In the thrill-a-minute war-time adventure Where Eagles Dare, Richard Burton led a crack team of troops into the impregnable Schloß Adler – Eagle Castle. Michael Skibbe is unlikely to have to grip perilously to an icy cablecar to reach his objective, but the Eintracht Frankfurt coach looks intent on guiding his squad – ‘Die Adler,’ the Eagles – into the previously unattainable territory of the Bundesliga’s top three.
Such heady heights were last scaled in 1993, and the club’s best finish in a last decade punctuated by relegation is ninth in 2008. Heading into Week 12, however, Skibbe’s side have swooped into fourth on the back of five wins in a six-match unbeaten run, two points off third-placed Leverkusen, and with a Werder Bremen side ripe for the picking waiting at the Weserstadion this Saturday.
The prospect of facing Thomas Schaaf’s men, undoubtedly shell-shocked after their 6-0 shellacking at Stuttgart last weekend, must be even less daunting given Eintracht’s away form this season, which has helped them recover from a start of one win and four defeats in their first five matches.
- Monchengladbach, Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern and St Pauli have all been beaten on their own turf. A further win at Bremen this weekend will mark the first time in Eintracht club history that they have racked up four successive away wins.
- Only leaders Dortmund have conceded fewer goals than Eintracht (7 to 11). Stability has been key with imposing centre-back duo Marco Russ and Maik Franz playing every game so far while full-back Sebastian Jung is also an ever-present. Goalkeeper Oka Nikolov – so the statisticians tell us – has the best shots-to-saves ratio of any Bundesliga goalkeeper (80%), and has seen just three goals go past him in the last six matches.
“There’s no secret to the success,” admitted Patrick Ochs, and there is little doubt Eintracht have retained the trademark resilience that made them so hard to beat last season when they finished tenth. However, they have added one extra and crucial element, Theofanis Gekas.
Gekas: ‘German? It’s all Greek to me’
With career figures of 50 goals in 110 Bundesliga games, and a former Bundesliga top scorer’s crown on his CV, it is no secret either that Gekas means goals. He arrived too late to save Hertha Berlin from relegation last season, but still scored six times in 17 matches, and has struck a league-leading 11 times in 11 games since signing a 2-year contract last summer to end a hate-hate relationship with Bayer Leverkusen. Not bad for someone who – according to fellow Greek and team-mate, Ioannis Amanatidis – “can’t head, doesn’t have a great physique or shot on him” and who has yet to master the language of Goethe despite an almost unbroken spell of four years in the Bundesliga.
“I’m not paid to speak German – I’m paid to score goals,” said the 30-year-old.
Gekas has clearly struck up a good understanding with his team-mates, helping Eintracht amass 20 goals this season already. Given they struck just 47 times last season, the Greek striker’s impact is clear. “Gekas is an unbelievable predator,” said Skibbe of his summer addition, who has – fittingly though scarily – ‘ice cold executioner’ tattooed in Chinese on his right forearm. “He always knows which runs to make and where he should be in the penalty area. He’s one of very few strikers of his kind. In his build and his ruthlessness in front of goal, he reminds me a little bit of Gerd Müller.”
Bremen’s comically porous defence will no doubt be wary of the Greek bearing goals, but though three points in the north is a distinct possibility – especially having recently disposed of Bremen’s Hanseatic neighbours, Hamburg, 5-2 in the German Cup with Gekas scoring twice – there are a couple of clouds on the horizon.
- Steely Brazilian holding midfielder Chris faces an undetermined spell on the sidelines after picking up a back injury while last season’s leading scorer, Alex Meier, is also out for the rest of November with a thigh injury.
- Eintracht’s recent run has been built on preying on the Bundesliga’s most vulnerable. Saturday’s game with Werder sees them embark on a hellish run of fixtures against Hoffenheim, Bayern, Mainz, Cologne, and Dortmund to take them to Christmas, which will be the litmus test of their progress.
If Skibbe can see the 1980 UEFA Cup winners safely over those formidable hurdles to keep them in touch with the top three, the Eagles will well and truly have landed in the race for the Champions League.
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Eurosport 2’s Bundesliga coverage starts on Friday with league leaders Dortmund hosting unpredictable Hamburg (20:30). Schalke finally have a second Bundesliga win under their belts, and we’ll feature their trip to Wolfsburg LIVE on Saturday (15:30). Catch our other live matches this weekend: Mainz v Hanover (Saturday, 18:30), Hoffenheim v Freiburg (Sunday, 15:30) and Bayern v Nurenberg (Sunday 17:30).