Eintracht Frankfurt are flying high in the Bundesliga and boast the second-best defence in the league. A big reason for that is the Eagles' shot-stopper Lukas Hradecky, who has filled the boots of Kevin Trapp since his departure in 2015. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the Eagles goalkeeper, who is set to make his 100th appearance for the club this weekend.
Eintracht fans may have been a little nervous when Kevin Trapp left for Paris Saint-Germain in July 2015. A German under-21 international at the time, Trapp had proven an asset on the club’s return to the Bundesliga in 2012, helping them to consolidate their place in the top flight and even qualify for Europe.
The Eagles took a month to find Trapp’s replacement, with another 25-year-old – Hradecky - landing just in time for the new season. The Finland international was not a household name in Germany, but Eintracht sporting director Bruno Hübner promised that the latest arrival would prove his worth.
“Lukas has all the attributes of a modern goalkeeper, with fast reactions, good vision and solid passing,” Hübner said of Hradecky, who joined from Danish side Brondby.
The Bratislava-born netminder’s first season in the Bundesliga was more dramatic than he would have liked, but Hradecky kept a clean sheet when it mattered as Eintracht preserved their top-flight status following a play-off win over Nürnberg.
Since Niko Kovac replaced Armin Veh as manager in March 2016, though, the Eagles have taken off. Hradecky conceded only 40 goals in the 32 league matches he completed in 2016/17, keeping 10 clean sheets as they finished 11th in the table.
The 28-year-old also saved an injury-time penalty in a DFB Cup last-16 tie at Hannover in February 2017, and starred in three penalty shootouts on the way to a defeat against Borussia Dortmund in the final. Only 10 out of 18 spot-kicks he faced in the competition found the net.
This season Hradecky has been even more effective to help drive Eintracht’s push for a top-four finish. He let in only 20 goals in the first 20 matchdays, with only Bayern Munich (19) conceding fewer than the Eagles. The former Esbjerg custodian has repelled 75 per cent of the shots that hit the target in Bundesliga games he has played in, and provided further assurance to his defenders by holding on to 60 per cent of those attempts.
Watch: Get to know Hradecky better thanks to this quick-fire Q+A
Hradecky has now played more league games for Eintracht than Trapp (87 compared to 82) and his overall save percentage also compares favourably (70 versus 71 percent).
Playing in a more attacking line-up, Trapp faced more shots as Eintracht number one, so the statistics also indicate that Hradecky’s concentration levels must be high.
Indeed, following a 2-2 draw with Borussia Dortmund last October, the Finnish Footballer of the Year for 2016 and 2017 suggested that it is easier for a keeper when you have more to do.
“I had to make a save every ten minutes today so I didn't get cold and was always involved in the game,” he said. “That's the best thing for a goalkeeper.”
Hradecky has not been obviously at fault for any of the goals his side have conceded this season, meaning plenty of clubs will have noted that his contract is due to run out this summer.
Like every keeper, he has had his share of misfortune in the Bundesliga, most notably in January 2017 when he was sent off after only three minutes for handling the ball outside his area against RB Leipzig.
Lady Luck can smile on you too, though, and Hradecky was the first goalkeeper in Bundesliga history to benefit from the introduction of video technology. On the opening day of the 2017/18 season, Freiburg’s Tim Kleindienst found a way past the Finn only to have his goal ruled out for offside following consultation with the Video Assistant Referee.
Mostly, though, you make your own luck, and that 0-0 draw was the first of six games in all competitions this term in which Hradecky has shut out the opposition.
"I didn’t have an awful lot to do in the first eight or nine matches - we defended brilliantly in those games,” he told Eintracht’s website last November.
“I’ve been more heavily involved recently, though, which does you good as a goalkeeper. I obviously hope I can keep up my good form. If I do my job well, I help the team.”
Hradecky, whose two younger brothers play in the Finnish league, has only conceded more than once in a game on four occasions this season. There is no question he has improved since moving to Germany, and in so doing he has enhanced his club’s chances of returning to European competition.
The Eagles are in the DFB Cup quarter-finals once again and are also excelling in the league. How high they soar could come down to a flying Finn who has proven an excellent replacement for Trapp.