Frankfurt split spoils with Hamburg in goalless draw

FRANKFURT, Germany — A point for Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg, after their clash on Friday evening, won’t change much in the standings this weekend. Frankfurt, if results go against them, could be in the bottom-three as their four-game run without a win continues. Hamburg, meanwhile, the better team on the night, aren’t any closer to Europe and not much safer, despite an excellent first hour at the Commerzbank Arena.

Hamburg and good, attacking football haven’t normally been associated with each other in the last few Bundesliga seasons. Two nail-biting relegation playoffs later, and for once, there is a sign that Hamburg, the only club never to be relegated from the top division since 1963, are moving in the right direction. 

The 3-2 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach last week – a first win in six – was in turn down to its attacking quartet: Artjoms Rudnevs, Aaron Hunt, Nicolai Müller and new signing Josip Drmic. A mix of attributes and styles, Hamburg was able to play with variation and dynamism throughout the win at home last week. That was carried into the game versus Frankfurt, but they couldn’t get a deserved goal.

BUNDESLIGA RESULTS

Frankfurt’s two speculative attempts at goal in the space of two minutes were something of an anomaly, as the Eagles struggled to get its key players in possession. Marc Stendera, one of the club’s brightest talents, struck at Rene Adler from 25 yards on 11 minutes before Makoto Hasebe, shifted to left-back in the absence of Bastian Oczipka, cut inside and drilled a shot wide. 

Armin Veh, a former coach of Hamburg, hasn’t quite been able to keep the flame burning from a vibrant start to the season. Goals, at that point, didn’t seem to be an issue. Now, the Eagles  – the last home game was a 0-0 draw with Augsburg. Veh kept trust in his cracks despite the 3-1 loss at Cologne last weekend, but he was forced into one change with Carlos Zambrano returning to the heart of the defense.

Defensively, Labbadia’s side was boosted by the return of captain Johan Djourou who took the place of Cleber at the back. Hamburg is currently looking organised and well-trained, defending compactly in a 4-4-2 shape without the ball and using long-balls and direct play to force dangerous counterattacking situations. 

On 24 minutes, Müller combined with Hunt, the former Werder Bremen ace sliding in Rudnevs, who had pulled away from his marker, but the Latvian’s shot was parried clear by Lukas Hrdaceky. Müller, with his energy and stamina, brings a constant impetus in attack for the Northern German side and he almost handed Drmic his first goal for his new club on a plate, crossing diagonally, but just missing the striker by a few inches.

There’s an increased focus on pressing and mobility, in the absence of Ivica Olic and Pierre-Michel Lasogga. Rudnevs, Hunt, Müller and Drmic are given a license to attack, while the brilliant Holtby has the tenacity to clean things up should the opposition play out of the pressing trap. By the end of the first half, the Red Shorts can legitimately be frustrated that they hadn’t taken the lead. Gotoku Sakai and Müller, shooting wide with his left-foot, had strong chances before the break.

This pattern wasn’t disrupted by the interval. Drmic checked past his marker, Yanni Regäsel, and linked with Rudnevs, but to no avail. As Hasebe’s second long.range strike showed a minute later, the Eagles needed something fresh to turn the tide against the visitors, who have picked up 14 of its 26 points away from home. Regäsel had a tough time dealing with Drmic and full-back Matthias Ostrzolek whose sliced left-foot shot should have been on target rather than wide on 59 minutes.

Hamburg’s first substitution – Müller for Ivo Ilicevic on 67 minutes – seemed to mark the start of the home side’s resurgence in the game. All of a sudden, Labbadia’s men were on the back-foot, defending for their lives and dropping deeper and deeper towards Adler. An intense passage of play in the 68th minute saw Frankfurt bombard the box with cross-after-cross. There were three claims for a penalty kick, all of which waved away by Wolfgang Stark.

The best of the last 15 minutes fell timely to the hosts. Veh’s side had the height and physique to pose some questions of Djourou and Cleber late on. Marco Russ was close with 12 minutes left, but neither side could find the deadlock and a share of the spoils will need to do.