Club: Eintracht Frankfurt
Position(s): DM, CM
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: stamina, anticipation, interceptions, tackling, aerial duels, timing, goal-threat
Areas for Development: ball-progression, carry-frequency
It has been a busy summer for Eintracht Frankfurt. They have replaced Oliver Glasner with Dino Topmoller — Julian Nagelsmann’s former assistant coach at Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig — whilst they have also signed loanees such as Ansgar Knauff (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Max (PSV Eindhoven) and Junior Dina Embimbe (Paris Saint-Germain) to permanent deals and brought in German international defender Robin Koch on loan from Leeds.
A host of promising young players like Jessic Ngankam, Omar Marmoush, Nnamdi Collins, Notel Futkeu, and Sidney Raiber have joined from German clubs whilst 18-year-old center back Davis Bautista arrives from Ecuadorian side Aucas and 20-year-old goalkeeper Kaua Santos joined from Flamengo. Eintracht added Niels Nkounkou from Everton for €7.5 million on deadline day, with the Frenchman coming off the bench and equalizing in the 87th minute to secure a 1-1 draw against Cologne on his debut.
Whilst they have lost key players like Daichi Kamada and Evan Ndicka on free transfers, they have brought in Ecuadorian defender Willian Pacho from Antwerp for €9m to replace Ndicka. Die Adler will be counting on the arrivals of Marmoush, Ngankam and Fares Chaibi, the latter arriving from Toulouse for €10m, to fill the void left by Randal Kolo Muani and Jesper Lindstrom, who have joined the French and Italian champions, whilst Djibril Sow has joined the Europa League champions.
Eintracht have reinforced their midfield with the signing of Hugo Larsson, who joins from Malmo for €9m, but perhaps their best signing of the summer is the arrival of Bundesliga veteran and Tunisia international Ellyes Skhiri on a free transfer from Cologne. Born in Lunel, France, Skhiri spent nine years at Montpellier before making the move to Germany in 2019 after impressive for Tunisia in the 2018 World Cup as well as their run to the 2019 AFCON semifinals, quickly becoming a regular in midfield for Cologne.
An experienced leader and an all-round midfielder, Skhiri is a first-phase specialist with a top-class defensive awareness, constantly scanning the pitch in order to read the game well, anticipate actions, and intercept the ball by blocking passing lanes, making 1.76 interceptions per 90 which puts him in the top 4% in Europe’s top 5 leagues. He is a high-energy box-to-box CM who is effective in both boxes and has great stamina, enabling him to cover a lot of ground and press the opponent throughout a game.
Able to suss out danger and stop counters, he’s effective at making standing tackles or sliding tackles when need be, and above all, his timing is top-drawer. He knows when he can no longer reach a player with a standing tackle before making a well-timed slide to regain possession. Despite being the more attack-minded midfielder between him and double pivot partner Eric Martel, Skhiri made 2.49 tackles per 90 in contrast to Martel’s 2.91.
While he can play as a lone defensive midfielder, that’s a waste of his abilities in transition and going forward. Skhiri is an aerial threat, making him great at winning & scoring headers, but when pushing forward, he’s also shown good shooting ability with seven league goals last season. An area for development for Skhiri would be his ball progression. He’s technically secure with top passing accuracy (87.7%), however, he doesn’t progress the ball enough through carries (1.58 – 62nd percentile) or passes (4.88 – 49th percentile).
If Skhiri is to take his game up another level, he needs to be better in terms of ball progression and his final third threat and make a serious improvement on his 1.01 shots per 90. After playing in a Cologne side that finished 11th and averaged 49.4% possession last season, his numbers should improve in a more attack-minded side like Eintracht, who have variated between various back three formations, in particular the 3-2-4-1. They boast a direct, end-to-end style of play which requires constant runs from the midfielders back and forth to help out on defense and support the forwards in attack.
Last season, Eintracht operated with Kevin Trapp in goal, three ball-playing center backs between Ndicka (now at Roma), Makoto Hasebe and Tuta, and two all-round, box-to-box midfielders in Sow (now at Sevilla) and Kamada (now at Lazio). The wingbacks — Knauff and Max — would push forward and provide width, making a plethora of dangerous crosses — whilst the inside forwards of Lindstrom (now at Napoli) and Mario Gotze would drift around the half-spaces and create goal-scoring chances, with Kolo Muani (now at PSG) running the channels and holding up play.
Eintracht currently sit 10th in the table and will be facing off against PAOK, Aberdeen and HJK in the Europa Conference League after brushing past Levski Sofia in the playoffs. Skhiri has emerged as one of the first names on the team sheet, playing every single minute so far as Eintracht thrashed Lok Leipzig 7-0 in the first round of the DFB-Pokal before beating newly promoted Darmstadt 1-0 and drawing 1-1 to Mainz and Cologne via late goals from Marmoush and Nkounkou, respectively.
Having started alongside Sebastian Rode, Kristijan Jakic and Larsson in their first three league matches, it remains to be seen who partners Skhiri in the double pivot for Eintracht’s next match at Bochum, but one thing’s for sure: after a summer that saw them lose various key players like Kolo Muani and Kamada, Skhiri’s Bundesliga experience will be vital for Eintracht’s chances of success under Toppmoller.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / picture alliance