Eintracht Frankfurt are yet to lose in 2019, and a magnificent 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions has seen them climb to fourth place in the Bundesliga and reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League.
Having landed their first major trophy in 30 years with victory over Bayern Munich in the 2018 DFB Cup final, Frankfurt have continued to go from strength to strength, and are now facing the dizzying prospect of reaching the UEFA Champions League for the very first time. The club have only had one previous appearance in the continent's elite club competition, losing the final of the 1959/60 European Cup to a Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano-inspired Real Madrid.
As Germany's fifth-largest city holds its breath before what could be one almighty celebration come the end of the campaign, bundesliga.com looks at five reasons why the Eagles are flying high in 2018/19…
1) Hütter's attacking approach
Austrian coach Adi Hütter was unknown to most Frankfurt fans when he took over from the Bayern-bound Niko Kovac last summer, fresh from conquering the Swiss Super League title with Young Boys. Having also won a league-cup double with Red Ball Salzburg in 2014/15, the former midfielder made no secret of his preferred style of play: "I'm all about attacking football. People come to the stadium to see a team that tries to get forward and play with passion."
Despite a couple of early-season stutters – defeat to Kovac's Bayern in the Supercup, and an early exit from the DFB Cup at the hands of Ulm – Frankfurt soon found their stride in Hütter's preferred system, either a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 which gives them both defensive stability and a range of options in attack. A 4-1 victory over Hannover on Matchday 6 set the tone for a superb autumn, which saw the Eagles win 10 of 11 outings in all competitions, including all four Europa League group games over that period. They also made headlines with a stunning 7-1 demolition of Fortuna Düsseldorf in mid-October.
Having transformed Frankfurt into one of the most exciting sides on the continent – not to mention guiding them to the Europa League quarter-finals without defeat – Hütter is now hoping to succeed where all of his predecessors of the past 60 years have failed, and finally secure a place in Europe's elite club competition. "The chance is there to qualify," he said recently. "And I've always said, dare to dream! I'm certainly dreaming of this historic achievement."
2) A fearsome frontline
Goals are the key to winning football matches, and Frankfurt's sensational attacking trio of Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic have combined to give them the third-best attack in the Bundesliga this term, behind title contenders Bayern and Borussia Dortmund. Jovic, in particular, has been a revelation in his second season on loan from Benfica, underlining his world-class potential with a five-goal haul against Düsseldorf in that incredible 7-1 win.
Watch: Haller, Jovic and Rebic under the microscope
The 21-year-old Serbia striker is now Robert Lewandowski's closest challenger for this season's top scorer's cannon, having netted his 17th of the campaign in the last-gasp win over Schalke on Matchday 28. He has also grabbed seven in the Europa League, and even opened his international account with a goal against Germany in a recent 1-1 friendly draw.
Haller and Rebic have been more than playing their part as well; the Frenchman has 14 goals and nine assists to his name, while Croatian 2018 FIFA World Cup finalist Rebic has scored nine and set up another four. In total, the three men have put away 40 of their side's 56 league goals, a whopping 71 per cent.
"We just try to have fun playing together, to put a lot of pressure on our opponents and have fun," Haller told bundesliga.com earlier this season. "I think we mustn't put pressure on ourselves, just work for the group, for our teammates and it works."
3) United colours of Frankfurt
The Jovic-Haller-Rebic triangle is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Frankfurt's success, with a number of unsung heroes contributing to their Champions League charge. Goalkeeper Kevin Trapp returned to the Commerzbank-Arena on loan from Paris Saint-Germain last summer and has found a rich vein of form in recent weeks, keeping five clean sheets in seven games during February and March.
In central defence, Hütter has shrewdly blended the experience of 35-year-old Makoto Hasebe, the raw talent of 19-year-old rising star Evan N'Dicka, and the tactical nous of January signing Martin Hinteregger, who grabbed the only goal in the narrow Matchday 26 win over Nuremberg. As well as boasting the fourth-best defence in the Bundesliga, Frankfurt have been able to rely on the relentless energy of midfield wide men Danny da Costa and Filip Kostic, who have played more minutes in the league than any of their teammates and had a hand in 20 goals between them.
Part of Kovac's legacy is that Frankfurt have a remarkably cosmopolitan squad, with players from no fewer than 18 different countries in the first team – while fans last year launched the third 'United Colors of Frankfurt' campaign, promoting unity among people from different backgrounds within the club's fan bases and the local community. Hütter has followed in his predecessor's footsteps by getting his charges speaking the same language out on the pitch, and it would be fitting for such an international outfit to get a chance to test themselves against Europe's best in 2019/20.
4) Right men behind the scenes
Of course, a key figure in all of this has been sporting director Fredi Bobic. The former Dortmund, VfB Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin (among others) striker was brought into his current role amid some outside scepticism in 2016, but the 47-year-old’s wise manoeuvrings as part of a top-class backroom team since then has won over those who initially doubted his appointment.
A part of Bobic’s set-up includes a super scouting team led by Ben Manga. Eintracht have made some solid signings that others might have easily passed up or even missed. Along with the required skill-set, those high up in the club have sought athletes who can and do run all day for the cause. Various loans were negotiated that allowed the likes of Trapp, Hinteregger, Kostic and Jovic to come on board.
Overseeing it all is Peter Fischer, the club’s charismatic president for almost 20 years. It was Fischer who insisted the Eagles would fly to victory in last season’s DFB Cup final against the mighty Bayern, he couldn’t contain himself when his prophecy became reality. "I never thought that the tears would flow like that," he said. A key contact between club and supporters, Fischer is said to have been the man responsible for garnering an official fan base of 70,000 members.
5) Formidable fan power
Setting records for travelling support at recent European games, Eintracht stunned cities such as Milan, who can’t have been expecting 13,000 loyal Frankfurt followers to descend on their city for the recent Europa League encounter against Inter. Indeed, as many as 10,000 are said to be interested in making the quarter-final first-leg trip to Lisbon, where Benfica await.
Speaking recently about the special backing Die Adler receive at home and away, da Costa said, "As a player there’s nothing better than playing in front of a crowd such as this one who also support you in such a way on the road as well. I had never experienced something like this before and to experience it now is incredible."
Helping to give that tremendous support plenty to cheer, coach Hütter explained, "The fact that we are the last German team competing in Europe right now and the way we play football means we are being really well received. It’s a lot of fun being the coach of Eintracht right now."