It was May 7th 2011 and Christoph Daum’s Eintracht Frankfurt had lost to FC Köln by two goals to nil, thus pushing them into seventeenth position in the Bundesliga table. A 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund on the final matchday sealed their fate, forcing them to return to the second division of German football.
While everyone was talking about Lucien Favre’s magical turnaround at Borussia Mönchengladbach, change was imminent at the Commerzbank-Arena. Daum resigned in the summer, and Armin Veh was brought in to take charge of The Eagles. The likes of Halil Altintop and Patrick Ochs were shipped off to make way for a number of loanees including Anderson Bamba, Mohammadou Idrissou and Erwin Hoffer. Veh was determined to change the face of Eintracht Frankfurt.
Eintracht began the season in scintillating style, going on a sixteen game unbeaten run. They completely obliterated mid-table sides like VfL Bochum, Dynamo Dresden and Duisburg during this magical run, sending out a strong message to their fellow promotion hopefuls. A few late Hinrunde losses did plant a few seeds of doubt in the Eintracht camp, but another series of strong performances helped Armin Veh’s side stay a step ahead of the trailing pack.
Come the end of the season and Eintracht were beginning to slip up once again. A loss to 1860 Munich on the penultimate matchday followed by another defeat at the hands of lowly Karlsruher almost shattered any hopes of promotion to the top flight. Luckily, fellow promotion hopefuls Fortuna Düsseldorf’s hard set of fixtures towards the end of the season proved enough for Eintracht to seal direct promotion.
Armin Veh had done exactly what was expected of him. But was the former Stuttgart boss best suited for life in the Bundesliga? And how would Eintracht go about in the summer transfer window ahead of their return to the Bundesliga? Both these questions have been provided with highly surprising answers.
The Eagles were once again at their negotiating best with another major overhaul in personnel. The top two divisions of the Bundesliga were raided by Eintracht, as they brought in a number of players including Takashi Inui, Bastian Oczipka and Kevin Trapp. Veh and company made some remarkably smart free transfers as well, that saw Stefan Aigner and Martin Lanig come to the Commerzbank-Arena. The departures were just as many with ten players leaving the club this summer. So what was expected from Eintracht and the other two promoted clubs?
First timers Greuther Fürth were expected to bring something new to the Bundesliga, but its success was surely doubtful. Fortuna Düsseldorf showed great resilience and determination in their play-off tie against Hertha Berlin, making them one of those sides who would undoubtedly battle it out for survival. With all the change at Eintracht, they were in the same boat as Fürth – a side who had potential but weren’t a tried and tested unit. The one advantage that Eintracht did have over the other two sides was their recent Bundesliga experience.
Getting back to the earlier question of whether Veh was the right man to guide Eintracht through the harsh Bundesliga. Well, the answer has got to be a resounding yes. The Eagles kicked off their campaign with a shocking victory over Bayer Leverkusen and have goalkeeper Kevin Trapp to thank for this. The former Kaiserslautern keeper was at his shot stopping best, conceding just one goal all game. With some people branding this as a lucky victory, Eintracht were out to prove the critics wrong.
A week later, they put Hoffenheim to the sword by picking up a stunning 4-0 victory. This time around it was captain, Pirmin Schwegler, who was in top form. Bastian Oczipka was also in full flow at the Rhein-Neckar Arena with his thunderous runs down the left flank proving too much for Hoffenheim.
The Eagles then went on to find another bunch of heroes in the following week. The attacking midfield trio of Takashi Inui, Stefan Aigner and Alexander Meier danced, twisted and turned their way through a shaky Hamburg defense to help pick up Eintracht’s third consecutive win of the season.
Nürnberg and Hiroshi Kiyotake beckoned the following week, in what was a battle of the diminutive Japanese attackers. Kiyotake and Inui had been in cracking form over the past few weeks and this battle was what was going to decide the result of the game. The former Bochum starlet, Inui, showed the Bundesliga fans exactly what he was capable of in a masterful display of attacking football. Finishing the game a goal to his name and the ball for his performance, Inui had helped Eintracht to their twelfth point in four games.
Next up, Borussia Dortmund – Eintracht’s biggest test was here. Although Dortmund weren’t in top form, Eintracht were going up against a side that was light-years ahead on paper. Twenty eight minutes into the game and Dortmund’s superiority was becoming obvious, as Eintracht’s hopes were seemingly shattered by two goals. In all honesty, this did nothing but spur The Eagles on more. Six minutes into the second half and Eintracht’s silky smooth attacking football had put them level at 2-2. Both sides went on to score a goal each and share the spoils but Eintracht had just made a statement – They are here to stay.
The incredible work ethic of Schwegler and Sebastian Rode in midfield has been another hugely important factor in Eintracht’s success. Having a man like Kevin Trapp between the sticks adds a great deal of security too. Also, we must consider the fact that Eintracht’s strikers are yet to come to the party. Erwin Hoffer and Olivier Occean have scored just one goal each so far and one can only imagine what Eintracht might achieve if they begin to click.
Eintracht Frankfurt currently sit in second position, just two points behind Bayern Munich. This may be very early in the season, but a five game unbeaten run which includes a draw against the defending champions and a victory over Leverkusen is more than commendable. Armin Veh has transformed Eintracht from a team that struggled to score goals to one that can score at ease and not be too concerned about conceding. Individual errors and defensive shortfalls most often prove to be a problem, but this team is able to overcome these troubles with some top quality attacking football.
Given their performances so far, it wouldn’t seem wrong to think that this Eintracht side might even push for Europe. They boast of a fairly strong bench, which has already shown thanks to Martin Lanig, have no European football to worry about and just seem to enjoy playing the beautiful football. The Eagles are here to entertain and are surely here to stay.