Bayern Munich’s six trophies across the last year equal the entirety of Eintracht Frankfurt’s domestic haul in the club’s 121-year history. The Eagles sit 10 points off the eight-time defending champions in the Bundesliga and the suggestion of a title push is more than fanciful.
Their clash on Saturday is, quite simply, a monumental mismatch.
Eintracht have never even qualified for the Champions League — they competed once for the European Cup, in 1959-60 when they were losing finalists — while Bayern are competing in the competition for a 13th straight season.
And yet, Eintracht go into the match with a real chance of blowing the title race open. Perhaps not for themselves, but victory would give RB Leipzig a chance to get back within two points of the Bavarians.
Boring Bundesliga? Frankfurt could give hope to the neutrals who are desperate to see a title challenge last past the winter. And that they have a chance is a massive credit to Adi Hütter and his talented squad.
Eintracht, of course, have plenty of motivation themselves. Getting this club to the Champions League, which was on the brink of relegation just five seasons ago, would be an incredible achievement. And if fans can return to stadiums next season, Eintracht’s rowdy support would be the talk of the competition.
Sporting director Fredi Bobic deserves massive credit for the transformation, but so too does Hütter, especially considering his three star players (Luka Jovic, Ante Rebic, Sebastien Haller) were all sold off in quick succession in the summer of 2019.
He’s re-fashioned this team into a formidable new machine, mixing youth with experience, flair with brawn, and polishing rough diamonds along the way. After a bumpy start to the season, which included a nine-game winless run, the synergy has flowed and results have followed.
The Eagles have won eight of their last nine and their 22 points so far in 2021 is the most of any team in the Bundesliga, even Bayern with 19. It puts them on equal terms with the champions, at least on recent form.
“We’re in a phase where a lot is well-established and the processes are also better,” Hütter said ahead of the clash. “We certainly have a chance to get a good result. We have never lost our courage.”
Leading the climb is Andre Silva. The Portuguese striker isn’t exactly an explosive ball of natural talent. He doesn’t sprint past defenders like other top strikers. In fact, he can’t, given his speed deficit. But he finds a way through, whether via his intelligent movement, timing runs to perfection in between defenders, or sneaking past them with a combination of deceitful twists and turns.
He has netted 19 goals this season playing as the focal point of a 3-4-2-1. Even the return of the much-beloved Luka Jovic can’t budge him from the starting lineup, with his ice-cold demeanor in front of goal and dogged persistence when he fluffs his lines making him indispensable.
Behind him, two No.10s in Daichi Kamada and Amin Younes provide calculated creativity, while Filip Kostic provides raw skill and exuberance from out wide. This attacking arsenal is supplemented by two grafters in Djibril Sow and the evergreen Makoto Hasebe. And while Eintracht’s defense may not be exceptional — they’ve only kept three clean sheets this season — it is reliable enough to give Frankfurt’s forward line the chance to win matches.
It’s not a bad time to face Bayern, either, with the Bavarians returning from the Club World Cup victory over Tigres to play out a surprise 3-3 draw with Arminia Bielefeld. Thomas Müller, Benjamin Pavard, and Leon Goretzka are ruled out through coronavirus and their heavy schedule may be catching up with them.
While a result against Bayern is unlikely to determine Eintracht’s Champions League destiny alone, maintaining their hot form will put even more belief in a team that has quietly risen to prominence.
It’s no wonder Hütter has been linked with the vacant post at Borussia Mönchengladbach, though it seems he only has eyes for his project in Frankfurt.
“I’m still here at Eintracht Frankfurt and I’m only concerned about Eintracht Frankfurt,” he said.
Considering how the Austrian reshaped his team, and the rocky start to the season, getting Frankfurt to Europe would be the biggest achievement of his career. Victory over Bayern would bring that goal one massive step closer, not to mention delight RB Leipzig and those praying for a title tussle.