Oliver Glasner ran towards the fans with his team, but unlike his players, the Eintracht Frankfurt coach stopped short of the white-black block. With his arms crossed and at a distance, Glasner followed the celebrations between his team and the supporters. As if in a cinema with a huge screen, he looked impressed at the steeply rising stadium grandstand, on which 3,000 Eintracht fans were making a noise as if they were 30,000 like in Barcelona recently.
The never-ending jubilation rituals – players threw their jerseys into the crowd and hugged the spectators in the lower rows – must have made Glasner realize what a coup he had just pulled off. For the first time since 1980, half an eternity, Frankfurt’s Eintracht is on the verge of reaching a European Cup final with an excellent 2-1 (1-1) win at West Ham United in the semi-final first leg of the Europa League.
However, for players and coaches who have never made it that far internationally, it might be advisable not to even think about it ahead of Thursday’s second leg. The historical dimension can be just as overwhelming as the force of this club – whereby the professional department is more likely to be driven to top performance by the power of the supporters. In Frankfurt there is “only the Europa League as an issue,” Glasner noted. This could become “an unmeasurable effect” that teases out “a few extra points”.
Frankfurt is unbeaten in all eleven competitive games of this Europa League round
Unlike the Frankfurt DFB Cup winners in 2018 and Europa League semi-finalists in 2019, who had dazzling personalities in Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic, the current success is based in particular on a team effort – or rather, given the symbiosis between players and fans , on a club performance. The fact that all professionals contribute equally to the collective is supposedly the greatest compliment for Glasner.
Out of respect for Frankfurt’s well-rehearsed processes, West Ham’s coach David Moyes aligned his formation with the change to a three-man defense after Eintracht. But the plan to mirror the opponent’s order in order to exploit the supposed individual (and physical) superiority of the Londoners in many duels only worked when Michail Antonio made it 1-1 in the meantime (21st minute). Instead, Frankfurt’s Ansgar Knauff used the positional mistake made by Pablo Fornals, who had little experience as a left winger, to take the lead after just 51 seconds. Knauff, who was mainly used in the 3rd division until his winter change, is considered one of the discoveries of the second half of the season.
Because Eintracht had not had a single goal contribution in his position in the first half of the season, sporting director Markus Krösche took him on loan from Dortmund – a direct hit. Due to his speed and agility, Eintracht now has a counterpart to Filip Kostic on the left, one of the most sought-after squad players. At the same time, Glasner tightened up the defensive, paying particular attention to counter-attack protection.
Against West Ham, too, it was evident that the gaps between the different parts of the team were narrow. The performance of his players, said Glasner, was “simply fantastic” – especially the winning goal by Daichi Kamada (54th), which was preceded by a brilliant pass from Jesper Lindström. This means that Frankfurt is still unbeaten in all eleven competitive games in this Europa League round.
There is only one test left before the long-awaited final
Compared to the seventh place in the Premier League, which was noticeably increased by the expectations of the almost 60,000 home fans in the sold-out London Stadium, Frankfurt seemed to benefit from the European Cup experience of the previous seasons. In particular, the axis around goalkeeper Trapp, central defender Hinteregger and clearer Rode, who played a part in the painful semi-final penalty shoot-out against Chelsea three years ago, radiated sovereignty and maturity. West Ham, which was plagued by injuries in the center of defence, did not have this self-image.
Glasner, 47, laid the foundation for this with skilful training management and a clear focus on international competition, although the Austrian has never been confronted with this challenge in his coaching career. The team was able to divide their forces – despite the last seven encounters in 22 days. Last but not least, the merit of head of athletics Andreas Beck, team doctor Florian Pfab and their employees.
Before the final, Frankfurt now only has one test left. Unlike in the games before in the Europa League, Eintracht then bears the burden of being able to lose something for the first time. But it’s best not to think about that.