On Thursday night, Chelsea will line up against Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League. The Blues’ opponents have become one of the most talked about teams in Europe this season, so what should Chelsea fans expect from them?
Simply known as Frankfurt, the German club came through arguably the toughest group earlier in the tournament, winning all six games as they topped the standings above Lazio, Apollon Limassol and Marseille. They scored 17 goals in doing so, a figure only bettered by Europa League veterans Sevilla.
Hard fought wins against European giants Inter Milan and Benfica saw them advance to the semi-final stage of the competition for only the second time in their history. The only other time Frankfurt have reached this stage was in 1980, beating fellow Germans Borussia Monchengladbach on away goals after a two-legged final.
Frankfurt have a proud history, both domestically and continentally. Their only German national title, won in 1959, was followed by a successful European Cup campaign in 1960. After an impressive run to the final, Frankfurt lost 7-3 to Real Madrid at Hampden Park. A hat-trick by Alfredo Di Stefano and four goals for Ferenc Puskas meant it was a fixture described by some as one of the greatest football matches of all time.
Three years later, Frankfurt became one of the 16 founding members of the Bundesliga. They survived in the league for 33 years until their relegation in the 1996/97 season, and continued to drop in and out of the Bundesliga until 2005 when they regained some stability on the pitch.
Promotion back to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking in 2012 after being relegated in the previous campaign means Frankfurt have been playing top division football in Germany for the past seven seasons. Their famous DFB-Pokal win in 2018 against Bayern Munich was their first domestic cup in 30 years and their fifth in total.
Fast forward to the current day and Frankfurt are sitting in a commendable 4th place in the Bundesliga. Being three points clear with as many games to go, Chelsea’s opponents are in a good position to qualify for next season’s Champions League, a competition the Blues are also aiming to be apart of.
Frankfurt’s success and offensive quality is epitomised by their talisman, Luka Jovic. The Serbian international has eight goals in this season’s Europa League; only Olivier Giroud has more. However, with only 44% of his attempts hitting the target, Jovic can be inconsistent in front of goal, a common trait among young forwards.
Domestically, Jovic has contributed to 22 goals in 29 appearances in the Bundesliga this season and is one of the most sought after forwards in Europe. Chelsea are known to be keen admirers of the 21-year-old, and Thursday night’s match will give them the chance to take an even closer look at the youngster.
Jovic is one third of one of the deadliest forward trios in Europe. In Frankfurt’s 3-4-1-2 system, Jovic is the focal point and operates in a fluid frontline next to Sebastien Haller and in front of Ante Rebic.
The Serb is instructed to remain as central as possible while Haller and Rebic either play the ball through to Jovic or make darting runs into the channels to pull the ball back to the youngster. This approach is supported by Frankfurt’s wingbacks who provide width and get forward whenever possible.
Nicknamed ‘The Magical Triangle’, Frankfurt’s talented trio have scored 40 of the team’s 58 goals in the Bundesliga this season, but the German club are far from a three-man team. While the wingbacks occupy space up the pitch, Frankfurt’s two outer defenders in the backline split wide, offering passing options as if they were fullbacks. The central defender is supported by the midfield double pivot, who have the ability to keep the ball between them or launch the ball forward, usually to Haller who stands at 6’3. It is a well oiled system that requires every individual to understand and execute their roles to a tee.
Thursday night’s match will take place at the Commerzbank-Arena, the home of Frankfurt. The stadium was opened in 1925 and has been renovated four times, most recently in 2005, to hold 51,500 fans. The stadium was used for the opening match of the 2005 Confederations Cup, as well as the final. The following year, it hosted five matches in the World Cup, including England’s 1-0 win against Paraguay and France’s quarter-final victory over Brazil. In the 2017/18 campaign, Frankfurt had the 20th highest average attendance in Europe, ahead of clubs such as Atletico Madrid, PSG and Inter Milan.
As Chelsea head to Germany looking to gain an advantage over Frankfurt ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge, they will be well aware of the tactical awareness and rich history their opponents are famous for. The Blues have had the rub of the green with the Europa League draw so far, but Frankfurt will provide by far their toughest test yet.
Written by Liam Wilson.