Karim Matmour’s late strike helped Eintracht Frankfurt come from 2-0 down to win a fairly even opening day 2. Bundesliga match 3-2. The Algerian international, on as a sub, benefited from some tactical indiscipline by SpVgg Greuther Fürth in the 89th minute to trap a slick cross-box pass from two-goal hero Alexander Meier, before burying his finish spectacularly into the bottom corner.
The home side began the game like there was no tomorrow, most noticeably by pressing at pace when out of possession, and playing direct passes to the nippy wingers as soon as the ball was their’s to use. Rather than trying to match this style of play, Frankfurt instead did things more calmly, more concerned with keeping their 4-1-2-2-1 shape, and thus making it difficult for their hosts to make truly incisive passes or win any loose balls. And, whereas Fürth started their pressing about three-quarters of the way up the pitch, Frankfurt were more content to do their’s on or just behind the halfway line, one man at a time.
Armin Veh’s side had more width than the aforementioned formation would seem to indicate, with both Caio and Alexander Meier occupying positions nearer to the chalk than the central-standing striker Erwin Hoffer. They were backed up whenever the away side had possession by the full-backs, who would fly forward if the ball was being held on their side of the pitch. Thus, Fürth started to use this to their advantage – inviting the slower-paced Frankfurt into their half, before going at their guests hammer and tongs to win the ball back. Then, they’d launch the retrieved ball into the space on the flanks in the other half, and when there, would tease their more star-studded opponents by getting a green-shirted full-back or winger to make a decoy run down to the corner flag, thus dragging Caio or Meier back, and isolating Hoffer.
As the hosts began to gain some momentum, Veh instructed midfield bulldog Sebastian Rode to start pressing further up the pitch. So now, whenever Fürth’s midfield collector Edgar Prib dropped back to gather the ball, Rode was in his shadow. The other red-shirted players soon began to follow Rode’s lead, and it quickly transpired that the home side were very uncomfortable when the ball was at their feet and an opposition player coming at them hurriedly to poke it away. Thus, after finding that they were never going to create anything with the away side’s pressing ensuring that two passes couldn’t be strung together, Büskens’ side began to rely on the long ball option to debutant striker Olivier Occean. If they’d lacked invention before repeatedly resorting to this tactic, they were now getting even further away from something resembling it by playing such direct football.
Nevertheless, Frankfurt weren’t posing much of a threat themselves. Pirmin Schwegler’s right-footed deliveries from corner-kicks on either side were poor, his free-kicks no better, and the first-time returned second balls even worse: but, saying that, it was a weak Sebastian Jung cross that brought about a communication breakdown between Stephan Fürstner and Max Grün, highlighting the nervy nature of the latter. Despite this moment seemingly encouraging Frankfurt to take a few shots on goal, the away side seemed more determined to take the sting out of the game than win it, and whenever a forward pass was made, the midfielders and attackers didn’t appear to be on the same wavelength – short passes coming when long ones were wanted, and vice versa. Correspondingly, when the likes of Caio did show quick feet to dribble their way into space, or when Rode made one of his clever disguised runs into space to avoid the relentless quasi-man-marking system being played by the home side in their own half, the final ball was executed with no haste whatsoever, allowing Fürth to adjust and block.
Occean showed Frankfurt how to do things with incision it in the tenth minute, poking a quick through-ball on to Christopher Nöthe. Yet despite the striker’s pace, Thomas Kessler got there just ahead of him. After Rode made two too unselfish pull-backs after finding room near the byline following some more of his characteristic bursts, the home side went close via Stephan Schröck, who pounced on a dropping ball just off the D, spun in an instant, and fired off a right-footed bouncer at Kessler (who just about held on to the ball).
Unfortunately for the travelling fans, the former St Pauli ‘keeper didn’t hold onto his clean sheet for much longer. In the 20th minute, Occean poked through another volleyed pass, Nöthe again scampering after it with the Frankfurt defence high and sleepy. After seemingly making a bad touch as he travelled with the ball through the left-hand side of the box, the striker showed great agility to swivel, leave both Kessler and Gordon Schildenfeld for dead, before passing the ball into an unguarded net for a 1-0 lead!
Frankfurt didn’t exactly up the pace after falling behind, but they did seem more determine to feed the gangly Meier with some of Constant Djakpa’s long-ish throws, and adopted more of a 4-1-4-1 system. The home side now pushed their already deep-ish defence even further back, and although this created even more of a corridor between the rearguard and the energetic midfield, Frankfurt continued to show a distinct lack of a change of pace when playing attack-minded passes, seemingly giving up as soon as they saw the wall which protected the Fürth ‘keeper.
Inevitably, they did begin to do things slightly more quickly as time went on and the home side continued to hang deep, but just as they were beginning to get into their groove, Fürth got physical. Büskens’ team fouled their opponents whenever they set foot in the home side’s half, thereby ensuring that the rest of the first 45 minutes looked like becoming a training ground session for defending free-kicks. Resultantly, Fürth saw hardly any of the ball, their passing being shoddy whatever the range, although Occean did show some neat hold-up play that occasionally allowed one of the wingers to launch a dribble and kill some time.
