Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw by Eintracht Frankfurt at Deutsche Bank Park in the first-leg of the 2021-22 UEFA Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday. It was a lackluster performance from Xavi’s men by their recent lofty standards. However, they will fancy their chances ahead of next week’s reverse fixture at Camp Nou.
Ferran Torres, who has scored four goals in his last four La Liga appearances, continued his hot streak. He netted a second-half equalizer for the Blaugrana. Oliver Glasner’s Frankfurt side had earlier opened the scoring right after the interval thanks to a thunderbolt from young German winger Ansgar Knauff.
Barcelona hit back in the second-half after Eintracht Frankfurt’s strong start to the game
Although Barcelona had more of the ball and finished the game on the front foot, Eintracht Frankfurt were arguably the better team on the night. The Bundesliga club had 18 shots (compared to Barcelona’s seven), despite having just 34% of the possession.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traore, who started in place of Ousmane Dembele, had poor outings. Meanwhile, Gerard Pique was taken off early in the game with what appeared to be a groin injury.
For Frankfurt, Martin Hinteregger turned in a colossal display at the heart of their defense. Filip Kostic and Rafael Borre were a constant threat to Barcelona’s backline.
On that note, we take a look at five talking points from a close-fought yet thoroughly entertaining UEFA Europa League fixture.
#5 Eintracht Frankfurt exploited Barcelona’s narrow three-man midfield in the first-half
Xavi’s side enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball in the first 45 minutes, boasting 64% possession. However, the Blaugrana could muster just two shots while the Bundesliga side made eight attempts.
Barcelona started the game with a three-man midfield as Sergio Busquets played through the middle with Gavi and Pedri tucked in on the left and right respectively. Oliver Gasner set up his team to take advantage of the Spanish side’s lack of width. Filip Kostic, Daichi Kamada and Rafael Borre ran riot down the Blaugrana’s right flank.
Pedri and Adama Traore, who were both poor in the first-half, left Ronald Araujo isolated. It was no surprise that most of Frankfurt’s attacks came down from that side.
#4 VAR comes to Barcelona’s rescue
After creating better chances, Eintracht Frankfurt thought their hard work had paid off as referee Srdjan Jovanovic pointed to the penalty spot in the 40th minute.
The damage once again came from out wide from Kostic, who was arguably the best player on the pitch in the first-half. The Serb got past Araujo and fizzed a low ball into the Blaugrana box. Keeper ter Stegen fumbled and Borre was ready to pounce before going down under a late lunge from Sergio Busquets.
Although the referee initially awarded a penalty, VAR took a long look at the replay and made the correct decision that Busquets had won the ball cleanly. Nonetheless, the sequence summed up the opening 45 minutes as Eintracht Frankfurt stretched the La Liga side apart and were just a bit quicker.
#3 Ansgar Knauff scores one of the goals of the season
Eintracht Frankfurt finally broke the deadlock right after half-time, courtesy of a wondergoal from 20-year-old German winger Angsar Knauff in the 46th minute. On loan from Borussia Dortmund, the youngster drew first blood with a sensational volley that flew into the top corner of Ter Stegen’s goal.
Barcelona could only partially clear a corner and the ball set up nicely for Knauff. He unleashed a swerving strike on the bounce to give Frankfurt a well-deserved lead.
#2 Xavi’s substitutions do the trick for Barcelona
With Frankfurt in the lead, Xavi rolled the dice in the 60th minute. Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembele came on in place of Gavi and the ineffective Adama Traore. The two substitutes combined beautifully to help Barcelona draw level.
After Traore had spent most of the game trying to go down the outside, Dembele switched things up and drifted in from the right flank. The Frenchman played a lovely reverse pass to De Jong, who in turn executed a fantastic one-two with Ferran Torres.
A quick exchange of passes split the resolute Frankfurt defense and Barcelona’s Spanish forward unerringly found the corner of the net in the 66th minute.
The substitutions were accompanied by a tactical switch that saw Pedri change flanks and occupy the left wing after starting on the right. It was a smart move from Xavi and reaped instant rewards.
#1 Eintracht Frankfurt went down to 10 men late in the game but continued to pose a threat
Oliver Glasner’s side were reduced to ten men after 22-year-old Brazilian defender Tuta picked up two bookings in the second-half. The first caution came after he brought down Gavi, while the second yellow card was for a late lunge on Pedri in the 78th minute.
Despite the blow, Eintracht Frankfurt managed to see out the game and even posed a threat with their quick counter-attacks. However, the Bundesliga side looked weary as the game went on and will be underdogs going into the second-leg at Camp Nou on April 14.