Questions surround this team. Can they juggle the Bundesliga and DFB-cup schedules while striving for Europa League success? Can they be successful at any or all of the competitions? Can they follow up on such an impressive season or was it simply a fluke?
Coach Mirko Slomka returns for his second full season as head coach, after joining the 96ers to begin the winter half of the 2010 campaign. Will he keep the team on a counterattack system this year, or will he have a different system to keep the Bundesliga, and Europa League opponents off balance?
Often injured Christian Pander joins Hannover from Schalke, but can he have a healthy and productive season? Hannover also grabbed up Austrian keeper Samuel Radlinger, and Norweigen midfielder Henning Hauger. It’s strange to see so many national team players on Hannover’s squad, since from 1969 to 2003 no Hannover player had more than one game as a Mannschaft player. Hauger will try to repeat the success that Ya Konan and Abedellaoue have had in Hannover coming from Norway’s Tippeligean. Hannover didn’t exactly break the bank and buy a great 2nd squad, and have arguably the least turnover from the last year’s squad of any Bundesliga side, but there is potential there. There have only few been departures from last year’s winning team — goalkeeper Florian Fromlowitz left for MSV Duisburg after losing his starting job to youngster Ron-Robert Zieler, while Constant Djakpa (14 Hannover appearances) returned on loan to Leverkusen and American DaMarcus Beasley (4 appearances) will play in Mexico for Puebla and forward Mikael Forssell (12 appearances) has moved on as expected.
The clubs’s consistency last season can be further noted as they only endured two months, October and January, in which they lost more matches than they won, but more incredibly the 96ers had only two instances all season where they lost two games in a row. The Hannoverians dropped two lopsided 4-0 games to Hoffenheim on October 31 and to Borussia Dortmund on November 7, but did not plunge into despair but instead launched a five game winning streak beginning the next week. When Hannover lost on consecutive weekends early in the Ruckrunde to Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, they again responded to adversity by reeling off four wins and a draw in their next five fixtures. These turnarounds attest to the leadership of not only Slomka, but Mayor of Hannover Cherundolo (the American has only worn Hannover kit in his lengthy club career) and the other veterans on the club. The team’s success was truly an effort by an unselfish group.
Hannover will begin its season at home in August 6 against 1899 Hoffenheim. They play their next match at EasyCredit Stadion against 1. FC Nurnberg before returning home for fixtures against Hertha Berlin and Mainz, meaning that Hannover will have the advantage of having three of four August matches at home. The 96ers start their DFB Cup campaign on July 31 with a match with FC Anker Wismar. Their nine training matches have included contests with Austrian Bundesliga side Sturm Graz, the Hapoel Tel Aviv team that made it to the Champions League group stage last season, EPL side Sunderland and formidable French side Olympique Lyon, so the level of competition faced should have Slomka’s boys ready for the new campaign.
How will Hannover do this season? That remains to be seen. There’s a reason I cheer for underdogs — a surprise victory is the highlight of my year, like Hannover’s victory over Bayern last season. (Sorry, Tim). I’m not one for predictions, but I’m hoping for them to get out of the group stage of Europa League, which would be a great start to a hopefully long tradition of European competitions. Not getting knocked out in the 1st round of the DFB-cup would be a nice improvement over last year’s one- and- done Cup performance. And since their attention will be divided, I’m hoping Hannover can stay far away from relegation for the entire season.
It’s not exactly giving a “set the world on fire” prediction here, but this team would surprise a lot of people again to capture some hardware this year. Hopefully this year will be a learning experience for Hannover that will give them great training for years to come. The team has some real talents (Ya Konan and Pinto were Bundesliga Fanatic Top 25 performers, while Schulz and Cherundolo received nominations), but no world-famous superstars, which may continue to bode well for team-chemistry. The club, though, gained a Europa League berth with only a +4 goal differential by winning ten of the fourteen matches they played that were decided by a one goal margin. Living that close to the edge and having another superlative season will be a difficult undertaking.
I’m Kurt Duncan, and I’m still cautiously optimistic.
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