November 21, 2017

2016-17 Season Preview: Hannover 96 Aiming for Immediate Promotion

Basics

nicknames: Die Roten (for the red shirts they wear at home)
founded: 12 April 1896
club colors: black, white, and green
primary rivals: Eintracht Braunschweig, VfL Wolfsburg (many fans refuse to recognize this rivalry, however), Werder Bremen
fan friendship: Hamburger SV, Arminia Bielefeld

Stadium

HDI Arena (formerly Niedersachsen Stadium)
capacity: 49,200
2015-16 attendance: 686,188 (40,364 per match)

Trophies

German champion(2): 1963-64, 1977-78
DFB Cup winner: 1992
Intertoto Cup winner: 1967, 1972, 1973

2015-16 Finishes

Bundesliga: 18th with 25 points
DFB Pokal: 2rd round (2-1 loss at SV Darmstadt 98)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals:  2
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 2
Number of Matches drawn:  4
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 10
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals:  13
Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in loss:  4
Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in draw:  1
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw:  3
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory:  1

Top 2015-16 Scorers

Artur Sobiech: 7
Hiroshi Kiyotake: 5
Kenan Karaman: 3

Summer Test Results

(with links to highlights, when available)

Record: 7-1-2
Goals Scored: 63
Goals Allowed: 12

Germania Walsrode 0:10 Hannover 96
TSV Barsinghausen 1:10  Hannover 96
1. FC Wunstorf 1:3  Hannover 96
SV Ramlingen-Ehlershausen 0:10 Hannover 96
TUS Norderney e.V. 0:16 Hannover 96
NEC Nijmegen 2:5 Hannover 06
Hannover 96 0:1 VfL Osnabrück
Hallescher FC 3:3 Hannover 96
FC Erzgebirge Aue 3:3 Hannover 96
Norwich City 2:3 Hannover 96

Questions with a Club Fan:

Kaj Haverbusch has been a big supporter of Hannover 96 since 1997. “I saw the relegation against Energie Cottbus on German tv, and although they lost this game — as we now, under certain dubious circumstances — I was hooked.”

Haverbusch maintains season tickets near the middle of the pitch since 2014, but has also worked for the club, driving mobile fan shop to events including away and test matches, youth tournaments, and fairs.

“Every game and every minute is a big party for me,” says Kai, “even when we lose. It doesn’t matter, because Hannover 96 is in my heart.”

Follow Kai on Twitter to talk Hannover 96 (or Seattle Seahawks), and you might even catch him making one of his regular guest appearances on German-language podcast “Hannoverliebt” on www.meinsportradio.de.

 

ep an eye out for . . .

Miiko Albornoz. Last season was not good for him, and his play was unfortunate. But after watching the trial games, I am sure that he will play a great 2016-17 season with some assists and maybe one or two goals.

Nordkurve (North Curve where the fan groups gather) favorite . . .

Actually, it’d have to be our Coach Daniel Stendel. He gave us new hope and positive energy. As far as a players are concerned, it’s Salif Sane for his irrepressible will and his understanding of the game. He is a great fighter for the team.

Player you’d happily drive to another club . . .

Actually, that’s a serious question. From this squad, there is only Edgar Prib to be considered. In my view, he has too many turnovers and no good ball control.

Advice you’d give your manager . . .

Have more courage to finish spectacular transfers. The transfers of Niclas Fullkrüg or especially Martin Harnik are good examples, but it happens too rarely. We need more of this courage.

Another important message would be: Give Christian Schulz and Leon Andreasen new contracts; they deserve them.

Opposition players you secretly admire . . .

Lars Stindl showed great development here and reenforced a big team like Mönchengladbach. Now he’s their captain. He’s also a great sportsman and friendly person

Gianluigi Buffon. Because I am a goalkeeper myself, there has to be a goalkeeper as well. Buffon is a great sportsman and also a great goalie.

Opposition players you despise . . .

Clemens Fritz (Werder Bremen). First of all, he plays in a really wrong team. Then, for me, he is a really poor sportsman. There is too much discussion with the referee on the pitch and too many bad actions against opposing players and officials.

Christiano Ronaldo. I know he is a controversial guy, but I don’t like him because of his appearance and behavior. In my opinion, he is a performer.

