Oliver Glasner – Eintracht Frankfurt – Tactical Analysis

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Like many of the managers to take place in last season’s managerial merry go round ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, Oliver Glasner had a slow start to life at Eintracht Frankfurt. It took the team eight games to claim their first victory, and even that was a stale 1-0 win over Royal Antwerp in the Europa League. But then, after a shocking 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in October, everything changed. The Slipper Kickers finally found their footing under Glasner, and quickly went on a nine game run where they suffered just one defeat. Since that streak, things have been up and down over the past few months, but Glasner’s team remain in poll position to qualify for the top four, and finish well in this season’s Europa League. Along the way, Glasner has made subtle tweaks to his team’s tactics from the days of Adi Hütter, expertly managing team conflicts and disputes within the side. So with that, here is our tactical analysis of Oliver Glasner’s Frankfurt.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-4-2-1

Oliver Glasner’s 3-4-2-1 system resembles the one that his predecessor favoured – a 3-4-1-2, fairly closely. It must be noted that Hütter also deployed the 3-4-2-1 often over the course of the 2020-21 campaign, utilizing Amin Younes’ trickery and pace out wide. That means the one player to shift roles – Daichi Kamada, already has loads of experience playing as an inverted winger for his team. The role has however compromised his creativity in many ways, and it hasn’t been as explosive of a season for the Japanese international. Kamada has gone from 0.65 goals + assists per 90 in 2020-21, to his lowest since breaking into the Frankfurt team – at just 0.27. On top of the new role, part of that is also down to the double loss of Andre Silva and Luka Jovic, both of whom contributed massive sums of goals last season to the team. Rafael Borré has performed well in Silva’s stead during his first campaign in the Bundesliga, but has been nowhere near as clinical as the insane heights of Silva from the previous season. Complimenting them in attack, 22-year-old Jesper Lindstrøm has also burst onto the scene, following his summer move from Danish giants Brøndby IF. The trio of attackers work incredibly well together, and Kamada’s desire to take up central positions massively benefits the high and wide position of Frankfurt’s best player – Filip Kostic.

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Since Silva’s departure, Filip Kostic has taken much of the weight on his shoulders in goal contribution and creativity. With 3 goals and 8 assists, very few wing-backs in the world can match his delivery and output. Christopher Lenz offers a more defensive option, contributing 2.6 tackles per game despite his limited minutes, but Kostic has to be the first name on the team sheet when fit. On the other side, Glasner’s team would likely be a revelation if they only had another wing-back who could match Kostic’s artistry. Erik Durm, Timothy Chandler and Danny da Costa have all battled for a place, but have contributed just 1 assist between the three of them. The recruitment team recognized their right-wing-back need in the January window and brought in Dortmund’s young wing wizard Ansgar Knauff. The 20-year-old will need time to learn the role, but could provide further dynamism and goal-threat if given time.

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In midfield, things have been more clear-cut. Sebastian Rode has been in and out of the team this season, with Kristijan Jakic coming to life in response. Djibril Sow (above) has been one of the keys to success under Glasner, continuing to grow as a dominating force in Frankfurt’s midfield. With 3 goals and 5 assists in his 31 Bundesliga and Europa League matches, he’s even upped his goal contribution this season. Speaking of goal contribution, there are few centre-backs better at the art of heading in goals from corner kicks than Obite Evan Ndicka. The 22-year-old has 3 goals with 3 assists this season, establishing himself not only as Frankfurt’s key rock at the back, but a powerful force going forward. Tuta has also stepped up with 3 goals of his own, making Frankfurt’s back-three one of the highest scoring defensive lines in the league. In between them, Martin Hinterregger’s been a stalwart, with 38-year-old Makoto Hasebe also offering his leadership and experience at times. Speaking of experience, Kevin Trapp’s having another solid season in goal, stopping 74% of the shots to come his way.

So now that we’ve established the players and the system in which they operate in, let’s get down to business with the more in-depth part of this analysis.

BUILD-UP

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Eintracht Frankfurt build out from the back through their three centre-backs and the goalkeeper, forming an initial quartet. The central midfielders will generally shift lower as the wing-backs situate higher, adding a 3+2 build-up structure to the process. Djibril Sow and Obite Evan Ndicka may look for moments to carry the ball forward, and are simultaneously the two most frequent connectors of passes. As part of their circulation, Glasner’s team will also look for moments to go long and direct into their inverted wingers, who can chase down loose balls in the half-spaces. In other moments, the inverted wingers may look to drop in between the lines and receive progressive passes with their back to goal.

An interesting feature worth noting of their build-up is that the centre-backs will rarely provide angles for each other. Typically, they form a straight line instead, with the goalkeeper at the base of a four person triangle (yes, we typed that correctly). While the wing-backs will situate themselves high up the pitch, they may start low on goal kicks in order to further facilitate quick ball movement into the wide areas, and utilize Kostic’s creativity early on. The narrowness of their centre-backs then allows greater compactness for the team if they are to lose the ball in their own third, without mitigating their ability to stretch the field.

