After watching his team get knocked out of the Europa League last Thursday by Hannover 96, Club Brugge coach Christoph Daum said that if he were a Hannover player, he’d walk through fire for their coach, Mirko Slomka (right). The motivational powers of the 43 year old trainer are a matter of public record. But his players are not just brave and hard working. They’re tactically disciplined and actually very good.
Christian Pander was the star of the show during his team’s 4-2 victory over Stuttgart, last Sunday. That result continued an unbeaten league going back to November. Mind you, things got a bit dicey toward the end and Martin Harnik’s consolation was doubled by a spectacular over-head kick from Shinji Okazaki. In fact, had former Manchester United goalkeeper, Ron Robert Zieler, not made a smart save from Vedad Ibisevic late in the day, Stuttgart may have made a comeback that seemed unlikely earlier in the game. The club’s latest arrival also came from Man United in the shape of Mame Biram Diouf who was transferred in January. The Senegalese striker failed to make it at Old Trafford but has two goals in three games for Hannover.
Like Borussia Monchengladbach, Hannover have a reputation for counter attacking football. This is based on a miss-perception: they are both small clubs and surprise packages therefore they must lack the playing resources to be multi faceted. Like ‘Gladbach, however, Hannover are not just about sitting back and hitting teams on the break. They move the ball quickly and crisply and while they favour the strong centre forward, it would be a mistake to assume that this is all they do. Their opponents on Sunday will not form that conclusion, not if they know what is good for them.
If Hannover 96 are the immovable object then Borussia Dortmund are the irresistible force. The current Bundesliga champions have won their last 11 (eleven) games in all competitions. So far, over the season they have suffered injuries to key players, Neven Subotic, Sven Bender and Mario Götze (the latter is still out with an injury to his pubic bone, whatever that is) and found able replacements in Felipe Santana, Sebastien Kehl and Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese international, Kagawa, was magnificent in the first half of last campaign before injury ruined his season. He took a bit of time to get going but his return to form came around the same time as Götze’s injury. Up front, Paraguay international striker, Lucas Barrios, has returned to form and is working well with the Polish forward Robert Lewandowski who is set to be a big name in Euro 2012.
Dortmund’s fluidity and range of passing provides some of the best football in Germany, this season. Coach, Jurgen Klopp, has his players pressing all over the pitch barely giving the opposition a chance to breath. Hannover’s players don’t have the same range of passing and don’t play as high up the pitch as BVB but their pace and economy will worry the home supporters at the Westfalen.
The Dortmund club sit top of the table going into the weekend and will stay there, whatever transpires elsewhere. Needless to say, dropped points would make things awkward but given that they are facing a side that have gone so long without defeat, Borussia should not get too down on themselves, should they not win.
Hannover, are a small club going through a massive growth spurt. They are looking to sustain their success by playing in the Europa League for another season. At present they are scrapping with their northern rivals Werder Bremen and the miss-firing Bayer Leverkusen for those two qualification spots at fifth and sixth in the Bundesliga table.
Borussia Dortmund v Hannover 96 kicks off Sunday 26th February at 4:30pm. It will be broadcast in the UK on ESPN.