It felt like not just a goal but a release, a way of making a longed-for expression – of frustration, of indignation, and of relief. Luka Jovic’s first goal back at Eintracht Frankfurt had taken three days and, in on-pitch terms, 10 minutes to arrive and it was worth it, unhesitatingly smashed into the Schalke net from his compatriot Filip Kostic’s delivery.
It was probably all in the mind. After all, this was always what Jovic did in his glorious first spell at Eintracht. Score, score and score some more, with deadly, decisive technique. The context made that easy to forget and it look heavier with meaning. When he helped himself to a second, again served by Kostic and finished with a lighter touch but with no less craft, in stoppage time to kill the game, the headlines were immediately set - that Jovic had equalled in less than half an hour his goal tally in the duration of a miserable 18 months at Real Madrid in which the cards were always stacked him against after his €60m move. It began with the club considering loaning him before he had played a first-team game, continued with meagre opportunities, nagging injuries and a rebuke for tabloid-splashed quarantine breaches. It ended with him returning to the club where he made his name, apparently with his tail between his legs.
This wasn’t really about redemption, or self-validation, though. It was, in the words of Frankfurter Allgemeine’s Ralf Weitbrecht, “an evening with a lot of goosebumps”, which is something in these times when Deutsche Bank Park – one of the more cacophonous Bundesliga arenas – is reduced to an echoey hush, punctuated by individual shouts. The stage may have been set for Jovic to take its centre but the occasion was not really about him but about a rather less glamorous, but no less loved player.
When the final whistle went Adi Hütter ran from his technical area, not to the returning and victorious Jovic but to his 34-year-old central defender and captain, hugging him tight and giving him a farewell kiss on the cheek. “I am glad that I was able to end my career here, where I got a lot and gave a lot,” said David Abraham. “Eintracht was my most beautiful stop.” After 13 and a half years in Europe, and being in Frankfurt since 2015, he returns to his native Argentina to be reunited with his family, having been isolated in Europe by the pandemic.
“We’re losing a great player and a great person,” said Hütter, who gave a speech to Abraham in a post-match huddle after full-time. Eintracht have needed Abraham’s stability and fighting qualities in the 18 months since Jovic went, because Jovic was not the only player to leave. The magnificent attacking trident of Jovic, Ante Rebic and Sébastien Haller that carried Eintracht to the verge of the Europa League final in 2019 had done so in style, with Hütter recovering from a tough start to his reign to bring not only successful but aesthetically thrilling football to Hesse. This was a plan with no handbrake after the laudable but more circumspect stewardship of Niko Kovac.
Abraham proved more than useful in both eras, and Hütter’s sophomore season saw the path twist again as the Swiss coach scrambled to regroup in the wake of his star attacking trio departing. Granted, Eintracht signed André Silva in the Rebic deal but the Portuguese centre forward needed time, after a difficult spell at Milan and a loan at Sevilla that failed to deliver on his early promise. Hütter has gradually pieced together a whole new way of playing, with his now preferred 3-4-2-1 aiming to tuck a pair of attacking players behind the resurgent Silva (he scored again against Schalke, equally his goal tally for last season before this one’s halfway point) to feed and interface with him.
Throwing Jović into the mix must seem like the ultimate luxury to Schalke, who clung on grimly and bravely for much of this before the Serbian’s extra class made the difference. Christian Gross and company are shopping in the bargain basement, following the Sead Kolasinac loan with a getting-the-band-back-together exercise which is likely to see veterans Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafinha return to Gelsenkirchen. They were given hope here (again) by Matthew Hoppe, who snaffled an equaliser after a defensive mix-up and can take some consolation from the level of class it took to finish them off. For Eintracht, finishing off weaker opposition had been a bugbear. They will hope this is the end of that.
It added up to a “Hollywood ending” for Abraham, as sporting director Fredi Bobic said, but a new start for Eintracht, and for Jovic. “I hope this is only the beginning,” he wrote on Instagram, “and that the best is yet to come.” With the unpredictability of some of the big names just above them in the table, Jovic and his new old team can fairly dream of another European adventure together.
FC Union Berlin 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Mainz, Cologne 0-0 Hertha Berlin, Hoffenheim 0-0 Arminia Bielefeld, Werder Bremen 2-0 Augsburg, Wolfsburg 2-2 RB Leipzig, Stuttgart 2-2 Möenchengladbach, Bayern Munich 2-1 SC Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 Schalke
• A postscript to the emotional events in Frankfurt was Abraham’s final shirt-swap: with referee Manuel Gräfe, of all people. There is an Argentinian centre-back with a sense of humour.
• Before Sunday Freiburg had never won at Bayern Munich, taking one point from their last 16 visits. Their 21st attempt drew a blank as well though in the words of their ex-Bayern super-sub Nils Petersen, “it was possible today,” after he headed one equaliser and rattled the bar in stoppage time after Thomas Müller’s eventual winner. When Jérôme Boateng said Bayern’s display was “workmanlike”, he wasn’t wrong.
• With last season’s other Champions League qualifiers dropping points, Bayern are guaranteed to top the table at the halfway stage. Leipzig got a point at Wolfsburg, where Willi Orban’s equaliser was the result of a lamentable defensive fudge between Jon Brooks, Maxence Lacroix and Koen Casteels – while Dortmund followed up their impressive win away against Julian Nagelsmann’s side with a limp home draw against Mainz, missing a stack of chances including a Marco Reus penalty and needing a Thomas Meunier equaliser for their point.
• Mönchengladbach let in yet another late equaliser, this time at Stuttgart, and it made them angrier than any of the others. Seconds from full time, the VAR official Bibiana Steinhaus penalised Ramy Bensabaini for holding Sasa Kalajdzić after the referee Felix Brych didn’t whistle – and after Waldemar Anton inadvertently tripped his teammate into Bensabaini. Silas Wamangituka struck the equaliser from the spot. “If I were to express my opinions freely now, then I would probably be banned for the rest of the season,” raged Jonas Hofmann to Sky.
• It was another extraordinary Friday night in Union Berlin’s extraordinary season, with a late goal by substitute Cedric Teuchert goal (after another injury to a striker, this time to stand-in Sheraldo Becker) downing Leverkusen and keeping the Berliners in the top five. The evening was marred, however, by Jonathan Tah’s allegation that his teammate Nadiem Amiri was racially abused by an unidentified member of the Union party. Union’s coach Urs Fischer pledged to deal with the matter but with the incident featuring in referee Florian Badstübner’s report, a DFB investigation is almost certain to follow.