Northern duel with back-to-back away wins on offer
Hamburger SV make the short trip down to Hannover 96 on Saturday lunchtime (kick-off 1:00pm CET), aiming to claim their second win on the bounce away from home and fourth win since the return of competitive football.
The start after the winter break could hardly have gone better for HSV; two goals conceded, nine goals scored, nine points from a possible nine and getting back to winning ways on the road. The last trip away from home yielded an important 3-1 win over VfL Bochum, and the Rothosen will be looking to repeat the trick on Saturday lunchtime, sniffing out a fourth win in as many games after a four-game winless run up to Christmas. Dieter Hecking found a fairly simple explanation for the upturn in form of his charges during Friday’s press conference: “In football we do try and overcomplicate things sometimes, I think we’ve just played better since the Christmas break and have underlined the quality that we have in the squad.” Saturday’s opponents hold a particularly special place in Hecking’s heart, having played for 96 for three years in the late ‘90s and managed the Hanoverians from 2006-2009. However, sentimentality isn’t at the forefront of the HSV manager’s mind: “Of course I’ll always have that special connection with Hannover. But I’ll put that aside on Saturday, getting the victory and carrying on our good run of form is most important for me.” The sold-out HDI Arena will certainly be rocking for this northern duel, one of the most-played fixtures in the history of German football, with at least 12,000 HSV fans trying to generate something close to a home atmosphere.
Focus on the hosts
At the start of the season, the ‘Big Four’ of Stuttgart, HSV, Nuremberg and Hannover were expected to be challenging for the promotion places come the end of the season, yet the experts have been surprised by the consistency of Arminia Bielefeld, who currently lead the league standings, whilst Nuremberg and Hannover have flattered to deceive. Former HSV manager Mirko Slomka was appointed as Hannover manager for the second time in the summer after relegation from the Bundesliga, but the fit never seemed right and the 52-year-old was sacked in November after six home games without a win and 14 points from the first 13 games. Kenan Kocak has steadied the ship somewhat since his arrival, yet it is still a disappointing 25 points from 21 games, a figure that is certainly below the expectations of many at the HDI Arena, only four points and four places above the final relegation spot.
Opposition scouting report
You don’t have to look far for an obvious reason why the Hanoverians have struggled to live up to their pre-season billing. Wehen Wiesbaden are only below 96 due to a worse goal difference when looking at the league table based purely on home fixtures, with only one home win in ten attempts for Hannover, and a measly eleven goals scored so far this season at the HDI Arena. Combined with a less-than watertight defence (34 goals conceded, sixth-leakiest in the division) and you have the foundations for a disappointing campaign. The team’s struggles have been difficult to explain, with the side packed with experience, but seemingly failing to gel into a proper team, finding it hard to get results over the line. Form since the return of competitive football has been as mixed as before the break, with a loss (in Regensburg), a draw (against Wiesbaden) and a win (in Fürth) giving little indication of what the Rothosen can expect tomorrow lunchtime.
Tactical insight is also difficult, with Kocak having lined his troops up in three different formations for all three games, trying to be flexible between a back three and a back four. Much hope was placed on the shoulders of striker Marvin Ducksch before the season began, especially as the 25-year-old secured the top scorer’s trophy with Holstein Kiel two seasons ago, but, in a story that runs through the side, the much-touted centre forward hasn’t reached his potential so far, with Kocak putting his faith in Cedric Teuchert to lead the line. One of few bright sparks for Hannover has been the blossoming of 20-year-old right winger Linton Maina, who scooped all three assists last time out in Fürth, and has five assists in his last four games. Tim Leibold will have to be on top of his game to nullify the threat of the direct, pacy winger on Saturday.
Dieter Hecking on Hannover: "If you look at their starting line-up they have a lot of Bundesliga experience, a lot more than we do. With their potential they should certainly be higher up the table, but that's the dilemma they have been facing so far this season."
Jung for Fein as Rothosen seek second away win on the bounce
Not only have the results been fitting over the past two weeks but the Rothosen have had a certain amount of luck with regards to injuries, something that can’t be said of Saturday’s opponents Hannover, who have to contend with six injuries and problems at filling the centre-back position. However, the situation for the Rothosen isn’t completely rosy, with Adrian Fein suffering a fractured cheekbone after a nasty clash of heads with Karlsruhe’s Marvin Wanitzek last Saturday. Whilst a return date for the on-loan midfielder is uncertain at this moment in time, Dieter Hecking confirmed that Gideon Jung would be taking the 20-year-old’s place on Saturday after three good performances from the defensive midfielder off the bench since the turn of the year. The squad availability otherwise stays the same as last week, with Aaron Hunt and Jairo Samperio able to take to the bench again, and Julian Pollersbeck and Xavier Amaechi expected to turn out for the under-21 side on Monday night against Hannover’s under-23 team. With all three teams at the top winning last weekend, the Rothosen look to close the one-point gap to leaders Arminia Bielefeld, and add to their current tally of 40 points, with a win over the side from Lower Saxony.
Hannover’s Josip Elez will miss the game after his red card last time out in Fürth. It was the seventh dismissal of the season for the team from Lower Saxony, the highest amount in the division.
HSV have started the year with three league wins for the first time for 52 years. The Rothosen won the first four Bundesliga games in 1968.
Hamburger SV’s tally of 45 goals represents the most dangerous attack in the league, and is the same amount the Rothosen managed in the whole of last season put together.
Where can I watch the game?
Finland/Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Faroe Islands: Viaplay/TV3 Sport
Netherlands: Fox Sports 4
Poland/Portugal: Eleven Sports 2
Czech Republic/Slovakia: Digi Sport 3
Greece: Cosmote Sport 3 HD
Romania: Digi Sport 4
Israel: Charlton Sport 4
Hungary: Sport 2
Turkey: S Sport 2
USA: Fox Soccer Match Pass