Schalke 5-4 Hannover: Bundesliga Returns with Instant Classic

The long winter break in Germany is finally over and the second half of the 2012/13 Bundesliga campaign kicked off in the most incredible way imaginable. After a relatively quiet and defensively sound first half, the game exploded into life after the break with 8 goals between Schalke and Hannover.  The exciting back and forth action between the two sides yielded the highest scoring half of Bundesliga football in 31 years, a fitting way to kick off the most exciting league in the world.

The win lifts Schalke into fifth in the meantime while Hannover remain in 11th but both coaches will look back on this game scratching their heads over how their good defending so suddenly collapsed in a matter of minutes.

Lineups and Tactics

Schalke’s winter break headlines were all about their poor form going into break and the impending transfer of Lewis Holtby who was possibly lining up for his last ever match in a Schalke shirt before moving to England.  Jens Keller was still looking for his first win as Schalke boss and the team were looking to end a seven game winless streak.  On top of that, they were without Huntelaar and Jones (both suspended), and Papadopoulos, Afellay and Moritz (all injured).  Bundesliga returnee Raffael did make the bench though.

Slomka emphasized defending all throughout the winter camp and brought in some much needed defensive cover, one of which (Djourou) started against Schalke. They too were strapped in terms of depth with Ya Konan at the Africa Cup of Nations and Cherundolo and Schulz both injured.  Both teams are strong on the counter and both had to improve their defending to get back on track in the second half of the season.  The first half would turn out to be a positive reinforcement of their winter camp work until it all came down like a house of cards in the second.  Here is how one of the most memorable matches in recent Bundesliga memory unfolded.

(c) spox.com
(c) spox.com

The Match

With both sides having something to prove, the game started with a high tempo, particularly from Schalke.  The hosts attacked furiously in the opening with Marica, Draxler and Höger all having chances early on.  Farfan on the right was especially dangerous, getting the best of Rausch and linking up well with a motivated Holtby in the center.  Hannover are rarely ever completely out of a game though and quickly got back into it.  Whereas Schalke had the better scoring opportunities Hannover pressed better, individually and collectively.  The particular lack of pressing in the attacking third has been common feature for Schalke this season and in the first half it reared its ugly head again. Holtby did so but Draxler, Marica and Farfan not so much.

It soon became a very physical affair with plenty of yellow cards shown in the game.  The match was in danger of spiraling out of control at one point until Schalke finally get their goal. Eggimann cleared a throw in which happened to fall right onto the feet of Farfan on the right, the Peruvian taking the ball brilliantly and finishing past Zieler.  No game between the two sides had ever finished goalless so the opener was far from surprising but few would have predicted what was about to unfold in the second half.

Even though they were down a goal, Hannover defended relatively well in the first half.  Similarly, Schalke did not allow the visitors many chances and kept their shape well.  Maybe that allowed a sense of complacency to set in or both sides became too eager to look for a goal.  Either way, defending completely went out the window soon after the restart.  Hannover’s back line was pushed almost to the halfway line and Farfan played Holtby clear into space.  Instead of taking a shot himself, the future Tottenham midfielder laid the ball off brilliant with the outside foot to an open Draxler who doubled the lead.  An excellent counter attack by one of the best counter attacking teams in the league.

Hannover had never come back against Schalke after being 1-0 down. 2-0 therefore seemed an impossible task.  Fortunately for Hannover, Slomka has turned them into comeback specialists and against the odds, they’d make it an even game in a span of four minutes.  The first was a fortunate deflection off a Pinto shot from Neustädter.  The second, though, was a fantastic finish from one of the best left feet in the league.  Huszti controlled a Chahed cross brilliantly before powering it into the bottom right corner.  Schalke’s defense was lost, Keller in disbelief on the sideline.

How would Schalke respond? The better question; how were Hannover going to shore up their defense and ensure a result?  It was a question Hannover didn’t seem to have an answer for as it took only five minutes for Schalke to restore their lead.  Holtby was the architect once more after cleverly playing Höger into space under double coverage, the midfielder finishing like a striker into the top right corner. Three minutes later it was 4-2 when Neustädter played Marica through on the left. The Hannover defense parted like the Red Sea as the Romanian extended their lead to two once again. Echoes of Slomka’s defensive concerns rang through the air again.

Hannover had never scored more than two goals at Schalke but this match seemed one where records seemingly meant nothing.  Sure enough, this time it took only a minute for Hannover to get on the scoresheet again.  The brilliant Huszti controlled an even more difficult volley after a failed clearance to make it 4-3.  With six goals in 19 minutes anything appeared possible as all logic went out the window.  Hannover needed another goal and Slomka brought on three attackers, making an already vulnerable defense even more susceptible.

In the 88th minute three Schalke players found themselves free on goal with Farfan setting up Holtby for the easiest finish of his career.  Where was Hannover’s defense?  Well, it was clear at that point that this second half had been about everything but defending.  And just when it seemed things could not be topped, Diouf scored the goal of the match, and an early contender for goal of the year, with an astonishing bicycle kick from the edge of the 16 yard box. A game for the ages.

So how did Hannover go from not creating a single chance in the first half to scoring an unprecedented three in the second? Part of it had to do with Schalke and Holtby’s busy play which kept Pinto occupied in his own half.  Hannover’s fullbacks were also absent, Rausch spending most of his time tugging and pulling at Farfan and Chahed playing more like a third center-back.  There was a distinct lack of build up from Hannover with Sobiech touching the ball fewer times than any Hannover player.

Schalke did well to keep the pressure on Hannover’s defense but in the process became too attack minded, so much so that they left their back line exposed.  For whatever reason, both sides became increasingly attack oriented in the second half.  Even players like Pinto, Höger and Neustädter joined the attack, creating yards and yards of space in the middle.  The problem then became one of the ball being quicker than the player.  With numbers committed forward, both teams struggled to track back in time to recover and became sloppy and conceded in the process. For the neutral it was a spectacle but from a coach’s perspective, the second half was a tactical nightmare.

Final Verdict

Mirko Slomka vowed to work on the team’s defense going into the winter break so conceding five in the first match back cannot bode well for his plans. Throwing three attackers onto the pitch in the second half was not his brightest moment either.  Instead of stabilizing the team, Slomka chase the game.  While admirable, it also failed to address the obvious problem. If Düsseldorf and Bremen win, Hannover could find themselves in 13th by the end of the weekend and four straight without a win.

Keller remained optimistic after the match despite a nervy result in the end.  He said he will reassess what happened and continue to work on things.  The biggest bright spot was of course the performance of Lewis Holtby who vowed to give everything he had until he left.  Agains Hannover he did that, and more.  No player ran more than him, no player covered more ground and no player had more shots on goal.  With a goal and two assists, it’ll be hard to top his performance this weekend.

In 1982, Borussia Dortmund scored 10 goals on Arminia Bielefeld in what is still a record for goals scored in one Bundesliga half but that game was nowhere near as competitive as this one. All the poor defending aside, we are unlikely to see a match as entertaining and action-packed as this for the remainder of the season.  Another affirmation of the excitement and entertainment of the Bundesliga. And it could not have come at a more appropriate time with Guardiola opting for Bayern Munich instead of Premier League suitors and the restart of the season.

Highlights

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWIF-vvOpWE

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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