The Extraordinary Freefall of Eintracht Frankfurt

13 Mar

It’s been a funny old season for Michael Skibbe’s Eintracht Frankfurt. In week 11, they were as high as 4th. A whole five places above reigning champions Bayern Munich. Some patchy form between then and week 16 saw them drop as low as 9th (week 14), but victory in week 17 saw them go into Christmas in a comfortable 7th with 26 points, just a win away from 5th place and a Europa League spot. To put this in perspective, it was their best Autumn Bundesliga points tally since three-points-for-a-win was introduced in 1995/6. Oh, and for reference, they were 14 points above Stuttgart in 17th.

That win in week 17 was against already crowned Herbstmeister, Borussia Dortmund, at a sold-out Commerzbank-Arena. Theofanis Gekas’ 87th minute left-foot strike at the end of a wonderfully flowing Frankfurt move dealt BVB their first defeat since the opening day, spoilt their previously perfect away record and halted their winning streak at 7. That was the 14th goal of the Greek’s season which saw him top the Bundesliga scoring charts at halfway.

Since then, it’s been a tale of woe. Defeat on penalties in the Pokal at Aachen 4 days later was a disappointing way to cap a progressive 2010, but nothing could have prepared the Eintracht fans for their start to 2011.  Four miserable home defeats [Hannover (0-3), ‘Gladbach (0-1), Leverkusen (0-3) and Stuttgart (0-2)] interspersed by more road cruelty at Hamburg (1-0) and Nürnberg (3-0) were given only temporary, light (and I mean light in the loosest possible sense) relief with 0-0 bore draws at Freiburg and at home to local rivals Kaiserslautern.

So, Saturday comes. They’re away at Schalke and unsurprisingly the first half is 44 minutes old and there are no goals. Then Raul, in a Robbie Keane-esque (there are others but that’s the first that comes to mind) manner, crept up on Ralf Fährmann, who rolls the ball out and shapes to clear. As he does so, Raul gets there first and Fährmann cleans him up. Jurado tucks away the injury time penalty and that should be that. Eintracht won’t score and it’ll be 3 points for the Champions League quarter-finalists from Gelsenkirchen. Time ticks on… 800 minutes without a Bundesliga goal is looming for Skibbe’s side.

Then, in the 70th minute, left-back Georgios Tzavellas launches a long-ball forward to top-scorer Gekas, who hasn’t scored since that win against Dortmund. Manuel Neuer anticipates Gekas controlling it and takes a step to his right, but the Greek doesn’t make contact leaving Neuer stranded as the ball rolls into the net. It ended a run of 793 Bundesliga minutes without a goal celebration for the Frankfurt fans, and of course, team.

Those 793 minutes have become the third longest scoreless streak in Bundesliga history – behind Köln’s 1034 (2001/2) and Saarbrücken (1992/3). Unsurprisingly, and perhaps ominously for Frankfurt, both sides were relegated.

The goal itself sets a new record in the Bundesliga. When Tzavellas let fly, he was all of 73 metres out, beating Köln’s Klaus Allofs’ 1986 record of 70 metres.

Frankfurt’s champagne, however, was put back on ice when Angelos Charisteas slotted home after Marco Russ’ flick-on from Neuer’s long kick with only five to go. 2-1 was the way it stayed with no more freak goals to rescue the Veltins’ visitors.

The defeat puts Eintracht further into the mire. They now sit only 3 points clear of the relegation zone and 2 above the play-off position. It is not beyond comprehension that they could sit level on points with that play-off place should Stuttgart pick up the maximum at Pauli on Sunday evening.

Should Frankfurt be able to beat the drop, Theofanis Gekas, who remains 3rd top scorer in the Bundesliga, needs to start finding the net with regularity again. Skibbe will hope Tzavellas’ strike will somehow rejuvenate his side’s wilting confidence. It needs to, and quick. Frankfurt’s next three opponents are in their immediate vicinity (home to St. Pauli, away at Wolfsburg and home to Werder Bremen). These three fixtures will surely either make or break their season, with tough games against Bayern, Mainz and Dortmund later on.

By James Challinor

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