With a total of 14 goals, 11 assists and half a season still to go, Sebastian Haller has become Eintracht Frankfurt’s key player and one of the Bundesliga’s best players too. Things have certainly looked bright for the Frenchman who won the DFB Pokal and the Bundesliga’s ‘Goal of the Season’ award in his first year at the club. Currently, The Eagles sit in fifth place, on course for another season in Europe. They’re also preparing for a Round of 32 UEFA Europa League tie against Shakhtar Donetsk. Haller will have to maintain his consistently high levels of performance if Frankfurt are to end the season as well as they’ve started it. His partnership with Serbian wonder-kid Luka Jovic and World Cup finalist Ante Rebic has flourished so far in 2018/19 and the trio look set to continue their fantastic form.
Read on as I profile his rise and breakdown his excellent performances over the 2018/19 season. Sebastian Haller is definitely one to keep an eye out for.
Sebastian Haller was born on 22 June 1994 and grew up in Ris-Orangis, France, 20 km outside of Paris. As a boy, Sebastian played football obsessively on the courts in his neighbourhood. His high energy levels prompted his parents to sign him up for Judo classes but Haller was reluctant to continue and he quit to focus solely on football. He joined his first football club at the age of 10 playing for F.C.O. Vigneux and then moving on to Bretigny Foot.
In 2007, his talent and potential as a future pro saw him join Auxerre’s youth academy, which had already produced players such as Bacary Sagna, Phillip Mexes and Eric Cantona. He spent three years playing for both the reserve and first teams from 2012-2015 before being loaned to F.C. Utrecht in the Netherlands. He officially signed for Utrecht ahead of the 2015/16 season, and spent two seasons there playing under current Ajax head coach Erik Ten Hag. In his two and a half seasons at Utrecht, he appeared 90 times, scored 45 goals and provided 15 assists. In addition, the side finished fifth in his first full season before improving to 4th place in 2016/17.
His steady and consistent performances saw him join the Bundesliga in 2017/18 when he signed for Eintracht Frankfurt for €7 million. Under Niko Kovac, the side finished in eigth place and beat Bayern Munich 3-1 in the DFB Pokal cup final which also resulted in automatic qualification to the UEFA Europa League. He ended the season with 31 appearances, nine goals and four assists.
Haller has also been capped by France at youth level from U/16 to U/21. He scored 13 goals for the U/21 side from 2013-2016 in a side that contained Benjamin Pavard, Corentin Tolisso and Adrien Rabiot. He remains eligible for both France and Ivory Coast at senior level.
Haller Within Hutter’s System:
Eintracht Frankfurt have been a model for any club with Europa League ambitions on a modest budget, all across Europe. Last season they performed admirably under Niko Kovac, and their organisation and patience allowed them to triumph against Bayern in the DFB Pokal final. The word patience is so relevant in Haller’s context and it’s no wonder that he’s thrived at this club. The word encompasses timing, and he seems to be in the right league, team and playing under the right coach at the perfect time. Currently, Frankfurt lie in fifth place on the points and xG table. They’re also seventh on the xGA table and sixth on the xPTS table. So it’s likely that Frankfurt will secure yet another season in the Europa League. This time via qualification by league standing. What’s made Frankfurt’s season even more successful than last, is that they’ve built on the foundations laid by Niko Kovac from the previous year.
Adi Hutter began the season experimenting with a back-four and a back-three(or five in the defensive phase). As Frankfurt struggled to gain defensive stability with four defenders, they were soundly beaten 3-1 by Borussia Moenchengladbach. This was the final straw for Hutter. He decided to use a back-three, with the shape of the midfield and forward line alternating according to the opponent. This resulted in a run of 11-unbeaten games. Key to Frankfurt’s success? Their front 2/3 including none other than Haller himself.
Frankfurt use a very direct style in possession, prioritizing quick penetration over patient progressions and disorganizing opponents through the use of positional play. This puts a lot of demand on their forwards, especially Haller who is required to hold up play from penetrating passes, before laying them off to Rebic and co. around him or winning isolated situations and continuing attacks. Outside of the box, those are his main roles and he’s certainly excelled in that respect. The interchangeable movement between Rebic, Jovic and himself as well as the three-man backline(good coverage in defensive transitions) has allowed the side to perform efficiently. This system and the support around him has certainly helped Haller contribute positively as much as possible within Haller’s system.
