Eintracht Frankfurt hold the advantage ahead of their round of 16 decider against Real Betis thanks to an impressive 2-1 victory in southern Spain.
Here, presented by Swissquote, the UEFA Technical Observer panel reflects on the powerful pressing and swift attacking transitions that earned the Eagles their third away victory in this season’s competition.
As it happened: Betis 1-2 Frankfurt
0-1: Filip Kostić (14)
The Serbian insisted his first goal of this European campaign was intentional. Picked out in space on the left side by a Djibril Sow crossfield pass, he profited from the room given him by full-back Youssouf Sabaly to loft a left-footed ball towards goal, sending it on a trajectory over Claudio Bravo and beneath the crossbar at the back post.
1-1: Nabil Fekir (30)
The hosts’ principal creative source, Fekir capped a quick advance after Frankfurt had lost possession in the middle of the field. Guido Rodríguez played the ball across to Sergio Canales and he moved it on to Fekir, attacking the box from the right. The Frenchman turned inside Evan N’Dicka and, stepping on to his left foot, arrowed a shot low into the far corner.
1-2: Daichi Kamada (32)
Kamada’s fourth goal from seven Europa League games this term was the product of the visitors’ high pressing. Trying to work the ball out from defense, Edgar González played it initially to left-back Aitor Ruibal who, under pressure, returned it to the center-back. By the time Edgar tried again, Frankfurt had four players pressing that area of the pitch – and one of them, Sow, intercepted, teeing up Jesper Lindstrøm to pick up the loose ball, skip past Edgar and square for Kamada to convert.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men lined up initially in a 4-2-3-1, with the pair of William Carvalho (14) and Rodríguez (21) as the two holding midfielders and the trio of Canales (10), Fekir (8) and Juanmi (7) ahead of them. In defense, Betis were missing three full-backs owing to injuries, which meant Aitor Ruibal (24) filling in at left-back. It was the full-back on the other side, Sabaly (23), who provided more attacking sorties, with Canales coming inside.
After 61 minutes, Pellegrini made a tactical tweak with a double substitution: Juan Miranda (33), a player just returned from injury, and Joaquín (17) came on for William Carvalho and Juanmi, and Betis switched to a 4-3-3 . Miranda’s introduction at left-back enabled Aitor Ruibal to revert to a more familiar attacking role. Meanwhile, Joaquín’s arrival on the right wing allowed Canales to step back into a midfield three alongside Fekir and Rodríguez. That helped Betis dominate the ball in a midweek when their total of 810 touches was only bettered by Barcelona.
Frankfurt operated in a 3-4-3 formation throughout. This became a five-man defense in the moments when Betis attacked down the flanks and the visitors’ offensive-minded wing-backs, Ansgar Knauff (36) and Kostić (10), dropped back.
Their three center-backs – Tuta (35), Martin Hinteregger (13) and N’Dicka (2) – had the height and power to dominate in the air, and they were also capable of bringing the ball out. If Sow (8) was pivotal in controlling play, center-back N’Dicka earned praise from UEFA’s technical observer too for his work in helping his midfield colleagues annul the threat of Fekir and Canales, as well as making a brilliant goal-saving block to deny the latter in the second half.
Frankfurt’s pressing game was key to their victory in Seville. They pressed well in the middle third and also higher up when Betis looked to move forward from deep. As home goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said: “They asked a lot of us, especially when we were trying to play the ball out short from the back.”
As the first clip in the video shows, they had seven players in the Betis half when they won the ball back before scoring their second goal. And to highlight their collective defensive work, it was one of their front three, Lindstrøm, who ended the evening with the most recoveries (ten).
Coach Oliver Glasner’s game plan involved the midfield pair of Sow and Kristijan Jakić winning balls and then seeking out the front trio of Lindstrøm, Rafael Borré and Kamada, whose speed ensured a strong counterattacking threat. Wing-back Kostić was heavily involved in these counters too and was the dominant figure on his flank.
As more spaces opened up in the final half-hour, Frankfurt had opportunities to establish an even bigger first-leg lead against opponents who looked tired due to their exertions on three fronts this season. The Bundesliga side managed nine attempts on goal to their hosts’ three, with Bravo making some crucial saves, including from a Borré spot kick.
As for Betis, UEFA’s observer noted that at times they sought longer passes to break the Frankfurt press – a ploy which had a degree of success. Too often, though, they were reliant on creative sparks from Fekir, who ended the evening with ten take-ons – the most by any player in the Europa League last week. To further underscore his impact, Fekir managed 19 passes in the attacking third (with a 75% success rate) and his total of eight crosses was Betis’s best, although Frankfurt’s impressive Kostić outdid him with nine.
Manuel Pellegrini, Betis coach
“We’re conceding too many stupid goals, which means we have to come back from behind, and that takes more out of you mentally. Let’s hope we can get back the defensive solidity that we’ve lost.”
Oliver Glasner, Frankfurt coach
“We were very compact and gave the opposition few opportunities to play into the spaces. The way the lads covered the spaces in order to create that compactness, the way we pushed out and the players sprinted forward, was a great effort.”