In the humidity of a brilliant Austrian summer, Eintracht Frankfurt’s coach had one message for his squad: keep the ball and let the opposition sweat. Leeds United’s players might not have wanted that but under the shade of his dug-out, Uwe Rosler was pleased.
The German coach knows German football and he warned Leeds that a team from the top half of the Bundesliga would try to pass them to death. It went that way for much of last night’s friendly in Austria but it was Frankfurt who flirted with defeat despite their limitless hold on the ball.
The possession stats from Eugendorf would make fascinating reading and Eintracht were looking on in amazement at the scoreline with an hour played but they made heavy weather of doing with a flood of chances what Steve Morison did with one. The striker drew first blood in a fine friendly in the 27th minute by bludgeoning a split-second opening past Eintracht’s idle goalkeeper.
It would have pleased Rosler to see his team have more of the game and more menace in their play but there was no denying that Frankfurt were Bundesliga class.
They finished ninth in their league last season and it showed in their performance and the result. As pre-season tests go, Leeds might not get better before the Championship season starts.
When he reflects on it, Rosler will take comfort from the fitness of a squad who were still there and still running when Frankfurt’s spirit began to flag in the lead up to half-time. The Germans had hit the crossbar and a post by then and looked capable of cutting Leeds open at will but incapable of scoring from any range.
Under severe pressure, Rosler’s defence hung in time and again until Johannes Flum broke the dam on 61 minutes and with that mental block cleared, Stefan Reinartz bundled in a winner for Eintracht 14 minutes later.
“We showed a lot of mental strength,” Rosler said. “It was our only chance to compete against a very good footballing side.
“They are a side above our qualities and for me we got exactly what I wanted – a very good physical examination.
“With all due respect, I don’t like friendly games, two or three weeks before the start of the season when you’re winning easily. We’re where we want to be. We wouldn’t have had this scoreline had we not presented ourselves as a team and that for me is a big plus.”
In was true, also, that Morison’s goal stemmed from the tactics that Rosler is trying to employ at Elland Road. Sam Byram created it, breaking down the right and forcing Frankfurt’s backtracking defence to yield the possession to Morison inside the box. The striker’s finish was deadly and a large Leeds following lapped it up.
The friendly in Eugendorf was well attended and United’s crowd ran into several hundred, outnumbering the attendance from Frankfurt. The local police kept their distance at first but riot officers were spotted practising baton charges in a sports hall behind the main stand, hedging their bets.
They did not waste time in rounding up a small group of Frankfurt ultras who arrived just before kick-off but the group were allowed into the ground and fighting with United’s fans broke out at the final whistle, forcing the police to wade in. One Leeds fan, bleeding heavily from the face, needed medical attention.
Eintracht’s team was not at full strength but they came heavily-armed, despite a couple of absentees. Alex Meier, their goalscoring midfielder, is recovering from a knee operation and international football is occupying a couple of other players but they start their season in three and a half weeks and Rosler got the opposing line-up he wanted.
Both sides trained in the morning before the game, leaving their tanks slightly empty by early evening. It was clear, however, that Frankfurt had plenty left in their legs and they kept the ball religiously from the kick-off. They produced the first chance – a shot from Takashi Inui which Marco Silvestri saved – and should have scored early on when Stefan Aigner drilled a low finish against Silvestri’s legs.
Makoto Hasebe created the second opportunity, doing what Rosler is asking his team to do by breaking into space on the right flank. Frankfurt targeted that area, running Gaetano Berardi ragged and looking for free men in the box. Aigner had the ball in the next on 13 minutes but strayed offside as Haris Seferovic fed possession to him.
There were brief moments when a midfield of Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Tommaso Bianchi found a way to compete but Frankfurt’s slick football was always waiting.
Inui rattled the crossbar with a dipping shot which Silvestri barely saw as he stared into the sun but after chasing the match for so long, Leeds scored with their first chance.
Byram was given the rare luxury of space on the right wing and found Frankfurt’s defence in a bit of disarray as he drove a cross towards Morison. A ricochet inside the box favoured Morison who, as the stand-in for an injured Chris Wood, smashed the ball past keeper Heinz Lindner.
“We were mainly occupied with defensive work, I can’t deny that,” said Rosler. “But we knew it would be like that. In the first 20 minutes we got a bit of a shock because we have not met in pre-season such a quality team.
“After that we relaxed a little bit and sometimes it’s good when you don’t need to create 10 chances to score a goal.”
Frankfurt intensified their onslaught and United’s resistance became wild. In one move in the 34th minutes, Seferovic drove a sitter against Silvestri, Inui’s follow-up from a yard out found Liam Cooper on the line and Inui’s second attempt cracked against a post, again from point-blank range. The crowd in the main stand could only laugh.
The start of the second half did not really differ and within three minutes, Seferovic was rounding Silvestri and shooting into the side-netting as the goal stood empty. After a quiet time on the left wing – a position which Rosler continues to try to fill – Casper Sloth moved into a central role up in support of Morison and then made way for Mirco Antenucci before the hour.
Inui had mis-hit another gift of an opportunity by then, skewing it away from an open goal, but Leeds could have had a second goal when Lewis Cook met Byram’s low cross with an effort which Lindner gathered low down.
Eintracht accepted that favour on 61 minutes, equalising when Flum arrived unmarked to turn in Aigner’s header at the back post. It had to come eventually and they forced a win 15 minutes from time with a goal which summed up their finishing – Stefan Reinartz’ shot deflecting in off Scott Wootton after Reinhartz had first managed to hit Cooper on the line.
Rosler’s team move on to Norway next for a friendly against Hoffenheim, the side who finished a place above Frankfurt in last season’s Bundesliga. “I think that will be a step up,” Rosler said. “That’s good for us and I’m very happy.”
Eintracht Frankfurt: Lindner, Oczipka (Djakpa 67), Abraham (Kinsombi 77), Flum, Hasebe, Stendera, Reinartz, Inui (Bunjaki 83), Aigner (Gerezgiher 61), Castaignos (Waldschmidt 20 (Medojevic 67)), Seferovic (Kadlec 61). Subs (not used): Balayev, Becker, Ignjovski, Kinsombi.
Leeds United: Silvestri (Turnbull 77), Wootton, Cooper, Bamba (Bellusci 77), Berardi, Bianchi (Adeyemi 57), Cook (Phillips 72), Mowatt (Taylor 63), Byram (Erwin 77), Sloth (Antenucci 57), Morison (Doukara 72). Subs (not used): Coyle, Doukara, Walters, Horton.