Eintracht Frankfurt was capable of winning all of their group stage matches in the Europa League. Thanks to the recent success, the side of Adi Hütter is one of the high-flying teams of the Bundesliga.
However, many forget that the start of Adi Hütter, who took over from Niko Kovac, was a stuttering one. Eintracht Frankfurt was overrun by Bayern Munich in a 0-5 defeat in the Supercup and was eliminated in the DFB Pokal by fourth division team SSV Ulm – a debacle.
Obviously, Adi Hütter made the turnaround and surprised the league with his successful approach. How Hütter adjusted his ideas to the team and what tactics led to the success will be revealed in the following analysis.
Back to back-five
One of the main factors of Eintracht Frankfurt was the deployment of a system with a back-five. In the beginning of his time in Frankfurt, Hütter used a back-four in defence. As Frankfurt struggled to gain defensive stability with four defenders, the Austrian decided to switch back to a line of five defenders like in the previous season under Kovac.
The deployment of a back-five also makes sense due to their wing-backs. Danny da Costa is defensively extremely solid and can further stabilize the defence as a wing-back. Moreover, the dynamic defender can contribute to the offence with pacy long-line runs. Filip Kostić on the other side benefits from the space he gets on the wing, starting from a more defensive position. Even though being a “learned” winger, Kostić likes to move between the opposition winger and fullback. Thereby the Serbian has more space to start into in order to utilise his pace. Being tightly marked by the opposition full-back, Kostić often wasn’t capable of using his tempo.
Although Frankfurt is a center-focused side, it is difficult to stop their attacks as Kostić and Da Costa provide penetrating power on the wings. The Positions & Passing Network above shows that both wing-backs play a key role in the Frankfurt system by providing width.
Having only an average possession rate of 47.5% in the Bundesliga so far, Frankfurt’s defensive phase is a key to their success. Frankfurt attempts to keep the ball away from their own goal during the defensive phase.
Eintracht Frankfurt try to prevent the opponent from getting out of their own half. The midfielders mark the ball near central midfielders of the opposition. In the meantime, the striker duo attempts to prevent the opponent from switching play or playing back passes to the centre-backs. That way, Frankfurt often force their opponents to play long balls.
The number of 23.3 won aerial duels per game, which is the best value of all Bundesliga sides, speaks of high individual quality. This allows the more offensive players to keep up their shape instead of aggressively pressing the central defenders during build-up. That leads to a more compact shape and makes it nearly impossible to outplay Frankfurt’s press through the centre.
Vertical build-up phase
Verticality is a huge part of Hütter’s concept. The build-up reflects the philosophy under the new Austrian coach. Instead of retaining possession and circulating the ball, the central defenders always aim at finding a way to play forward.
In addition to that Frankfurt likes to play through the central lane of the pitch. Whenever a central midfielder is unmarked, the three defenders, who build up play, attempt to find this spare man. Receiving the ball within the opposition block, Frankfurt further searches for possibilities to play directly towards the goal. Instead of playing into wide areas, the midfielders quickly turn and use only few touches to pass the ball to either of their attackers.
On the one hand, this poses a risk. As most opponents try to close down the centre, it is more difficult. This leads to a higher probability of losing possession. But with three defenders and two defensive midfielders behind the ball, Frankfurt deploys a good cover to prevent from counter-attacks. On the other hand, this strategy is a chance to get to the opposition goal with only a few passes. This does not allow their opponent to retain organisation in case of being outplayed.
Flexibility in midfield
In midfield, Frankfurt has a lot of flexibility with plenty of options. Whereas Hütter deployed a system with a double pivot and a single offensive midfielder in the beginning of the successful period, he recently deployed other different formations depending on the opposition and available players. One option was playing with one holding midfielder who protects the space in front of the back line and two advanced midfielders supporting the attack.
In their Europa League match against Lazio, Hütter even lined up a box midfield comprising two defensive and two offensive midfielders and therefore played with only one striker. This underlines the flexibility of Frankfurt, making the side unpredictable.
Whereas Frankfurt seems to have a fitting attack for Hütter’s approach, the midfield lacks a bit of pace to make their style of play even more threatening. Especially when Frankfurt directly play forwards, the midfield at times gets torn apart revealing space for the opposition to win possible second balls.
In the attack, Frankfurt often play with the strikers Sébastian Haller and Luka Jovic who perfectly complement each other. While Haller is capable of acting as a target man for crosses with his heading ability, Jovic has the quality to accurately finish with the first touch in and around the penalty-box.
Being lined up together with playmaker Ante Rebic, media call them the “magical triangle”. Whereas some call it magic, others will claim it is the simple utilisation of clever counter-movements and the creation of numerical advantage. As Frankfurt often use two strikers up front, they usually occupy two central defenders of the opposition. Offensive midfielder Rebic moves between the lines being unmarked most of the times. This allows the three attackers to outnumber the opponent’s defence. Whenever either of the strikers drops to create a passing lane, Rebic moves into the position of this striker. Being confronted with two players, the centre-back will have to either leave the back line to follow the striker or stay on his position. Either way will allow Frankfurt to have one available passing option by the simple creation of a two-versus-one situation.
Therewith, the three attackers have scored 24 goals together thus far.
After regaining possession, Frankfurt like to make use of the disorganisation of the opponent. Instead of keeping possession, Frankfurt directly attempt to break defensive lines and threaten the opposition goal. With four goals, Frankfurt scored the second most goals from counter-attacks of all Bundesliga sides. Therefore one can claim Hütter’s side to be a transition based team.
Eintracht try to find one of their strikers as quick as possible. Whereas one of the attackers drops to receive, the other striker starts a run in behind the last line of defence. But not only the strikers are included in their counter-attacks.
The wing-backs also play a big role when transitioning from defence to attack. Depending on the location of the ball, at least one wing-back is contributing to the offence with a full-speed run. They either join the penalty-box being on the ball far side or provide a further passing option on the ball near wing. But also the defensive department moves up the pitch during counter-attacks. Thereby they are able to win second balls or immediately counter-press after losing the ball.
Adi Hütter was capable of adjusting the formation and style of play to the strengths of his players. His side impresses with fast counter-attacks and a stable defence. Especially the movements of wing-backs and attackers present their opponents with big issues. Therefore, Eintracht Frankfurt definitely deserve their recent success in Bundesliga and Europa League.
It remains to be seen whether Frankfurt can continue this path. However, all signs are pointing to the continuation of their story of success.
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