The Bundesliga's back with a bang in Frankfurt, as Stefan Bienkowski reports...
With Eintracht Frankfurt, expect fireworks. From the promoted side's sparkling start with an introductory undefeated run that surpassed Leverkusen, Hamburg and even Dortmund, to the damp squib of a first-round defeat to Aue in the DFL Pokal, to the actual display of fireworks and flares from the fans which resulted in last weekendÃ¢ÂÂs tie against Leverkusen being delayed for 15 minutes, the Bundesliga has certainly been a brighter place since their return.
"I'll just put this outÃ¢ÂÂ¦"
Despite the unfortunate 3-1 loss to Sami HyypiÃÂ¤Ã¢ÂÂs Bayer Leverkusen, the EaglesÃ¢ÂÂ form this season has made them one of EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs most exciting teams and rocketed them into the top four for their troubles, as opposed to the bottom three.
It's testament to Eintracht that they have caught the eye despite Bayern collecting 45 points from a possible 54. After promotion from the second division the Eagles swooped into the transfer market and pulled off a number of signings that have since proved bargains as the club rose straight to the top of the German table.
Glad tidings of great joy: The team celebrate Christmas
Seven of the regular starting team were brought in over the course of the summer transfer window for a sum of around Ã¢ÂÂ¬6.5 million Ã¢ÂÂ half the cost of Rafael van der VaartÃ¢ÂÂs move to Hamburg. Yet while the northern club have had to make do with mid-table mediocrity, Frankfurt have stayed in the top four almost all season.
Manager Armin Veh has done incredibly well to integrate so many signings: stubborn goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, solid centre-back Bastian Oczipka and dynamic midfield trio of Stefan Aigner, Anderson and Takashi Inui have all played their part in changing the side from relegation tips to Champions League challengers.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs not just their results that have had neutrals watching with interest. TheynÃ¢ÂÂve scored 34 goals in 18 games, with towering striker Alexander Meier second in the Bundesliga goalscoring charts with 12 Ã¢ÂÂ not bad for a striker whoÃ¢ÂÂd only scored 70 in nine previous seasons for the club. But they concede, too: 30 goals against means their fixtures average 3.5 strikes per game.
Aigner (r) celebrates a goal with Meier
With 18 games played and 30 points well-earned, 17 points separate these young players from a relegation fight they never seemed too worried about. Instead, the Eagles dare to dream of European and Bundesliga football aplenty in the years to come. With these players, this coach and a promise of fireworks of some sort each week, perhaps the sky really is the limit.