Frankfurt - Eintracht Frankfurt are set to give their fans commemorative DVDs as a Christmas present ahead of the Matchday 17 opener against FC Augsburg on Friday evening, but many of the hardy folk who brave sub-zero temperatures at the Commerzbank Arena will only have one festive wish: A first home win of the season (kick-off 20.30 CET).
250 not out
Picking up three points is by no means a foregone conclusion. Their Bavarian visitors Augsburg have been the season’s surprise package, thrilling the Bundesliga with their fast-paced counter-attacking football and unerring resilience, both of which were on show in die Fuggerstädter’s 4-1 Matchday 16 win against Eintracht Braunschweig.
Frankfurt, even more impressively, picked up their third away win of the season at Bayer 04 Leverkusen and for coach Armin Veh, who celebrates his 250th game as a Bundesliga head coach against Augsburg - the club with whom he began his coaching and playing career, replicating that at the Commerzbank is the challenge. "I'm Augsburg through-and-through," he explained. "I'm delighted they've been so successful in the Bundesliga, but we're coming up against an opponent who a very confident and incredibly physical. The win over Leverkusen lifted a weight off our shoulders and should help us to end the year on a positive note."
Not only is it the last home game of 2013 for the Eagles, but the club will also be saying goodbye to club legend of Oka Nikolov, who made 415 appearances between the sticks for the Eagles. The final two years of Nikolov’s career have been stewarded by Veh. "I've got to know him as a goalkeeper and as a man - he's a really good guy," explained the 52-year-old.
Veh approaches his own landmark with few injury concerns. Beyond last week’s matchwinner Marco Russ (thigh) and Stefano Celozzi (knee), the head coach has a full squad from which to choose. The 52-year-old is expected to retain Constant Djakpa at left-back, whose recent performances have been excellent, and Vaclav Kadlec could replace Stephan Schröck to provide more of a goal threat in front of the expectant home fans.
Augsburg, for their part, have an injured head coach. Markus Weinzierl has come down with a high fever and his participation on the sidelines is as yet unclear. His replacement, likely to be assistant coach Tobias Zellner has a settled first eleven to call upon, and the only question would surround who plays as the lone striker. Halil Altintop scored a beauty against Braunschweig, Raul Bobadilla scored the only goal in their last away win at Hamburger SV and Sascha Mölders is returning from injury.
'We haven't achieved anything yet'
Altintop, speaking after the Braunschweig win which saw the club rise to eighth place, felt that the standings reflected their excellent performances season-long. “Our form's definitely reflected in the table, but we can’t let up,” he said. “We know we’re going to have to give everything to get a result in Frankfurt.”
Similarly, coach Weinzierl said that no-one would be getting carried away before the end of the Hinrunde. “We’ll enjoy it but we haven’t achieved anything yet really,” he warned. “We’ve got a crucial game in Frankfurt ahead of us and then it’s the winter break.” You can be sure though, that his side would love to add their own closing chapter to the end credits of Frankfurt's 2013 DVD reel.
Eintracht Frankfurt: Trapp - S. Jung, Zambrano, Anderson, Djakpa - Rode, Schwegler - Kadlec, Barnetta, Flum - Joselu
FC Augsburg: Hitz - Verhaegh, Callsen-Bracker, Klavan, Ostrzolek - Baier - Hahn, Vogt, Halil Altintop, To. Werner - Bobadilla