Four points off the top four of the Bundesliga table, well placed to qualify for the UEFA Europa League last 32 and into the DFB Cup last 16, Eintracht Frankfurt have enjoyed a solid start to the season. A key to their success has been leading goalscorer Goncalo Paciencia.
Last season Paciencia was fourth-choice in attack for Eintracht, mostly watching from the sidelines as Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic plundered 57 Bundesliga goals between them. The 25-year-old missed much of the first half of the 2018/19 campaign due to a knee injury, but now he is in flying form for the Eagles.
With last season's devastating forward trio moving on, Paciencia has seized his chance to shine. The Portuguese attacker is the only man to feature in all of Eintracht's 23 games so far this term, a run that started with a Europa League qualifying tie against Flora in Estonia on 25 July.
Paciencia's goal in the 5-1 rout against defending champions Bayern Munich on Matchday 10 was his ninth in all competitions and sixth in the Bundesliga this season. He has also scored his first international goals for Portugal, adding an assist alongside it against Lithuania in November.
Watch: All of Paciencia's goals so far this season!
"It feels like the team are playing even better this season than last year," was winger Filip Kostic's take on the win over Bayern – quite a statement considering Eintracht played some magical football on their way to the 2018/19 Europa League semi-finals.
"It's obviously a special day and a special win," said Eagles head coach Adi Hütter. "Nevertheless, we mustn't get carried away because there's a lot of the season left – and a lot can happen."
That's a view that Paciencia shares. The Porto native has experienced some low moments, and has previously spoken about the difficulty that comes with being constantly compared to his father Domingos, who was a goalscoring legend with his hometown club.
Being injured shortly after his arrival in Germany last summer didn't help Paciencia's adaptation. But he told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he had also needed time to adjust to the intensity of the work required at a Bundesliga club.
"At that time I wasn’t yet in the necessary physical condition," he said in October. "Right now I'm fitter than I've ever been in my career. And I feel so good at Eintracht. The atmosphere within the team is one of the best I've ever experienced. I enjoy every day – despite the hard work."
Hard labour is paying dividends for Paciencia, who is forging a promising relationship with recent arrival Bas Dost in attack. Andre Silva, who joined from AC Milan, is a former Porto and Portugal teammate from his teenage days, meaning there is plenty of competition for places.
Paciencia, though, has for now gone from fourth choice last season to first choice this term. He got three goals in 11 league appearances in 2018/19, but had six from eight starts after the Bayern game.
More game time and more goals make for a happier player, and Eintracht defender Makoto Hasebe said Paciencia has been "much better" this season.
"He definitely wants to score more goals – you can sense that," the former Japan captain told Frankfurter Rundschau in October. "He has that desire.
"Last season we had three top strikers and he was attacker number four. He was very quiet, and now and then his head would drop. But that’s no longer the case because he's playing with much more confidence."
For his part, Paciencia told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that in recent months he had been reading a lot about positive thinking in order to help him maintain a steely focus.
"It's not good to dwell too much on a missed chance or a dribble that doesn't work out," he explained. "You have to put a setback like that behind you as quickly as possible so you're fully prepared for the next opportunity and able to pounce on it.
"My teammates also have to feel – through my appearance and body language – that my self-confidence is unbroken, and that I'm ready to go again."
The former Porto and Vitoria Setubal player admits that it took him time to realise that in Frankfurt you have to give your all in every training session, or risk losing your spot. Goals and assists are coming freely for the attacker now, but he knows from experience that he needs to maintain his work rate.
"I don't give too much importance to stuff like that because things can change quickly again," he said when discussing his glowing statistics from this season. "Today you play, tomorrow you're no longer playing again. Football features constant ups and downs."
What Paciencia did acknowledge, however, is that his team are looking at him differently. A crucial headed goal against Benfica in the Europa League quarter-final last season gave an idea of his potential, but this season he has scored against top teams like RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern.
If Paciencia's teammates are starting to look at him differently, other teams will have to take notice too. Having had to work so hard for a place in Eintracht's starting eleven, after all, he'll be fighting tooth and nail to stay in it.
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