Great start for Frankfurt under Skibbe

A glance at the top of the table ahead of matchday 6 in the Bundesliga reveals one real surprise at this early stage of the season. Hamburg and Leverkusen could easily have been foreseen among the frontrunners, Schalke as well with a little imagination. Quite aside from the experts though, even Eintracht Frankfurt's most devoted fans could hardly have anticipated them sitting proudly in fourth place.

bundesliga.de takes a look at the possible reasons for the turnaround in fortunes for the club from the city on the Main.

The arrival of Michael Skibbe is an obvious place to start. The new coach, who replaced Friedhelm Funkel during the summer, has breathed fresh life into a side that was battling against relegation for much of last season before eventually landing up in 13th.

"Mission: "Hang tough at the top?

The preparations for the 2009-10 campaign were far from smooth, but as soon as the serious action got underway, Eintracht found their form. They started out with a 3-0 DFB Cup victory at Kickers Offenbach and have gone on to win three and draw the remaining two of their first five league matches. "Now?, said Skibbe in the wake of the 2-0 win at SC Freiburg, "we're aiming to hang tough at the top.?

Chairman Heribert Bruchhagen described the return from the opening weeks as "very pleasing?, while the 44-year-old coach himself exemplifies the newfound appetite for the game to be encountered at the club. "We've got two home games against Hamburg and Schalke next. Hopefully we can acquit ourselves equally well against these top teams?, Skibbe mused.

Former skipper flourishing

New coach, new system. A renowned tactician, Skibbe has adopted a diamond midfield with two up front, in contrast to his predecessor Funkel's preference for a lone striker.

One player who seems to have particularly benefited from this change of policy and, oddly enough, a concomitant personal demotion, is Ioannis Amanatidis. Since being relieved of the captain's armband - now worn by Christoph Spycher - the Greek international has been playing like a man possessed. As well as bagging three league goals already, he has also had the most attempts on goal of anyone in the team (15) as well as setting up four further chances for his colleagues.

"It wasn't intended as an additional form of motivation. Our attacking game suits him, without doubt. It means he gets more chances to score. But it's nothing to do with the role of captain. I took that decision because I wanted a player further back the pitch doing the job?, Skibbe told bundesliga.de by way of explanation.

Newcomers quick to integrate

The coach has also shown a good hand on the transfer front. Selim Teber, Maik Franz and Pirmin Schwegler have all been quick to adapt to life at Eintracht and all three are already proving their worth to the team. Teber has started every game so far and provided plenty of inspirational moments, not least in the form of two assists.

Schwegler has got off the mark with a first goal for his new club as well as setting another one up, and Franz has been operating at right back while Patrick Ochs sits out a suspension. In addition to winning 70 percent of his one-on-one situations at Freiburg, the former Karlsruher SC skipper chipped in with the vital opening goal. "We're keeping that performance in perspective. We won, but it was far from perfect?, Franz commented afterwards.

Confidence in Caio, in safe hands with Nikolov

No-one in the side, in fact, is getting unduly carried away. Not Alexander Meier, current first choice as the supporting front-line player after a wearisome series of injuries in recent years and already with two goals and two assists to his name.

Not Caio either. The fans' favourite, so often a non-starter under Funkel, has flourished with Skibbe at the helm, netting twice so far in competitive action and setting up one more. He did however have to initially make do with a place on the bench at Freiburg, the coach opting for "the more defensive variation? of Zlatan Bajramovic.

On that subject, Eintracht's defence has been impressively solid as well. Despite at one point having four keepers all down with injury problems, Frankfurt have conceded only five goals to date. Veteran goalie Oka Nikolov, who has been at the club since 1991, is meanwhile enjoying a real Indian summer. His shots-stopped average is currently running at 82.5 percent, the highest in the top flight.

Fresh sense of ambition

"I've demanded more from the entire club from day one?, Skibbe noted, and that ambitious attitude certainly appears to have rubbed off on those around him. "Our aim is to play with courage and prove that we're capable of competing in the Bundesliga. The fans should be coming to the stadium with a good feeling and once they're there they need to see that the players are offering them something back in terms of courage and attitude. If that?s the case, the supporters will identify with the team?, the coach explained.

Should those qualities continue to bear fruit over the next few weeks in the way they have so far, fans and experts alike may soon be getting used to the unusual sight of Eintracht Frankfurt in the mix at the top of the table.

Tim Tonner / translation Angus Davison

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