Yesterday afternoon, Eintracht Frankfurt beat Chelsea 2-1 in a friendly. I was alerted to the scoreline by the reliably orotund Sky Sports News, the network expressing mild consternation at the result.
Bundesliga followers will have been less shocked by the result, however, as Michael Skibbe’s well-drilled side were one of the league’s better teams last season.
Die Adler commence the 2010/11 season amidst minimal emendation to the squad. The XI facing Chelsea contained eight 2009/10 regulars, more than matching a side containing a similar number of starters.
Two of Frankfurt’s newbies featured in the friendly, one of whom was left back Georgios Tzavellas, who the Germans beat off stiff competition to capture – unsurprising given that the Greek international looks to be an exciting prospect.
After an incredible campaign in which he provided a league-high 11 assists, Olympiakos and AEK Athens were interested in the 23-year-old Panionios captain.
Staying with Greek players, and fellow Aegean signing Theofanis Gekas showed spells of waspish potency while on-loan with Hertha BSC at the tail-end of last season. Leverkusen were the recipients of Commerzbank-Arena cash for his services, and Gekas will offer a new line-leading option for 44-year-old Skibbe.
AEK Athens may have missed out on Tzavellas, but Frankfurt kindly sent them Nikos Liberopoulos. Lethal in 2008/09, the 34-year-old’s 2009/10 tally of multiple skied free-kicks and one goal in 1,188 minutes of play rendered him unrequired.
Frankfurt’s German coach likes to set his side out in a 4-1-4-1 style. Content to let their opponents boss the ball, the side from Germany’s Hessen state are difficult to break down.
‘Bankfurt’ finished in 10th place last season, taking their feet off the gas after possible Europa League qualification was snuffed out by the bullying presence of Dortmund, Hamburg and Stuttgart.
Nevertheless, their midfield boasts enviable versatility, with defensive midfielders also lining up behind the central striker or back at the heart of defence.
On the flanks, the wingers double up as capable full-backs, and vice-versa. Yet the two mainstays, particularly in the latter half of the season, were ropey goalkeeper Oka Nikolov, and Halil Altintop.
The Turk did a sterling job on loan from Schalke, earning himself a two-year deal with Eintracht in the process. He’s such a capable frontman, carrying, flicking, poaching and holding the ball with the same aplomb.
The classy Martin Fenin often replaced him to see games out, the Czech attacker jinxing his way in from one of the channels. If he scored more goals, Fenin would be with a bigger club than his current employers.
Flanking either of these two was one of a differing pair. Brazilian Caio is more threads, flicks, and long-range missiles. However, the tidy-footed free-kick taker’s tally of just 19 on-target shots was pretty miserly.
A far more incisive option is Alexander Meier. The towering German, also comfortable in a deeper midfield position, is a great all-round, all-action midfielder.
His height garners most of the attention (6 ft 5in), and it certainly makes him a target to flick on hoofs. However, the direct German is brilliant bursting into the box at vital moments, and 10 goals made him 2009/10s club top-scorer.
Behind the foremost attackers last season were often two midfielders, the pair altering the side’s formation into a fluctuating 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1.
Chris and Teber were most regularly stationed there, although the more dynamic but unpopular latter has departed to Turkish side Kayserispor now.
The technically-limited Chris is a player of the wave-breaking, defence-screening mould, and he also shows up at centre back when necessary.
Other options in the position include Pirim Schwegler, a 23-year-old likely to see increased game-time this season. Exceptionally mature for one so young, the Swiss’s tireless application makes him a fan favourite.
His grip on responsibility is marvellous, and strikers enjoy the kind of player who arrows a dart from the edge of his own box to the opposition full-back region, climaxing the run by making a pass that pleads to be attacked and used.
Last season’s full backs were Sebastian Jung on the right, and Christian Spycher on the left. Spycher has since moved to Young Boys, but it seems Skibbe has a deputy readied in the aforementioned Greek newbie.
Other options in this position include Benjamin Köhler, a selection that makes the left far more potent as an attacking outlet.
Köhler is most often used as a left winger; the kind of player who gives oppositional right backs nightmares. His left foot is sweet, those hasty head-nodding slaloms panic-inducing, and his presence menacing.
Either on that flank or over on the right is Austrian youngster Ümit Korkmaz. I must confess to being rather taken by the tricky speedster prior to his capture by Frankfurt.
EURO 2008 was where I first witnessed his abilities, the then Rapid Vienna starlet entering the host nation’s game versus in-form Croatia from the bench.
Korkmaz was a revelation, the spark, snarl and impetus his side had been crying out for. But handed a mere 10 starts last season, the defensively-lax Korkmaz provided merely three assists.
His round 28 performance in the win at Bochum lingers long in the memory, however, the 24-year-old destroying Bochum’s Swedish-born Chilean Matias Concha.
Quite justifiably, Patrick Ochs was Skibbe’s first choice on the right wing. Contributing eight assists and suffering Frankfurt’s second highest amount of fouls (Schwegler led the way), Ochs was imperious during 09/10.
The right-footer delivered Die Adler’s right-sided corner kicks as outswingers, with left-footed Köhler doing the same from the left.
Like Köhler, Ochs was also deployed as an attacking full-back. Generally though, subdued but safe 20-year-old Sebastian Jung was assigned that mission.
Jung had great cover on his immediate left in the shape of two 6ft 3in centre backs. Maik Franz and Marco Russ are as mean, mighty and mucky as they come.
The deadly duo weren’t just brave and honour-saving at the rear last season, but also pivotal to the side’s concise zonal marking system.
As previously mentioned, tactical discipline permeates this Frankfurt squad, the attack/defence switches being made with seamless ease – narrow without the ball, and chalk-hugging with it.
Cynics and critics might besmirch the team’s style as game-destroying kick-&-rush. Nevertheless, Frankfurt can be a lot of fun too, as the 3-2 triumph at Dortmund epitomised.
An improvement on 10th position would be asking a lot, despite last season being mind-bogglingly average – Frankfurt’s W/D/L/F/A records were nigh-on identical both home and away.
In order to improve, Eintracht Frankfurt must hone their ruthlessness and devise a Plan B for teams who let them dictate the encounter – a pitiful two-goal winning margin was as good as it got during 2009/10.