While Eintracht Frankfurt's formidable attacking triumvirate of Sebastien Haller, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic may be receiving most of the plaudits for the Eagles' rise to fourth in the Bundesliga, Filip Kostic is proving he too deserves a share of the praise.
The Serbian’s two goals inspired Frankfurt to a 3-0 win over VfB Stuttgart on Sunday, taking them into the top four of the Bundesliga and forwarding their claim for UEFA Champions League football next season.
"Filip was our match-winner today," said coach Adi Hütter, adulating his No10. "The applause that burst out when he was substituted speaks volumes."
It was overdue recognition of the contribution Kostic has made to the Eagles' high-flying campaign, domestically and in Europe. He has now scored four in his past five Bundesliga outings, and took his tally to three in the UEFA Europa League in the last-32 win over Shakhtar Donetsk.
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"He's been giving everything for the club for months now, showing outstanding qualities on the field and off it," added Hütter. "He impressed me from day one, and I'm delighted he's been able to get his reward again with two goals today."
The 26-year-old, who joined on loan from Hamburg in the summer, has now matched his best single-season Bundesliga haul of five goals, achieved with both Hamburg and Stuttgart. He could well challenge the nine goals he scored in his most prolific year in the Dutch top flight for FC Groningen in 2012/13. Thanks to the way Frankfurt are functioning this season – only Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have scored more than their 54 goals – even breaking into double figures could be a realistic aim.
"I've got to thank my teammates," Kostic said. "I was motivated and am delighted to have helped my team with these two goals, but when they set you up so well, it's easy to score goals."
That is thanks to a sturdy house built by Hütter which, at the risk of seeming too top heavy, is actually solid through and through. Starting with Kevin Trapp in goal, Austrian defender Martin Hinteregger has provided more than sufficient stability in a robust rearguard, in which Makoto Hasebe has also been enjoying a new lease of life.
Ahead of the back three, the experienced Sebastian Rode has been keeping things tight together with captain Gelson Fernandes, allowing Kostic to emerge as an increasingly exciting addition to the aforementioned formidable front three.
So Frankfurt's attacking trio may have become a quartet for a crucial run-in which sees them bid for a top-four finish and Europa League glory, with a quarter-final clash with Benfica on the horizon. "Being fourth is not important now, but having a seven-point cushion over seventh place is," said sporting director Fredi Bobic, trying to quench the enthusiasm. "There's a long, hard way to go still."
But with Kostic flexing his own muscles at the weekend, Champions League football next season is theirs for the taking. "We'd fit in well there," said Rode, who has already appeared in European football's elite club competition with both Bayern and Dortmund. "With our team, the fans and the euphoria here, we'd certainly be an enrichment for the Champions League. Now we don't want to give up [on fourth place]; we've got a taste for it."