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In the merry go round that is the Bundesliga managerial landscape at the moment, Adi Hütter has officially been announced as the next Borussia Monchengladbach boss. The announcement came just days after leading his team to a massive win over third place VFL Wolfsburg, with Die Adler in poll position to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. Monchengladbach on the other hand, sit just eighth in the table, after a stop and start second half of the season. Part of Gladbach’s lack of form could be down to the other big managerial announcement of 2021 in the Bundesliga – Marco Rose’s imminent arrival at Borussia Dortmund. However, Hütter’s achievements with Frankfurt are monumental in comparison to Gladbach’s disappointing season. That makes it all the more confusing why he would leave a side about to participate in the UEFA Champions League for one that is not guaranteed European football next season. Nonetheless, the surprise announcement gives us the perfect opportunity to eulogize everything Adi Hütter has accomplished at Eintracht Frankfurt.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-1-4-2
With Serbian forward Luka Jovic back at the club, Adi Hütter has returned to the 3-4-1-2 system that served Die Adler and the Serbian striker so well for Hütter’s predecessor – Niko Kovac. The Austrian manager tried to carry on with the 3-4-1-2 in his first two seasons at the club, but it became increasingly difficult to continue their form of seasons past with several first team players leaving the club, including the front two – Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller. A disappointing ninth place finish in 2019-20 might have been partially responsible for the Austrian’s change of shape to 3-4-2-1, keeping much of the same principles but opting for a skillful attacking midfield combination rather than a powerful front two. Dutch forward Bas Dost offered some similar qualities to the departed Sebastien Haller, but ultimately didn’t have the legs to offer the same sort of threat. Luka Jovic’s re-addition to the team has helped to reinvigorate life back into the side and simultaenously the 3-4-1-2. The Serbian striker has only scored 4 goals in 13 matches since returning to the side, but his dynamism and pace up front compliments the robust Andre Silva very well. Silva’s been one of the top strikers in the league this season, bagging 23 goals in 26 matches. The two strikers are the undeniable stars in the side, but they are backed up by an energetic, powerful squad in behind, willing to do everything they can to win.
In Filip Kostic and Erik Durm, Hütter has two experienced wing-backs who have played the position for a number of years and clubs. They play an integral role to the team’s system, often being the first outlet that they look to in build-up phases and transitions. Kostic in particular seems to be one of the fittest players in the league, and has contributed 4 goals with 11 assists from left-wing-back this season. Durm has contributed far fewer to the team’s attack, but still plays a crucial role to Die Adler in breaking opposition teams down. Hütter also has one of the Bundesliga’s most experienced midfielders in Sebastian Rode, who started his career excellently well at Frankfurt back in 2010 and returns after failing to establish himself at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Swiss midfielder Djibril Sow has however been the most consistent of the two central midfielders, coming into his own as one of the side’s undeniable starters in 2020-21. In front of them, Frankfurt might have unveiled their next Ante Rebic this season in the form of Japanese midfielder Daichi Kamada, who’s bagged 5 goals with 10 assists in the league so far. With 2 goals and 4 assists in the whole of 2019-20, Kamada’s rise this season is remarkable, and has significantly helped in their fight to finish inside the top four. The Japanese midfielder is particularly key to transitional moments, operating between the lines of the opposition and often running with the ball at speed before picking out the right pass at the right moment to assist one of his strikers. He’s also shown fantastic versatility, often operating on the right in the 3-4-2-1 to allow Amin Younes a place in the team on the left.
At the back, long-term defender David Abraham has returned to his native Argentina, prompting Hütter to rely on two twenty-one-year-old’s in Tuta and Odite Evan Ndicka regularly this season. Ndicka’s been a fixture in the side the past few years, but he’s had to compete this season more regularly with the returning Stefan Ilsanker, and the experienced older heads in Martin Hinteregger and 37-year-old club captain Makoto Hasebe. In goal, Kevin Trapp is the only player to start in every match and play every minute, leading his team to a top four finish with just three losses this season. Most of those names might not appear to be of Champions League quality. However, Hütter has managed to get the best out of his players in the 3-4-1-2 system, in a way that constantly feeds the few stars they have in the side – particularly Kostic and their extraordinary front-two. So with that, let’s delve deeper into this tactical analysis and explore how Hütter has achieved so much success with this Eintracht Frankfurt team.
QUICK TRANSITIONSEmbed from Getty Images
Eintracht Frankfurt play in a style that is becoming more and more customary to German football (as it always tended to be already). Immediately after winning the ball, Frankfurt utilize fast runners to carry the ball up field at pace and exploit the opposition in transition. Rather than meticulous possession or connecting a certain number of passes after winning the ball back, Die Adler frequently use the wing-backs or Daichi Kamada to drive the ball up the field. Typically this means that even if a wing-back finds themselves a bit lower on the field, the team will still play the ball into a wide area in hopes that the wing-back will eventually get on the end of it. In fact, Frankfurt attempt a high number of risky passes, with only a 78% pass completion rate this season.
Filip Kostic is particularly crucial in attacking transitions, operating as one of the fastest, most dynamic players in the league. Frankfurt use the left in 38% of their attacks, the sixth highest in the league. By comparison, they use the right less than any other team, with just 34% of their attacks coming down the side. Aiding in their quick attacking transitions, they also adopt a very vertical approach, even it does skew to the left, with the third highest percentage of attacks through the middle (28%). In these quick attacking transitions, Frankfurt also utilize a high amount of bounce passes / “give-and-go’s”. These typically take place in wide areas to free up the fullbacks in even more space, but may also occur when a striker drops deep to receive a pass and then spins off the back of a defender.
