Dreams are free and right now, Eintracht Frankfurt fans are freely indulging themselves. Not, for the most part, in the realms of spectacular fantasy but at least in the increasingly plausible hope that this season could turn out a lot better than many had envisaged heading into it.
Eighteen points from their opening ten games, just two off a UEFA Champions League qualifying berth, and seventh place in the table: It's a far remove from last season's agonisingly drawn-out battle against the drop, so much so that the home faithful were even moved to sing about the prospect of a potential return to the European stage after the win against fellow current over-achievers 1. FC Köln recently.
Understandably, head coach Niko Kovac is still “not looking up the table, because we need to keep widening the gap to the bottom.” Stability is the mantra right now for the Berlin-born former Croatia international – a quality that has indeed been in notoriously short supply at Eintracht, and not only in more recent times. Full-back Timothy Chandler, a US international but himself Frankfurt-born, agrees with the coach that, given the precarious finale to their previous campaign, “a solidly mid-table place has to be our first priority.”
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That air of caution extends to the management level. “I'd have put my name to 18 points from the first ten games straight away,” admitted sporting director Fredi Bobic, “but the bottom line is, we're still 22 shy of our target.” 40 points: the custom number for clubs seeking first and foremost simply to stay afloat in the Bundesliga. On the form of the past few weeks, Frankfurt will surely get themselves over the line rather sooner than anticipated.
Unbeaten at home since early April – with even the mighty Bayern having to settle for a 2-2 draw at the Commerzbank Arena last month – the Eagles are also now acquiring the handy habit of picking up points on the road as well, taking four from their two most recent trips to Hamburg and Mönchengladbach. Their defence, expertly marshalled by the experienced David Abraham, is one of the stingiest in the division, with just eight goals conceded so far.
Such solidity at the back is a considerable bonus in itself, given the extent of Eintracht's summer reshuffle. Eleven players left the club, with ten new faces coming in; among them, no real headline-making names but plenty of very promising young talent, mostly from abroad. “We're working to a limited budget and we go by quality, not nationality,” Kovac noted early in the season in response to criticism from some quarters. It is a policy which has thus far proved well justified.
Out on the pitch the next assignment is at Werder Bremen, where Frankfurt blew their final chance to escape the bottom three last season. Instead, they found themselves booked for a nail-biting home-and-away play-off with 1. FC Nürnberg – a scenario they have no wish to repeat any time soon.
Nor do they look likely to. “We've undergone a radical transformation since then, it's like day and night. It's not difficult to see how far we've come,” says defensive linchpin Abraham: “We can compete with anyone now. Maybe we can even start thinking about adapting our target of a quiet season.” As long as the team continue to make the right kind of clamour, the Frankfurt management will doubtless second that.