One of my best friends has a friend who is an Eintracht Frankfurt fan; he’s a lovely bloke, and I always feel I ought to know more about Frankfurt when I speak to him about his team. This post, then, is as much personal voyage as for my readership, but I suspect the readership might get a little more out of it.
Last time we talked, I was getting excited about the prospect of Greuther Fürth’s promotion from Bundesliga 2 alongside Eintracht last summer. I’d never been able to settle on a German team to favour, but I’ve adopted Greuther now and, much as the season has been a crushing disappointment, I’m used to that, so I’ve no problem sticking with them. So, yes, Eintracht and Greuther appeared in the top flight this season and have had a very mixed time of it. Eintracht started like a train; for a short while earlier in the season, they were pushing Bayern at the top and, while a certain regression to the mean was to be expected, the season’s tailed off pretty badly after Christmas. Here’s their points per game graph (the red line representing the last six games, and the black being the overall) and you can see how, apart from a very literal spike, its been downhill ever since.
Of Regression To The Mean
To say ‘regression to the mean’ is to be simplistic. There’s got to be reasons for it, even if they were outside Eintracht’s control. The first thing you notice, looking at the results is how few goals have been scored recently. After failing to score only thrice before Christmas (17 games), Frankfurt have drawn a blank seven times since (12 games); which is a huge drop – as is the goals per game ratio; from 1.94 per game before the break to, after another scoreless match on Sunday 0.75 per game after Christmas – a drop of 1.2 goals per game is huge; moreso when you take into account that 16/29 games have been decided by one goal (or fewer).
That hasn’t been matched with a similar increase in defensive frailty, though; that aspect of Frankfurt’s game seems quite stable – conceding 1.59 goals per game before the winter break while seeing that figure drop to 1.25 since. I’ve noticed that English football seems to produce fewer goals (and thus, more draws) in the winter months, so that might go some way to explaining that – the less open games, perhaps, bringing fewer goals. Maybe the fact that they don’t have to score as many to win means Frankfurt’s opponents are easing off a little later on. Either way, I’ve not looked at the defence in as much depth as the attack – the disparities are so much less obvious. There has been a change of goalkeeper recently, mind, so it might be, come summer, something worth looking at in that regard. For now, though, just the forward-going aspect has been studied.
Cow’s Backsides and Banjos
Why, then, the drop-off? The natural place to look for why goals have dried up is to look at the shots on goal Frankfurt are making. Now, this graph has two tracks on it; the top one represents total shots (shots on target, shots off target and goals included) whereas the bottom on is just shots on target (including goals). There’s a similar look to this graph, to the last one, but far less prominent than the goals graph. Frankfurt are still, though a little less well, aiming at goal, they’re just hitting the net a lot less frequently when they do so.
Throughout all of this, the conversion rate of shots on target to goals remains pretty good; its rising, obviously, but not massively so – the tally stands at 3.71 shots on target per goal now (which isn’t bad, all things considered) up from 3.39 at the end of the first half of the season, where it hung around the 3.30-s for most of the first 17 games. At that rate, if Frankfurt had maintained the 6.59 shots on target they averaged in the opening 17 games, they’d have scored fifty-one (nine more) goals. Little numbers can make a big difference. Looking further into the difference of numbers – Frankfurt are a team who like to dominate possession, having higher than 50% in 21 of their 29 games, with two of the eight being Bayern, which is pretty much like playing against a team from another planet. That aspect is unaffected since the Winter break, too (average 54% before, 53% after) – and doesn’t change between home and away. There’s obviously a style of play present that’s working.
The Changing Cast
There’s some light here glinting at the end of the tunnel. When a team gets promoted, there’s always the promise to ‘strengthen’ the team – Eintracht were no exception there, bringing in the likes of Aigner, Carlos Zambrano and Anderson Bamba (and indeed, that’s where Greuther struggled – Frankfurt spent out virtually double what Greuther did). There’s an implication in that statement that certain members of the team that were promoted would not be good enough to perform at the higher level. As such, I thought it might be pertinent to look at Eintracht’s player use throughout the season, and there’s something decidedly revelatory about it. I worked on the basis that the first XI for the first game of the season were, by design the chosen first XI. Balancing the minutes they’ve been played over the season (suspension, injury, fatigue et al obviously play a part) to see if there was any discrepancy in Frankfurt’s results if that first XI was
under-represented in the games won and lost.
Well. There is, isn’t there? I’m sure there’s mitigating circumstances involved, but that table leaves things starkly apparent, doesn’t it? The first XI is good enough to flourish at Bundesliga level but, seemingly, with the involvement of the back-up players (the
differences work out to be not far off the amount that would signify one player, so by the time three of those first XI are out, the chance of Frankfurt having won is greatly reduced). If you were interested about the faded blocks worked to either side, the pinky one represents home games and the grey one represents away games. There’s not enough of a disparity there to talk of – Eintracht don’t have such a different record away than at home.
This is interesting in a few ways. Firstly, it indicates the team were doing something right initially; that the first pool of XI players is good enough to succeed at Bundesliga level – perhaps, again, not quite so spectacularly as they started, but better than they have been since. Further strengthening in the summer might make this season’s first choices the back-up players, or it might improve the back-up players. Either way would be to Frankfurt’s benefit in the medium term.
We’ve Been Here Before
While I was discussing my intentions to write this piece, I was alerted to Frankfurt’s season 2010/11 (the last time they were in Bundesliga 1). Now, that season has certain…similarities with the current year. That year took a little longer to get going but was, entirely, the same season of two halves. Here’s a graph showing the respective points per game for both sections of the season that season and this – if ever there was an argument against buying a half-season ticket, this would be it.
For a first year back in the Bundesliga, Eintracht Frankfurt have acquitted themselves really well, and their first XI showed they can compete with the very best. Beyond that XI, though, the squad needs a little strengthening if they’re to maintain a challenge for the European spots over the length of next season. Incidentally, with only five games to go, and a fifteen point lead over the drop, Eintracht will, most likely, be mathematically safe after their next game.