Hybrid: Haller’s Physical Prowess, Intelligence and Technical Ability
As I mentioned, Haller spent long hours on football courts which has helped him develop a unique skill set. His physical traits are used well together with his awareness, anticipation and skill. In tight situations, he’s extremely adept at holding off his opponents using his strength and large body frame(he stands at 6′ 3”). His time on the courts also seems to have developed his excellent balance and agility, which he uses to beat opponents with a skill move or a quick turn (I’ll discuss his turns later on). His attacking mentality suits Hutter’s direct style really well because his decision-making usually sees him progressing play more often than other forwards can. In situations in which he’s marked, he gives his marker the impression that he’ll receive with his back to goal, before making a quick half-turn under pressure from behind and winning the isolated situation.
Haller can be used as an outlet under pressure from high pressing defences, because of his height which gives him an aerial advantage against his opponents. He’s got really good spring which makes his jumping more effective. Height plus spring equals aerial dominance. So far in the Bundesliga this season, he’s won seven aerials per game. In the Europa league, that figure sits at 5,2 per game. This usually helps Frankfurt retain possession or he can get a flick-on to continue the attack. His height also attracts extra markers which creates space for his teammates around him. How’s that for an aerial advantage?
His flick-ons are a key feature of his game as he not only has goalscoring but playmaking responsibilities too. With his teammates making runs around him he can always make a flick-on or he can hold up the ball and make a through pass if an attacking situation is on. He mainly operates in central areas, dropping into advanced central midfield areas, when Frankfurt posses the ball in deep areas.
Haller’s awareness is also really good, and this allows him to be a threat to defences whether he’s in a goalscoring position or one of his teammates are, and he has the ball. He combines his awareness, with the actual ability to deliver a cross or pass.
With 8 Bundesliga assists, he’s done exceptionally well this season as he has a xA90 of 0,34. He also averaged 1,4 key passes this season. However, he’s overperformed in this regard. Why? Well mostly because he’s never made as many assists as he’s scored goals in his whole career. Rebic’s positioning at the base of the front three triangle, in between opposition lines, is also likely to attract counter solutions from opposition defences. Haller might not have the same space in midfield to be as creative as he already has been this season. But that might open up space out wide, which Frankfurt can easily take advantage of thanks to their system, which makes good use of their fullbacks who can get in crosses from deep, wide areas. Already this season, Haller has taken advantage of such crosses which has taken his goals tally to 11 in the Bundesliga alone.
Haller’s ability to hold off opponents with his strength and large body frame is complemented perfectly with his high acceleration levels. This is yet another result of his long hours in the court. He has the ability to gain a meter or two over his opponents to get to the ball(he also has a longer reach, thanks to his height). This is a feature of those who develop their game in tight spaces, where anticipation is a huge asset and allows players to prepare for a physical movement/action as quickly as possible. Haller will often be seen positioned right near his marker/s before a ball is played into the 18-yard area, before beating his opponent to it.
I spoke about his balance and agility above, and again he manages to combine his physical traits with his technical ability inside the penalty area. The range of goals he scores his fantastic. Headers, left foot, right foot, bicycle kicks and even the odd aerial flick have all been scored by the Frenchman. Key to this is his ability to adjust his body according to the position, height and flight of the ball. For a player as tall as he is, he has a good instinctual command over his body movements. Even in the most awkward of angles he’s able to adjust his orientation towards goal before getting a shot in. His penalty taking technique is also fantastic and he’s scored every single penalty he’s taken since he joined the club(5). He’s averaged 2,3 shots per game in the Bundesliga and in Europe and has an xG of 0,60 per 90. This normally would’ve seen him in the exclusive league of the Bundesliga’s top 5 forwards alongside Jovic, Lewandowski, Werner and Reus. Unfortunately, the xG gods decided to play a prank on the league in the form of Paco Alcacer, who will surely see his goals count decline drastically in the next few months(xG90 0.93).
Haller’s shortcomings are few, but they must be addressed if he is to make the transition to a truly elite striker. His sprint speed is the first issue. He has good acceleration and agility but winning a foot race for a long through ball might not be something he’s consistently able to do. His biggest issue, however, is his tendency to hold onto the ball for too long. This occurs after winning isolated situations where a through pass or simply offloading the ball is required. This tendency often results in delayed attacks and this a problem for a side like Frankfurt which values rapid, vertical attacking plays. Missing opportunities to exploit space ahead of the ball can often spell the difference between a win or a loss for such a side.
I expect Haller’s goals contribution to remain the around xG 0,60 however the big question around this period in his career is if he can maintain such figures. He’s done exceptionally well so far and bigger clubs will certainly come calling if he does. He’s already proven how steady and consistent growth and progress can turn into excellent performances at an elite level. Now it remains to be seen whether he can handle the pressure and whether Frankfurt can continue their fantastic form. Either way, Haller is an excellent player and I can only predict good things for his future.