What will opposing sides underestimate?

I would not expect that any of the teams in the German 2. Bundesliga will underestimate Hannover 96. The closest thing I can assume could be the weakness of the defense or the greenness of coach Daniel Stendel.

What are fans overestimating?

I think that most of the fans treat the season too lightly. This season will not be a breeze or a cake walk. It’s gonna be hard work, even though we are one of the favorites in the 2. Bundesliga.

Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting HDI Arena for the first time  . . .

If you ever visit HDI Arena in Hannover, you have to see the beautiful Maschsee. It is a lake adjacent to the stadium. Most of the fans meet there before the game for one or two beers and to discuss the team, the season, and ‘all the world and his brother’. It is the best option to make contact with local fans.

Where will you finish?

On first or second place. It will be a neck-and-neck race with VfB Stuttgart to win the 2. Bundesliga.

What is your all-time favorite Hannover 96 memory?

I will never forget the games against FC Sevilla, especially the home game, from the great win of qualification for the UEFA Europa League. The two goals of Jan Schlaudraff, who always was underestimated in Hannover in my opinion, were awesome, and the atmosphere in the stadium was incredible. That’s a memory of which  I will tell my grandchildren.

When last we saw them . . .

There isn’t much to say about Hannover’s season that isn’t explained by the numbers from the season table: 18th place, seven wins, 25 points (which was 11 behind the relegation playoff spot), 31 goals scored, and 62 goals allowed.

Hannover took just two points from their first seven matches to establish they were at least a relegation candidate. In December, the club began a stretch that saw the Reds lose thirteen of fourteen matches. They settled into the bottom spot in the table after the first match day of the Rückrunde and never again looked like they could even get up to 17th, much less to safety.

Just over three years since exiting the knockout stage of Europa League, Hannover’s 112-day ride at the bottom of the Bundesliga table ended with a relegation.

Aspiration

“Our goal is promotion,” says Hannover 96 boss Martin Kind, “and that as clearly and convincingly as possible.”

The direct return to the top flight following relegation is a very common goal for long-time Bundesliga residents who find themselves dropped to the second division.

Reality

As 1. FC Nürnberg and 1. FC Kaiserslautern would likely be happy to explain to Hannover, going straight back to the Bundesliga just one season after relegation is a goal much easier to set than achieve.

Many observers last summer had the Hannover squad pegged as something less than a Bundesliga-quality. The team’s performance immediately confirmed that there was something to the notion.

Normally, a club with long-term top-flight tenure would arrive a clear favorite for a top-two spot, based solely on the retention of some of its Bundesliga-level talent. In this case, however, Hannover takes the drop with a team that may not been quite a second-division squad, talent-wise, but certainly was far from a quality Bundesliga side suffering the consequences of a bad stretch.

The Boss

Coach Daniel Stendel has been great for Hannover. He helped the club finish strong at the end of last season’s disastrous campaign and has had a very successful run in test matches this summer. There is nothing to indicate he cannot continue to be a positive factor for the Reds at the helm for a full season.

So far, so good for Stendel. Can he do it for a full season?

Philosophy

Stendel consistently used a 4-2-3-1 at the end of the season, as well as for most of Hannover’s test matches this summer. Considering Stendel’s guidance led to eight points in his six-match stint at the end of the season, it’s likely Hannover will continue to utilize the formation.

Plan B

Then again, two of Hannover’s most-significant purchases this summer have been attacking players Niclas Füllkrug and Martin Harnik. Will Stendel adjust his tactics to allow for a double-pointed attack, especially if defensive-midfield stud Salif Sane goes unsold by the end of August, making him available to patrol solo from the six?

It would be a big risk for a team that managed just 31 goals last season to suddenly affect a dramatic shift to an attack-oriented outfit relying heavily on new talent, but it’s certainly a possibility because the fact is that conservative play may be plenty to stay in the league, but to win enough to finish near the top, you need to win, which means goals.

Personnel Changes

As is to be expected when a team drops from the first division to the second, the majority of Hannover’s most-talented players have departed. The notable exception to date is that of Salif Sane. Martin Kind insists his midfield stud will not be sold and that the team has planned their season with Sane wearing the red shirt all year.