Against certain opposition teams, Glasner’s team may also utilize a 3-1-4-2 esque build-up structure, using the right winger to push the opposition line back, as Kamada drops into central areas. This allows the Japanese creator to get on the ball and use his dribbling expertise early in moves, as one of Sow or Rode/Jakic attracts themselves toward the centre-backs. Another common pattern sees either Sow or Rode drop to the left of Ndicka, pushing Kostic even higher up the pitch. As the opposition get attracted toward that side to counter-act the fluctuation, Lindstrom seeks space down the right-half-space, and makes himself a ready option for diagonal line-breaks. Throughout all of this, they generally look to play on a one-two touch sequence, utilizing wall passes and players receiving with their back to goal, before breaking on a dribble or long pass. With much variety in movement, ideas, and mechanisms for breaking lines, Eintracht Frankfurt’s build-up is fairly smooth. They remain a defensive, counter-attacking team as far as a broad categorization goes, but their ability to play through the thirds and control games remains important.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

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Continuing into the opposition’s half, Frankfurt maintain their width and utilization of wing-backs like Kostic and Da Costa. Simultaneously, players like Sow and Kamada will take advantage of their excellence on the ball to break lines on a dribble, drawing the opposition toward the middle and only facilitating more room to hit the wide areas later on. Despite vertical line breaking being a major possibility for SGE, Die Adler have accumulated the most crosses per game this season behind only Bayern – 23 per game. Unsurprisingly, Kostic himself leads the way in the league – with an outrageous 6.52 crosses per 90, according to FBRef. The Serbian wing-back, unsurprisingly, is one of the team’s most frequent targets. But interestingly, he drops significantly down the list when it comes to receiving progressive passes. This illustrates Frankfurt to be a team that opt for verticality when wanting to be more forward-thinking and direct. But once in good positions, they will often go lateral or sideways in using Kostic’s high position and imagination in attack.

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Not to bang Kostic’s drum too loudly, but his delivery is exceptionally outrageous, and a substantial reason why Frankfurt have scored 13 goals from set-pieces this season – the joint third highest in the league alongside Dortmund. But in working the wide areas, they don’t just need to rely on crosses. They can also utilize cut-backs to late arriving runners, which come off to a remarkable effect. Cut-backs can be an understated part of the crossing equation, but completely take defenders away from their natural momentum, particularly in transitional moments when the defense hasn’t had time to set up. As defenders sprint toward the goal to help their goalkeeper, they can easily become wrong-footed and slip in the mud as a ball is passed back the other way, and a player easily slots it home.

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Speaking of transitional moments, Oliver Glasner’s team are deadly on the break, with their raw speed and running power alone enough to hurt the opposition. Borré is exceptional at seeking space and timing his runs in behind a defensive line, and the magnificent ball control of players like Lindstrom and Kamada only makes the opposition’s task all the more difficult. Add in the explosiveness of Kostic – often the highest player within seconds after winning the ball, and you have one of the deadliest counter attacking units in Germany.

Alongside all the firepower around him, Daichi Kamada is a particularly intelligent counter-attacker. Getting on the ball as early as possible in transitional moments, he will drift inside and supercharge his carry into the upmost central channel possible, forcing the opposition to compact themselves all the more. This allows space for others to make blindside runs off the shoulder of backpedaling defenders, where again, the likes of Borré can seek space and finish off the chance. While his assists have skyrocketed down in 2021-22, his progressive passing numbers have increased, potentially meaning he’s operating deeper and springing the ball forward from less advantageous positions. But his passes into the final third and passes into the penalty area have remained consistently close to 2020-21, with his role in transitions staying the same – as the one in the driver’s seat.

Stretching the field and utilizing positional movement patterns to unlock the opposition, Frankfurt’s most common shape in the creation stage is a 3-2-5. However, the vast majority of the times that they find their way into the final third come either from intense pressing, or quick attacking transitions. This means that the 3-2-5 rarely takes form. Nevertheless, it’s a useful shape for both creating chances and the defensive transitions that can follow, and the same shape that won Chelsea the Champions League last season.

As they generate chances and combine with wall-passes and Borré’s constant movement into half-spaces, they don’t mind taking on shots from distance – which may be deemed as lower value chances. They trust their ability to score from subsequent set-pieces that follow, as they should given their high total of set-piece goals this season. Tuta, Ndicka and Borré have scored a combined 7 goals from set-pieces, with Kostic himself remaining a direct free kick threat.

With such a vast variety for scoring goals, it’s unsurprising to see Glasner’s team toward the top of the charts – with 37 goals from 25 matches. Having a second striker that Borré could bounce off and trade places with would be ideal, but forwards of the caliber of Andre Silva rarely come around, and SGE have done well to replace him.

