One of the most eventful Bundesliga games of the season ended in the favour of Eintracht Frankfurt against RB Leipzig, with Kevin-Prince Boateng’s goal proving to be the winner despite plenty of drama to follow.
After a delayed start due to fan protests, which continued for much of the match, Jean-Kévin Augustin put the visitors ahead, before Timothy Chandler equalised and Boateng put them ahead soon after.
Leipzig then had a penalty award overturned by VAR, as both teams continued to go at full guns for 90 minutes, but there were no more goals and Niko Kovac’s side move above Leipzig up to third in the table.
Monday night protests delay both halves
The introduction of Monday night fixtures in the Bundesliga have proved highly controversial amongst fan groups in Germany, who feel the fixtures are inconvenient for them and a sign of growing erosion of their rights as spectators, part of a general disillusionment with the authorities. That it has taken until February for the first such game suggests that the league were wary of what would happen when the first one took place.
Leipzig fans were boycotting the game, and protests were expected from the home fans for this match and so it proved, with Frankfurt’s ultras spilling through the gates in front of the stands and surrounded the pitch as the players came out to start the match. The referee Felix Zwayer unsurprisingly delayed the kick-off, but with the protests clearly being peaceful, the decision was made to start the match, around five minutes late.
The ultras soon retreated back to the Westribüne, however banners protesting against both the DFB (German FA) and DFL (German Football League) were prevalent around the stadium – as well as anti-Leipzig sentiments – and loud whistling through the game, most notably after it got underway, created a hostile atmosphere.
The second half was then delayed has many hundreds of tennis balls descended on the pitch. The ground staff responded with all manner of instruments in removing them, from brooms, ropes to blowers. They were also reams of taper paper being thrown on what was to become Peter Gulácsi’s goal.
Goals galore in opening stages
On the pitch, the hosts had made three changes from their 4-2 win against 1. FC Köln. Carlos Salcedo, David Abraham and Sebastian Haller came in for Marco Russ, Omar Mascarell and Luka Jovic. Leipzig, with one eye on their UEFA Europa League second leg against Napoli on Thursday, made four changes from the first leg, with Stefan Ilsanker, Diego Demme, Ademola Lookmann and Augustin coming in for Kevin Kampl, Bruma, Yussuf Poulsen and Timo Werner.
The early stages of the game promised much, with Boateng going over and Leipzig attacking in numbers. They got the first goal, with Konrad Laimer instrumental as they passed the ball around to the right of the penalty box. Demme eventually passed the ball to him in the next and he move it on to Augustin, who slotted in past Lukas Hradecky.
Frankfurt almost responded immediately, as Chandler put a shot over the bar. He would though get the goal to bring them back level a few minutes. Marius Wolf’s corner was not in any way cleared by the Leipzig defenders, before Abraham headed on towards the far post and Chandler was there to stab it in.
Four minutes later they had the game on its head, exposing Leipzig’s defensive weaknesses in the process. A header over the top after the ball was given away by Leipzig was chased down on the left side of the pitch by Ante Rebic, and with the defence out of position he pulled the ball back to Boateng to fire it home.
Penalty decision overruled as half comes to ugly end
The drama was far from over, when Zwayer pointed to the spot at the other end to give a penalty to Leipzig, for a tug back on Marcel Sabirzer by Rebic after they had passed the ball around the box. Frankfurt were incensed and insisted he went to VAR, and although Zwayer looked certain of his decision he did anyway. Surprisingly, it was then overturned, although it seemed that Sabitzer was offside in the build-up, and that was the ultimate decision.
Frankfurt had chances after that to extend their lead. Haller was disposed at the vital moment by Dayot Upamecano, before Wolf struck over. He then set up to Rebic for the best chance of the lot, leaving him with only Gulacsi to beat. The Leipzig goalkeeper stayed strong and blocked, with Haller on the rebound seeing his attempt deflect over.
The half-time whistle was then following by a melee of the players, triggered by a nothing tackle by Naby Keïta on Makoto Hasebe, who somewhat overreacted. Augustin was quick to get involved, before everyone else piled in, however it was quickly broken up and Zwayer spoke to both Keïta and Hasebe, without showing any cards. Another piece of clever officiating from the experienced referee.
Attacking substitutes can’t break through stubborn Eagles
After all the tennis balls were cleaned up and the second half was able to get underway, the Eagles were again giving the running around to Leipzig’s defenders. A cross from Haller was too far ahead for Rebic to connect with, and Leipzig gave away two cheap fouls on the left, although Frankfurt didn’t make the most of those. Then after Upamecano tried to head clear the ball, it was put back in by Wolf however Danny da Costa’s first time shot went straight over.
Four yellows cards were handed out in the first 20 minutes of the half, three to Frankfurt, with both sides going full-tilt in an attacking sense still too. For Leipzig, Lookmann had a shot deflect into the hands of Hradecky before no-one connected with a Poulsen flick-on following a corner. For Frankfurt, Rebic set up Haller for a big chance but he miss-controlled the ball, letting the chance go. A corner did come of it, with Haller again then heading wide.
Over the course of the second half all three of Poulsen, Emil Forsberg and Werner had been brought on by Ralph Hasenhüttl, yet even with that amount of attacking talent they weren’t able to take the relatively few chances they created. Forsberg did play a perfect through ball, with no-one in the box to meet it, before Werner had a shot blocked, with tame appeals for a handball going unheard.
Frankfurt were tiring, but as full-time approached they were able to tighten up defensively and maintain possession of the ball, frustrating Leipzig’s efforts. They had to grind it out in the end but it was a well-deserved victory for Kovac and his men, as their pursuit of European football goes on.