After the high of winning the Europa League and qualifying for the Champions League, this season was largely an anti-climax for Frankfurt with problems both on and off the pitch contributing to a season that saw them finish seventh, lose in the DFB Pokal final, and see their coach depart. The club certainly lived up to their ‘Launische Diva’ (moody diva) nickname this season.
In the end a surprise qualification for next season’s Conference League was secured, but all that happened up to that point was a real rollercoaster. With the season starting full of joy and expectation, Bayern dampened the mood on the opening night with a 6-1 win at the Deutsche Bank Park. A Supercup defeat to real Madrid was followed by successive draws against Hertha Berlin and Köln before a 4-3 goal-fest went in their favour versus Werder Bremen.
There were losses to Wolfsburg, Bochum and Dortmund but the Adler won seven of their eleven matches before the Winterpause. Kolo Muani was hitting the goals, while Mario Götze, Daichi Kamada and Jeper Lindström were pulling the strings behind and the outlook was good After losing their opening Champions League tie at home to Sporting, Frankfurt won three to reach the knock-out stage.
Indeed, after the first match back in the Rückrunde (a 3-0 win over Schalke) Eintracht were sitting second in the table just five points behind leaders Bayern. As the New Year progressed however the problems started to appear. Behind the scenes there were problems between Axel Hellmann and Philip Holzer which spilled over into the public sphere.
There were a couple of wins over Hertha and Werder, but then from matchday 22 until matchday 31 Frankfurt failed to win a single one of their ten matches and were knocked out of the Champions League comfortably by Napoli. Away from home they failed to win a single game in the entire Rückrunde and dropped from second to a low of ninth.
Trainer Oliver Glasner then became the focus of attention with it becoming apparent that he hadn’t signed the contract extension on offer to him and he became visibly more tetchy in press conferences and at one point publicly criticised his defenders as not good enough. Rumours of player departures in the summer added to the negative mood around the club.
In the end the announcement that Glasner was In fact leaving freed the team a little. They beat Mainz on matchday 32 and when Wolfsburg inexplicably lost at home to relegated Hertha Berlin on the final matchday, the Adler’s win over Freiburg saw them snatch the Conference League spot that seventh brought with it.
On paper this Frankfurt side should have finished much higher and it wasn’t for nothing that they were second at the halfway stage. Glasner has gone and key players such as Kolo Muani, Kamada and possibly others will follow. Achieving European football and a cup final appearance however should not gloss over the issues behind the scenes and if next season is to be a calmer affair, changes need to be made.
Some of the attacking football in the Hinrunde was impressive with a 4-0 win over RB Leipzig and a 5-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen the highlights. Reaching the Pokal final was a plus as was the final day win over top four-chasing Freiburg, that ultimately secured European football next season.
The 6-1 loss to Bayern Munich on the season’s opening night was far from the ideal start and dampened the mood of optimism. The whole of the Rückrunde could realistically be put down as a lowlight as the team slipped from second place, went winless in ten and failed to win at all away from home. The 4-0 loss to Dortmund on matchday 29 was the heaviest loss and a good mirror of the decline that was in place.
Tale of the Tape
Record: 13-11-10, 50 points (1.47 per game), 7th in Bundesliga
Home Record: 32 points (9-5-3) Away Record: 18 points (4-6-7)
Goals: 58 (1.71 per game), Goals Against: 52 (1.53 per game), Diff: +6
xG: 52.1, xGA: 43.5, Diff: +8.6
The attack was all about one man- Randal Kolo Muani. He finished s the top scorer with fifteen goals, but the over-reliance on the young striker became more and more apparent as the season progressed. Rafael Borré scored two, while Lucas Alario got just the one.
Frankfurt’s xG of 52.1 was the fourth highest in the Bundesliga and by scoring 58 goals, they outdid that by six goals. The imminent sale of Kolo Muani is going to leave a massive hole in the Eintracht attack and somebody else is going to have to take on the burden of getting the goals.
The defence was a big issue this season with previously solid performers suffering a drop in form and Oliver Glasner never really hitting on the perfect line-up or formation. A 4-2-3-1 was toyed with at the start of the season, but the back three was the predominant defensive line-up.
Tuta and Evan Ndicka were the mainstays, but beyond that a combination involving any of Kristijan Jackic, Makoto Hasebe, Aurelio Buta and Hrvoje Smolcic was used. The fullback positions were also in flux with Christopher Lenz, Luca Pellegrini, and Philipp Max being deployed. The ideal combination was never really found.
Djibril Sow and Sebastian Rode provided the solidity and cover while Mario Götze, Daichi Kamada. Jesper Lindström, Junior Dina Ebimbe and Ansgar Knauff provided the attacking core. Frankfurt ranked fourth in the league for progressive carries and fifth overall for touches in the midfield third. They ranked fourth for touches in the attacking third.
If you are looking for the best piece of business don in the transfer window last summer in the Bundesliga, you need not look any further than the free transfer of Randal Kolo Muani from Nantes. He took the league by storm and just twelve months later looks set to earn the Adler a €100 million windfall with his imminent sale. Aurelio Buta also came in on a free from Royal Antwerp and played his way into regular first team action.
The big name arrival was that of Mario Götze, who returned from his spell with PSV Eindhoven for just €3 million. Croatian defensive duo Hrvoje Smolcic (€2.5 million) and Kristijan Jakic (€3.5 million) came in while striker Lucas Alario was signed from Bayer Leverkusen for €6 million. The success of Kolo Muani however made Alario surplus to requirements. Loan deals were also secured for fullback Luca Pellegrini, And Junior Dina Ebimbe. The Italian’s time at the club was a disappointment whereas the PSG loanee made himself a key figure.
The forgotten man however was Danish winger Jens Petter Hauge. Signed on a permanent deal from Milan for €8.2 million, he spent the entire season on loan in Belgium with Gent. The winter transfer window saw the arrival of Philipp Max on loan from PSV and the €4 million signing of Paxton Aaronson from Philadelphia.
Player of the Season
The fact that Randal Kolo Muani won our Bundesliga Fanatic Player of the Year award shows just what an impact the French striker had this season after starting as a largely unknown quantity coming in on a free transfer. He scored against Manuel Neuer on the opening matchday from the sub’s bench and never looked back.
He scored fifteen goals and provided sixteen assists to become the league’s top scorer for goals and assists combined and played his way into the French team for the World Cup and very nearly won the trophy. He is destined for ‘bigger; things next season, but whether that is in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich or over in the Premier League/ PSG remains to be seen.
His older brother Brendan by-passed the Bundesliga when moving from Red Bull Salzburg to Leeds, but 19-year-old Paxten Aaronson looks set to enjoy himself on the Main following his January move from Philadelphia. He made an instant impression in his seven substitute appearances and with a number of key midfielder moving on this summer, his chances to impress look good ahead of next season.
If this were a school report card, this would be the sort of student that makes you pull your hair out. Capable of so much more, the problems outside the classroom had a real impact on progress and the verdict of ‘could do better’ would definitely apply. In the end they finished higher than the previous season, qualified for Europe and reached the Pokal final. All in all not the worst resume, but there was so much more that was possible with this constellation of players.