Our next opponents: Eintracht looking to buck trend

The race for a European place continues unabated for the Werkself. After Monday night's important away win at Leipzig, Bayer 04 face another direct rival in Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday (14 April, 1530 CET). The team from Hessen are seen as outsiders amongst the established clubs in the top third of the table – but they are where they deserve to be as our lowdown on our next opponents shows.


In the end, nobody at Eintracht really knew how to deal with the 1-1 draw against TSG Hoffenheim. On the one hand, the Kovac team prevented the side from the Kraichgau taking over the Europa League place of sixth and succeeded in maintaining the gap with TSG but, on the other, Frankfurt had the chance of taking all three points with an impressive second-half display that would have put them well on the way for a European finish and put pressure on their rivals. That includes Bayer 04: Ahead of the meeting of the two teams, Frankfurt are two points behind the Werkself in fifth place. Eintracht are still in the DFB Cup and they are looking to repeat reaching the final last season: Just four days after the match at the BayArena the visitors travel to the Veltins Arena to play Schalke 04 in the semi-final.


There had been a long wait in Frankfurt to see the return of Marco Fabian and that happened in the game against Hoffenheim: He made his first start in eleven months for Eintracht. The last time the Mexican played was on the final matchday last term before he was ruled out for a long time due to operation on his back. The forward has been in the Eintracht squad since the start of February but it has taken over two months for him to return to the starting eleven. The reason: Coach Niko Kovac (pictured above) was not always happy with Fabian's commitment in training. After his impressive performance against Hoffenheim, the Eintracht coach expressed his joy to a Sky microphone: "When he plays like that, no coach in the world can ignore him." So there is every chance that Fabian will start against Bayer 04 – also because one of the best players up front for Eintracht, Ante Rebic,is ruled out with a torn muscle. There doesn't appear to be any concern about strike partner Luka Jovic: The Serbian injured himself in scoring against Hoffenheim and he had to be substituted but according to Eintracht he will be available against the Werkself as is the case with defensive stalwart Marco Russ who also went off early due to a knock. Definitely sidelined, in addition to Rebic and the long term injury to the Frankfurt hero Alex Meier, are the defenders Carlos Salcedo (broken collarbone) and Omar Mascarell (hairline foot fracture).


Fabian's return came at just the right time for Eintracht. Unusually for him, the Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann made his team sit back and leave possession to Eintracht. The ability to control the game is a confirmed weakness of the side from the city on the Main, particularly when Fabian is not on the pitch. While players like Bundesliga returnee Kevin-Prince Boateng and shooting star Marius Wolf know how to play the ball, that certain something in terms of vision and creativity is primarily embodied by the Mexican in the Frankfurt squad. Given that background, it is logical Eintracht have struggled on the road recently: The last four away games ended in defeat for Frankfurt – a run the Hessen team want to end at the BayArena.


Within the shortest space of time, Niko Kovac has succeeded in turning relegation candidates into challengers for a Champions League position. That has naturally roused attention including in the manager himself. On Friday it was announced the Croat, who played for Bayer 04 from 1996 to 1999, will be the new coach at Bayern Munich as successor to Jupp Heynckes. Kovac has penned a three-year deal with the record champions.


Regardless of where Eintracht finish at the end of the season – it will most probably be a place that nobody predicted before the start of the campaign. Given the recent poor form away from home and the fact Frankfurt, after the match at the BayArena, still have to face the top teams from Munich and Gelsenkirchen that would make qualifying for the  Champions League an absolute sensation. Difficult but not impossible. That Eintracht belong to be in the top third of the Bundesliga has often been proved this season – and should definitely be enough. And with a place in the last four of the DFB Cup, Eintracht are still in the running for a European finish giving them another ace up their sleeve. Whether the focus for the closing stages of the season is on the Champions or the Europa League will probably depend on the outcome of Saturday's match at Bayer 04.

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