Eintracht Frankfurt duked out an entertaining 1-1 draw at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night.
Xavi may as well have been looking into a crystal ball when he delivered a prophetic assessment of Frankfurt’s threat: “They are well organised, physically they are very strong, and they are good in transition.”
In front of their first capacity crowd since the pandemic, Frankfurt channelled the suffocating cacophony into a blistering start. Flying forward after every turnover, the Bundesliga’s ninth-placed side left their lavender-clad visitors treading through treacle.
Barcelona soon carved out a foothold in the tie by establishing a monopoly of the ball. Yet, by lowering the breathless tempo, the Catalans had to settle for sterile possession in front of a Frankfurt blockade itching to sprint forward.
Filip Kostic led one such rapid break in the final ten minutes of the first half, firing a low ball that Marc-Andre ter Stegen spilt to the feet of Rafael Borre. Sergio Busquets was initially deemed to have conceded a penalty but a swift VAR review acknowledged the big toe Barcelona’s skipper got to the ball.
Borussia Dortmund-loanee Ansgar Knauff finally gave Frankfurt the lead they heartily deserved three minutes after the interval. Controlling a clearance from a Frankfurt corner on the edge of the box, Knauff leapt into the air to thwack his volley into Ter Stegen’s top corner.
Jesper Lindstrom went close to doubling Frankfurt’s lead within a matter of seconds but Barcelona began to creep into the contest after an hour as Frankfurt, subconsciously or not, sunk deeper.
The introduction of Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong only furthered Xavi’s calling as a clairvoyant. The pair combined to tee Ferran Torres up for a 66th-minute equaliser rolled into the bottom corner at the culmination of a crisp passing move.
Frankfurt were reduced to ten men for the final 12 minutes after centre-back Tuta earned an inarguable second yellow card for treading on Pedri.
Barcelona couldn’t capitalise on their numerical advantage as Frankfurt held on for a draw which was the least their performance merited, setting up a mouth-watering second leg in Catalonia next week beautifully poised at 1-1.
Barcelona player ratings vs Eintracht Frankfurt
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) – 4/10 – Bailed out by his skipper and VAR for a spill to the feet of Frankfurt’s striker but helpless when faced with Knauff’s opener.
Ronald Araujo (RB) – 5/10 – Had the physical qualities he is so often lauded for severely tested in a game littered with transitions that sent him towards his own goal.
Gerard Pique (CB) – N/A – Forced off after just 23 minutes following a jarring slip.
Eric Garcia (CB) – 5/10 – Hardly alone in looking uneasy when the black shirts swarmed forward but did offer a hint of thrust with the ball at his feet.
Jordi Alba (LB) – 4/10 – Hasty and heavy with his passing on the sporadic spells he was able to get forward.
Pedri (CM) – 5/10 – Had his involvement and influence limited as he found opportunities in meaningful positions scarce for much of the game before tentatively growing into the contest.
Sergio Busquets (CM) – 3/10 – Desperately struggled to offer penetration with his passing and did his best to stay out of the way when the game turned into an exchange of transitions.
Gavi (CM) – 5/10 – Making his tenth appearance in UEFA competition four months shy of his 18th birthday, Gavi bounded into the furious action with glee but was substituted just as he was playing his best football.
Adama Traore (RW) – 5/10 – Rapidly established he had the beating of Evan N’Dicka but lacked the precision with his delivery after dancing past his opponent.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST) – 4/10 – Skirting around the fringes of the contest, the forward blasted a rare effort from a tight angle straight at Kevin Trapp.
Ferran Torres (LW) – 6/10 – Flitting in and out of the game, Torres provided a clinical finish on an evening when much of the space he likes to dart into was narrowed.
Clement Lenglet (CB) – 4/10 – Didn’t offer much in the way of disruption for Frankfurt’s surges.
Frenkie de Jong (CM) – 7/10 – Superb exchange of one-twos with Torres teased open a crack within Frankfurt’s rearguard.
Ousmane Dembele (RW) – 7/10 – Provided a standard of accuracy and precision with his creativity that was lacking in the performance of the man he replaced, Traore.