So, with Sane still in camp, the biggest departures for Hannover are that of keeper Ron-Robert Zieler and attacking-midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake.

Zieler moved to England, joining last year’s Premiership champion Leicester City. Kiyotake, who was easily Hannover’s most-effective outfield player when healthy, moved to Europa League holders Sevilla FC of La Liga. Those two transfers alone brought in a reported €10 million.

Only three players put more time in for the Reds last season than Christian Schulz, but the 33-year-old center-back was allowed to move to Austria’s SK Sturm Graz after nine years in Hannover. Schulz claimed publicly that he had told the club he was willing to go to the second division to stay with the club, but was then told by Stendel in a brief phone conversation that his services would no longer be required, leaving Schulz both “surprised” and “disappointed.”

Hiroshi Sakai, one of the three to log more time than Schulz, moved to Olympique Marseille to stay in first-division football.

Despite the relative windfall, Hannover has been somewhat sparing in how they restock the shelves. Other than Niclas Füllkrug (€2.2 million, 1. FC Nürnberg) and Florian Hübner (€500k, SV Sandhausen), Martin Bader has acquired players only on free transfers.

Martin Harnik is the biggest name moving to Hannover, leaving fellow relegated VfB Stuttgart to see whether he can locate his scoring touch for a new club. Bader also bagged two midfielders with recent second-league experience, getting Sebastian Meier from FC St. Pauli and Marvin Bakalorz from SC Paderborn.

Martins Harnik & Bader doing the obligatory post-transfer jersey thing

Strengths

Stendel may prove to be the best weapon Hannover has in its attempt at getting directly back to the Bundesliga. The team responded well to him at the end of the season, even with virtually nothing to play for. That said, there is a huge difference between inspiring a team playing out the string with nothing at stake and trying to win promotion in a fairly strong 2. Bundesliga.

Hannover can also rely on some familiar faces in the midfield area, particularly those of newly anointed captain Manuel Schmiedebach and the in-demand Senegalese sixer Sane. With Oliver Sorg and Miiko Albornoz also back to bookend the defensive row, Hannover will have plenty of reliable veteran support moving through all areas of the pitch.

Weaknesses

It may be cliche to note, but quickly adjusting to a new league will be key for Hannover. The German second division regularly has one or two surprises emerge from thin air to play near the top of the table.

But the greatest weakness is offensive production. Artur Sobiech is reliable, if not spectacular, which is why it’s important Füllkrug and Harnik live up to their billing. Harnik in recent seasons is known more for missing the goal in big moments. For him to help Hannover achieve its goal of promotion, he’s going to need to finish at a better rate than he has.

Also, the Hannover defense has had the luxury of Ron-Robert Zieler between the posts behind them. The Reds’ defense returns some solid pieces, but they’ll have to adjust to a new number one who will not be at the level of a guy who was on a World Cup-winning roster and then purchased by a Premiership-winning club. If Philipp Tschauner struggles, Stendel has only two young, unproven keepers to whom he can turn.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

Starting on September 21, Hannover has a five-match stretch that features the four of the five best clubs from last year to not get promoted. Home matches with Karlsruher SC (7th in 2016-16) and FC St. Pauli (4th) bookend a trip to 1860 München, and then it’s trips to 1. FC Union Berlin (6th) and 1. FC Nürnberg (3rd) to round out a fairly stiff month of 2. Bundesliga play. If Hannover does not start strongly in its first five matches, those next five have the potential to put them in the position of playing catch-up less than a third of the way into the season.

Trivia

Hannover’s 13 home losses last season tied SpVgg Gruther Fürth’s 2012-13 mark for futility in one’s own stadium. Edgar Prib and Felix Klaus both have the honor of having been members of both record-setting squads.

Verdict

Hannover definitely should prove to be a contender this year, but unless young Stendel proves to be a young Christian Streich, ability-wise, the Reds will find they’ll have plenty of legitimate challengers for the primacy they seek. With 14 goals last season in helping 1. FC Nürnberg to the playoff spot, Füllkrug has proven he can be a reliable source of offense in this league, but der Club benefitted from plenty of support for their leading scorer. Finding that will dictate on which side of the third-place line Hannover falls.

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.