As recently as 2005, Alemannia Aachen were playing in the last-32 stage of the UEFA Cup. One year later, Eintracht Frankfurt were taking part in the same continental competition, albeit one they exited at the group stage despite remaining unbeaten against the three teams who progressed at their expense – Newcastle United, Celta Vigo and Fenerbahçe. Half a decade later, however, the good times are over for both clubs, and they meet on Sunday afternoon in a 2. Bundesliga clash which sees Friedhelm Funkel return to the club he coached between 2004 and 2009. After embarking on a star-heavy recruit drive over the summer, Aachen looked as though they’d be up there with Frankfurt – who retained the majority of their Bundesliga squad post-relegation – challenging for promotion to the top-flight. Yet, despite having one of the tightest defences in the league, goals have proved hard to come by (a mere eight in 14 games), meaning that Aachen come into this game second-bottom in the table.
As for Armin Veh’s Eintracht Frankfurt (who recently had to scramble an injury-time equalizer against Ingolstadt – a goal that prevented Aachen from returning to the 18th spot they’ve called home over recent months), they’ve by no means been perfect, but nevertheless sit in second spot in the league. Added to that, the only match they’ve lost all season came in the cup a few weeks ago to Kaiserslautern. Veh – who has only Sonny Kittel ruled out through injury for this weekend’s game – hasn’t needlessly tinkered or overcomplicated things tactically, and the players – despite getting themselves into some silly losing situations early on in certain games – have shown their quality and the strength in depth available to the former Stuttgart coach by scoring 14 of their 36 2011/12 goals between the 75th minute and injury time.
Frankfurt have been lucky enough to play the same goalkeeper and back-four – behind either a ‘2-3-1’ or ‘3-2-1’ – for the last 14 games. During this run, they’ve conceded just 11 goals, and won nine matches. Aachen, on the other hand, have been led by two coaches and experienced a number of plethora of tactical and formation changes throughout the 2011/12 2. Bundesliga games played to date. However, they’ve played with the same back-four for the last four matches, and with the same set of four midfielders in three of the last four matches (in their new 4-4-2 system).
As a result, the team – slowly being turned around by the more experienced Funkel, who replaced attack-minded rookie Peter Hyballa in September – have found a bit of form, losing just one of those four matches. But, winning at Frankfurt – despite their ‘iffy’ form at the Commerzbank-Arena, where they’ve dropped six points from the 18 they’ve been given the chance to take there – is another matter entirely: Aachen are yet to win on the road this season, and have only netted twice on their travels.
Yesterday, Funkel, who looks set to be without injured quartet Florian Müller, Kevin Maek, Bilal Çubukçu and Anouar Hadouir for his return to Frankfurt, acknowledged the size of the task he’s taken on. Although noting that his goal-shy side would look to play attacking football where possible against Eintracht Frankfurt, in a moment of surprising candour, the 57-year-old had this to say about the players currently at his disposal: “We will reduce the squad during the winter break, because some players are simply limited.” However, could this comment put a proverbial rocket up some of the backsides of his players on Sunday afternoon?
The players for the away side most neutrals will have their eyes on will be Boy Waterman, David Odonkor, Reinhold Yabo, Marco Stiepermann and Bas Sibum; and all, on their day, have the ability to be game-changers. However, the likes of Alexander Meier, Mo Idrissou and Karim Matmour are all more than capable of holding their own in the top-flight, let alone the second-tier, so, in spite of what he says in the previous paragraph, I expect Funkel to build on Aachen’s solidity at the back and play for the draw. With this in mind, plus the fact that five Frankfurt players represented their nations in the week (Theofanis Gekas, Erwin Hoffer and Karim Matmour were also with their respective national teams, but did not get any game time), don’t bank on this encounter being anywhere near as exciting as it was the last time the sides met – a DFB-Pokal round two clash in September 2009 which Eintracht Frankfurt won 6-4!
Meier and Benjamin Auer of Frankfurt and Aachen respectively both scored that day, but, in terms of connections between the teams, other than the aforementioned Funkel, Matthias Lehmann is the only player to have represented both sides. The former St Pauli midfielder had a successful spell at the Old Tivoli – the New Tivoli opened during the summer he left the club – between 2006 and 2009, and this week told the Alemannia Aachen website that he was really looking forward to the tie against his former employers.
Eintracht Frankfurt versus Alemannia Aachen kicks off at 12.30pm in the UK on Sunday afternoon, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. The referee will be 26-year-old Harm Osmers.