeat to Anderlecht. Frankfurt supporters who remember that encounter will be looking for revenge and, given they are yet to experience defeat in the Europa League this term, they will be hopeful of doing just that.