Defensive principles

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While Glasner’s team have achieved superb supremacy in attack, they haven’t managed to pull their weight in the defensive side of the game – keeping just 3 clean sheets all season in the league. Meanwhile, Die Adler have conceded 37 goals across their 25 matches, making their goal differential a levelled 0, and holding them back from truly breaking into the top six at any point this season. At the beginning of the season, they massively struggled in transition, particularly in the gaps between the high position of their wing-backs and the outside centre-backs. Tuta looked out of sorts in 1v1 situations, and the midfield looked relatively incapable of closing the gaps themselves. They’ve tightened up some elements of their defensive structure since the start of the season, but continue to ship goals.

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Despite the evident quality of players like Obite Evan Ndicka and Martin Hinterregger, it’s the back-end of the pitch where they seem to struggle the most. They struggle to contend balls hit over the top, shots from distance, and even at times the raw speed of other players. Simultaneously, they’ve accumulated one of the most successful presses this season, and the second highest amount of pressures in the attacking third (43.7). Former River Plate man Rafael Borré made our list of the top ten centre forwards in Europe on pressing from the front, and central midfielders like Sow and Jakic absolutely outclass their opposition when it comes to pressing intelligence. In their 3-4-3 high-block, the wing-backs may start high against teams that want to play out from the back and progress with patience.

But more commonly, their defensive shape of 5-2-3 takes form throughout all phases of the game, as the wing-backs start lower and the central midfielders push up to join the strikers in pressing from the front. One central midfielder may even step all the more to stomp on the toes of an opposition number six, as the other holds a more reserved position. Simultaneously, the inverted wingers will generally intermix closing down centre-backs and fullbacks, with their responsibilities of screening passes in behind to opposition midfielders.

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As the opposition struggle to find a way out, Borré will chase down the ball by himself when passes are made back to the opposition’s keeper, but otherwise the approach remains incredibly collective and rigid. Glasner’s team have a strong sense of when to pump the gas and when to pump the brakes, sustaining their energy levels across the ninety minutes. That means it’s not always an all-out high-intensity press, but instead almost always an intelligent one, with players holding position and then closing down as the ball is travelling toward their zone. Defenders may even step out of line and shape when required, such as to complete a pressing trigger against a player receiving with their back to goal.

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We’d love to say that you often see a more reserved approach take center stage in their mid-block, but that is far from the case. In fact, Frankfurt have the most pressures in the middle third this season by quite some margin, at 81.9 per 90. Djibril Sow is an exceptional ball winner at the heart of midfield – leading the way with 5.33 tackles + interceptions per 90 this season.

In this phase, their 5-2-3 shape continues, sometimes dropping into more of a 5-4-1. But generally, the wide men look to stagnate their opposition higher up the pitch, as opposition centre-backs circulate the ball without purpose, trying to break down Frankfurt’s stern defense. Winning the ball in this third is most ideal for SGE, as it allows them to ferociously counter-attack closer to goal, with the opposition likely more out of shape than when in their own third. It’s possible that somewhere along the way in the jump from 5-4-1 to 5-2-3, space could be taken advantage of in the half-spaces. Once an inverted winger finds themselves beaten on a dribble, the gaps are going to be greater for the central midfielders to step up and cover, particularly if the opposition look to create a 2v1 out wide against Frankfurt’s wing-backs. That’s why their low-block shape takes on a more resolute 5-4-1, with Kevin Trapp sweeping in behind and coming off his line to deal with anything over the top.

Encouragingly, Eintracht Frankfurt have conceded just 4 goals from set-pieces this season. It’s open play where they’re still identifying best practices for success, particularly down their weaker right-side with Tuta and Chandler particularly susceptible. Regardless, Glasner’s press has to be commended this season, with SGE winning the most tackles (17.7), and achieving one of the most successful presses in the league this season.

CONCLUSION

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Oliver Glasner has enjoyed a solid first season in Frankfurt, but the club needs to sharpen up in both ends of the pitch in order to reach the kind of form they showed in 2020-21 under Adi Hütter. Glasner has deployed a series of interesting tactical tweaks to his team since taking over, including a slight modification of Hütter’s possession-based 3-4-1-2 into a counter-attacking 3-4-2-1. Along the way, they’ve achieved superb solidity in scoring goals from transitional moments and set-pieces, while developing one of the most successful pressing systems in the league. The Slipper Kickers may only sit tenth in the league at this time, but deserve credit for what they’ve achieved without Andre Silva this season, and could easily make a run for this season’s Europa League title under Glasner’s influence.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of Oliver Glasner’s Eintracht Frankfurt in 2021-22. Be sure to check out more of our Manager & Team Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite using the links below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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