And they needed this time, as Grün still looked pretty shaky, dropping a smothered ball at the feet of Hoffer after seemingly having the situation covered ten minutes before the break. His outfield colleagues were still just as limited in attack, however, as seen a few moments after their goalkeeper’s howler when Nöthe headed a cross back to the D, only for no green-shirted midfielder to have made a ghost into the box. Much the same as attempting and executing killer through-balls, making canny runs wasn’t something the hosts’ midfield had in their locker, and a cleverer side than they would have put the game to bed by this stage.
Grün was again at fault as we got nearer to the interval, this time coming for a cross and succeeding only in falling to the floor. Yet luckily for him and Fürth, Caio’s attempt to cushion a chip into the net from the edge of the box failed miserably. And one minute before time, Nöthe showed the Brazilian how it’s done. After a wasted free-kick, a second ball was seemingly squandered with an up n’ under hoof aimed towards the penalty spot. But Kessler charged off his line to get it, clattering into Russ in the process, thereby allowing Fürth’s #9 to pass into the net for his second of the game. 2-0!
There were no changes for the second half, but despite the home side again coming out of the blocks like they meant business, albeit spurning a number of chances that they produced with a creativity and composure absent during the first 45 minutes, Frankfurt took little over ten minutes to pull a goal back. Djakpa – conspicuous only by his absence in the first half when it came to coming forward and doing something positive – crossed for Hoffer, who lost out to Thomas Kleine: a running theme of the first half, as the Austrian striker found himself bullied or beaten every single time the ball was in his vicinity. But unfortunately for the resilient hosts, the ball fell to Meier, lurking to the left of D. Without pausing to let the ball bounce, the midfielder struck a sweet volley into the bottom right-hand corner for 2-1, giving Grün no chance.
After the goal, Fürth kept their 4-4-1-1-style formation, but briefly stationed the midfield and defence banks closer together. And, as epitomised when Felix Klaus laid a perfect chance on a plate for Stephan Schröck a minute or so before Meier’s goal, the home side’s passing had gotten better, and some of the long-diagonals they attempted in order to push Frankfurt out of Grün’s half were now being executed perfectly. Therefore, despite being 1-0 down in this half, the home side were slicker than they had been in the first half (which they won 2-0).
Yet it was the away side who we had seen an even more marked improvement from, and they were definitely in the ascendancy at this point; playing with a sharpness one might associate with a top-flight club. So it was little surprise when they equalized after 63 minutes, even if the route was a tad unexpected. Schwegler, for the first time in the match, floated in a decent free-kick, and Meier rose above everyone else in the huddle to head home for 2-2!
Post-goal, Fürth this time hid inside their collective shell, allowing Frankfurt to pick out their passes over the halfway line. Caio and Matthias Lehmann were now floating about, finding decent pockets of space and drawing home side players out of position. Veh’s team had moved the ball about with more zip in the second half, and having already reaped the rewards for doing so, were now looking to cash in some more. Nevertheless, the hosts fired a warning shot in the 70th minute when they broke at pace, feeding Nöthe on the right wing. He had the luxury of four box-bound players to aim for, yet unfortunately for the nervous home fans, the cross was needleslly hurried, sliced and wasted. With Frankfurt beginning to edge things, it was really was too crucial a chance to waste.
However, such delivery appeared to be a second half anomaly a few minutes later. Substitutes Sercan Sararer and Tayfun Pektürk teamed up well to feed Schröck for a chip cross, but with the goal at his mercy, the six-yards-out Occean somehow headed that inviting ball over. As we entered the last ten minutes, the second half was still as end-to-end and open as it had been since the 45th minute. Despite making personnel changes, the formations were still the same – 4-4-1-1 vs 4-1-4-1, albeit with larger corridors in between those banks as the defences stood nearer and nearer to their respective ‘keepers. The pressing was fairly quick given the late stages of the game, and thus, no one dared dwell on the ball. Therefore, the passing was as offensive and direct as could be, as illustrated in the 84th minute when Occean dropped to flick on a scoop, and the tricky Spaniard Sararer jinxed this way and that, before shaving Kessler’s right-hand post with a low, left-footed bullet of a drive.
His side seemed to get on top of the game once again as we headed towards injury time, still looking infinitely more comfortable with making ambitious passes and trapping them than they had done in the opening 45 minutes: Frankfurt, on the other hand, had resorted to the sort of niggling pressing style of play which the hosts found it difficult to make a breakthrough with during the early stages of the first half. This was what allowed Fürth to gain territory and take control, although the away side soon found that conceding throw-ins was the way to do things as they had more experience in marshalling these set-pieces as the home side seemingly had in using them effectively.
And then, it was they who broke on the invited-forward home side with one minute to go, allowing Matmour, on for Caio, to seal the three points in dramatic fashion.