With Bayern Munich the run away leaders at the half way point in this years Bundesliga campaign, all focus is now on the chasing pack. Current Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund lie in second place, fifteen points behind Munich with Bayer Leverkusen in third just a point behind them. Hot on their tails is this years surprise package, Eintracht Frankfurt who are looking to continue their impressive start to the season by holding on to fourth spot and sealing a champions league berth. Frankfurt, one of the Bundesliga’s founding members, only gained promotion back into the league after being relegated at the end of the 2010–11 season which makes this years form more surprising. Tipped by many to struggle in the first year back, Frankfurt have picked up an impressive 37 points in 21 games including 11 wins, matching the start that Leverkusen and Dortmund have had also. What makes their achievement even more impressive is that they have managed to do so with a skeleton thin squad and limited cash for transfers.
Led by former German midfielder, Armin Veh, Frankfurt have benefitted from some strong home performances at the Commerzbank-Arena, losing only once at home this season to FSV Mainz 05. Veh, who has a vast wealth of experience in the Bundesliga after managing Borussia Monchengladbach, Hamburger SV, VfL Wolfsburg and VfB Stuttgart during his career, took over at Frankfurt shortly after they were relegated. Having built a team from scratch, Veh steered the team towards automatic promotion last year and is on course for another successful year this season as well. As the coach responsible for Stuttgart 2007 Bundesliga triumph, he knows a thing or two about how to handle the division and has instilled a confidence in his team which has helped in their surprise rise.
Preferring to play with a high back line and throwing men forward, Frankfurt have received a lot of praise for their maturity and attacking style this year, even against some of the leagues bigger teams. When faced with an away tie against Bayern Munich, most teams will revert to an ultra defensive style to try to limit the damage as much as possible. They will often sit back and absorb the pressure without really testing Neuer in the Munich goal. But not Frankfurt who attacked from the start and pushed Munich all the way, even after they went one goal behind. Despite going on to lose the game 2-0, Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger praised Frankfurt’s performance after the game saying “this is by far the best Eintracht we have faced in many years”.
One of the stand out players in the Munich match was veteran midfielder and Frankfurt legend Alexander Meier. Meier played a key role in last years promotional campaign, scoring 17 goals in the process, and his form has continued into this one. Already on 12 goals he is Frankfurt’s leading goal scorer but its his general play that has attracted attention from others. He controls the Frankfurt midfield, alongside the impressive youngster Sebastian Rode who is also having a great season, and creates chances for others. But Meier is the first to note that this years success, and most of last years too was a team effort with everyone having to step up to achieve the results they have. Right back Sebastian Jung is a player who is maturing season after season. The 20 year has been in fine form this year and was recently rewarded with a call up to the German National squad, making him the first Frankfurt player to do so in more than a decade. Similarly the form of Japanese midfielder Takashi Inui has been a surprise to many and has resulted in an increased interest in the playmaker. Picked up from Bochum this summer in a € 1.2 million move, Inui has hit 5 goals and has become a fan favourite due to his quick shots and dizzy dribbling skills. Often the player who dictates the pace of the game alongside Meier, Inui has looked at home in Frankfurt, operating either as an attacking midfielder just behind central striker, Canadian Olivier Occéan or as a pacey winger.
Frankfurt will have to keep their key players fit and healthy in the next few months if they are to maintain their currently lofty position. Motivation to succeed will not be an issue for them as Veh has spent the last two years implanting self belief into his players and giving them all the motivation they need to go on and replicate some of the great Frankfurt teams of the past. But Veh doesn’t like the comparisons and strongly believes that the past should remain in the past and that his team need to be realistic about what they can do now rather than what could be. In an interview with German paper Bild, Veh spoke with elegance about his team and their future chances, despite limited budgets:
“We can’t always go on about the things we can’t do. It’s better to look at the example set by Freiburg and Mainz, who have done so much with little money. We should allow ourselves to dream”.
Veh knows how to get the best out of his team and is proving it once again this season. If Frankfurt can maintain this form until the end of the season, then the next chapter of this amazing story may feature them competing in the Champions League. At the moment that is the dream but for this squad of players, their motivation and determination to succeed may just make that dream come true.