With their emphasis on the left-side, sometimes Erik Durm will also invert in central areas. This can be seen when Kostic advances higher up the pitch and particularly when he’s delivering crosses. In these circumstances Durm makes himself an extra number in the box, rather than maintaining his width and hugging the touchline.
Beyond the impressive role of their wing-backs, the overall speed and power of the entire side has enough to take any team by surprise. They operate like a unit of energizer bunnies, particularly the front three and wing-backs, who never stop running. Daichi Kamada’s improved goal and assist tally is partially down to his improved ability on the break, as he has developed a keen sense of when to dribble and when to pass.
The Japanese playmaker will often use his pace and power to run with the ball at high speeds, drawing defenders toward him the further he runs. This opens up space to play in the strikers at the exact right moment. Given how deadly Jovic and Silva are, you can almost guarantee goals will be scored following a pass into the penalty area. Frankfurt have been deadly in attack, scoring 59 goals in 28 matches, the second most in the league.
One of the central tenets to which both players score goals is not only through quick transitions, but also through crosses. Frankfurt have delivered 21 crosses per game this season, the second most in the league. Jovic and Silva both offer a threat in the air, and the presence of both up front forces opposition defenses into difficult decisions on who to mark and where to cover the space. When opting for a more creative midfielder like Amin Younes, vertical passes can also be hit into the attacking midfielders at the edge of the box, for them to work their magic.
In defense, Frankfurt also transition quickly, swarming the ball in numbers and pressing high. They will attempt to stifle their opposition into wide areas, where the wing-backs are poised and ready to win the ball.
Although Eintracht Frankfurt favour quick attacking transitions, they also use a meticulous build-up to break their opposition down. This occurs particularly on goal kicks and when in their own third, as they look to switch play and pass the ball into the wide areas for the wing-backs to advance up the pitch.
The back-three and central midfielders will be particularly key to implementing this, and work to combine together through triangular combinations. The centre-backs will often spend more time on the ball than anyone else, circulating it around and remaining patient that they’ll work the right moment to play a pass into a wide area. Once a ball is worked into that wide area, another triangular combination of striker, wing-back and central midfielder will combine to overload one side and free up one of the three players higher up the field in space. As a striker floats deep to pick up the ball, a central midfielder may even be the one to advance up the pitch at the top of the triangle, creating chaos for the opposition. Once advancing into the wide areas, they rarely look to switch play back over to the other side. If they do change the point of the attack, it is more likely to occur higher up the pitch, such as through cross-field passes from one wing-back to another.
Although Frankfurt would rather play short passes and work the ball into the wide areas, their defenders are also capable of hitting longer passes when required. Kevin Trapp has completed 7.9 long passes per game, the sixth most in the league of players with 10+ appearances. This may be a mechanism by which the team engage their strikers and wing-backs early on in moves, or it may be a method to help them get out of danger when their opposition’s aggressive press punctures a nerve. Hasebe and Hinteregger are also capable long-ball-passers, but the other centre-backs in the Austrian’s ranks typically prefer to play shorter passes along the ground. Regardless of the approach, Eintracht’s leaders in passes per game are all centre-backs, highlighting their importance to starting off moves and circulating the ball.
Frankfurt press high with vigor and intensity, often swarming the ball in numbers. As of late, their press has been a tad disorganized and has shifted toward a ball oriented approach, rather than a man-oriented one. Sometimes two or three players may pressure the player in possession at a time, which can have detrimental effects to the team. If that player in possession breaks free, this may leave Die Adler cruelly exposed. If the player is unable to break free, three players may be in close proximity to kickstart a devastating attack. But despite that, Frankfurt will be making attempts to make their press more organized in the final six games. When their press has been more organized, it’s geared toward a man-oriented approach. Each of Franfkurt’s players line up with a member of the opposition and then follow their movement around the pitch. This renders any positional rotation less fruitful for the opposition, but can also have its disadvantages if a player does not stick diligently to their task or loses a 1v1 battle. It does however allow Die Adler a better opportunity at stifling their opposition and forcing them to go long. Frankfurt’s high press is accompanied by a high line, with all players attempting to get inside the opposition’s half. If the opposition go long, the big men at the back are more than capable of heading the ball down and helping the team recycle the ball.
In longer spells without possession, Adi Hütter’s side drop into more of a 5-2-1-2, with Kamada operating in a clearly distinct role from the midfield pivot. He operates in between the lines and offers an outlet in transition, sometimes drifting to the wide areas to pick up the ball rather than staying centrally. In the 3-4-2-1 formation, the team may play more of a 5-4-1 shape in these longer spells without the ball instead, although this too can fluctuate into a 5-2-2-1, to give Frankfurt a better shot at quick attacking transitions. Everything they do centers around energy and intensity, and this has been a massive reason why Frankfurt have been so effective this season and currently sit one point behind Wolfsburg in third place.
Adi Hütter is one of the top coaches in German football at the moment, and it shows in that he has earned a move to what is supposedly a bigger club in Borussia Monchengladbach. However, Hütter’s move to Gladbach comes as a big surprise having done so well to secure Champions League football for his team this season. Eintracht Frankfurt have been flying high under his influence, and it will be interesting to see whether the next manager that comes in at Die Adler continues with much of these same principles of play. It will also be interesting to see how Adi Hütter adapts his tactics to fit a new crop of players and whether or not he will stick to a back-three for a team that has played 4-2-3-1 for the past several years. For now, Hütter can enjoy the remaining games with Frankfurt, knowing that Champions League football is well within reach for the club next season.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Adi Hütter’s Eintracht Frankfurt in 2020-21. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses and more on the 2020-21 Bundesliga season. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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