Over two thirds of the way into 2019/20, it's looking like Eintracht Frankfurt may have to win the DFB Cup if they're to secure a third successive season of European football. bundesliga.com balances the books of the men from Germany's financial capital...
Who they signed: With goalbrokers Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic shipping out, Serbian prospect Dejan Joveljic was brought in from Red Star Belgrade to ease the burden on Goncalo Paciencia. Former Wolfsburg target man Bas Dost returned to the Bundesliga off the back a 76-goal spree across two seasons in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon, Andre Silva arrived on two-year loan from AC Milan and Daichi Kamada was effectively another new face in attack, albeit a familiar one, following a fruitful stint in Belgium. Djibril Sow and Dominik Kohr made the switch from Young Boys and Bayer Leverkusen respectively to beef up the centre of the park, while goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, defender Martin Hinteregger and midfield Sebastian Rode signed permanent deals.
What they expected: Replacing the strike power of Jovic, Haller and Rebic - who accounted for 41 of Frankfurt's 60 Bundesliga goals last season - was always going to be a tall order. The trio ensured Frankfurt were knocking at the door of the UEFA Champions League places right until the final day of 2018/19, and fired them all the way to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals. Nevertheless, Adi Hütter still launched into his second campaign as head coach with all the necessary tools to mount another push for a top-six finish - on paper, anyway...
How it played out: With varying degrees of success. Frankfurt were sixth in the standings when they put five past Bayern Munich in a tenure-ending defeat for former coach Niko Kovac. That took their tally to 16 points from a possible 30, but they ended the year in 13th - some 10 points adrift of the top six - following a run of six defeats and one draw.
The Eagles dared to soar at the start of 2020, claiming wins over Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig and Augsburg, whilst drawing with Fortuna Düsseldorf. However, three defeats on the spin - 4-0 losses to Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, either side of 2-1 home reverse at the hands of promoted Union Berlin - leave them with nine points to claw back on sixth-in-the-table Schalke with nine rounds of fixtures to go.
On a more positive note, a third DFB Cup final appearance in four years is on the cards - though Eintracht will have to oust holders Bayern to get there. Hütter's hot-and-cold ensemble also have a 3-0 home loss to avenge when they travel to Basel for the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.
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Key player: Hinteregger and Paciencia are Frankfurt's seven-goal joint leading scorers, but winger Filip Kostic has been the enduring bright spot of the campaign so far. The Serbia international has already set a new single-season personal best with 12 goals and 15 assists across his first 40 first-team outings in 2019/20. No player outside of the top three - Bayern, Dortmund or Leipzig - has produced more Bundesliga assists (nine). He also ranks in the top 10 for challenges won (284), while his 140 crosses from open play is a league high.
"Apparently Filip has bought a new espresso machine that's working wonders," commented Frankfurt No.1 Trapp in February. "You can't bring him down, he's a mentality monster."
Best game: Although Frankfurt were a man to the good for almost 80 minutes, it has to be the 5-1 rout of Bayern at the Commerzbank-Arena. The Eagles showed the defending champions no mercy following Jerome Boateng's ninth-minute sending off, with Kostic duly opening the floodgates midway through the first half. Sow and Robert Lewandowski exchanged goals, before David Abraham, Hinteregger and Paciencia sealed Kovac's fate.
The man who had masterminded Frankfurt's 2017/18 DFB Cup win was dismissed less than 48 hours later, following Bayern's heaviest defeat in almost a decade. It was also Eintracht's first Bundesliga win over the men from Munich in 16 matches.
"That doesn't happen every day," commented Frankfurt boss Hütter afterwards. "Obviously the turning point was the red card, but our third goal was very important. It came at a time when they had just had a couple of opportunities to score. It was a very convincing win."
Biggest surprise: Kamada just about pips honorable mentions Almamy Toure, Evan N'Dicka and Timothy Chandler to the post. The Frankfurt No.15 made his full Bundesliga debut against Freiburg on Matchday 1 of 2017/18, but was restricted to just two further top-flight outings that season and spent the following year in Belgium's Jupiler League.
Eintracht's tough parenting act had the desired effect. After registering 16 goals and nine assists in 36 appearances for Sint-Truidense, Kamada was rewarded with a first call-up to the Japan national team and summer recall to Frankfurt. The 23-year-old has responded in kind with three assists in 19 Bundesliga appearances, as well as six goals in the Europa League and two in the DFB Cup.
"I have to admit he's really surprised me - in a good way" commented Hütter following Kamada's match-winning double at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in November. "He's come on leaps and bounds, not just as a player but his character has really come to the fore, too."
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