The main goal for any newly promoted side to the Bundesliga is to consolidate your position and ensure you remain in the top flight for another season in order to push on and develop. On that basis Hannover can be very pleased with the 2017-18 campaign and will now already be turning their attentions to next season.
Their 13th place finish at first glance looks respectable, but die Roten didn’t actually achieve mathematical safety until the penultimate game of the season, which saw them beat Hertha Berlin.
A good start was always going to be important and that is exactly what they got. Carrying the momentum forward from their promotion, Hannover went unbeaten in their opening six games including three wins from their first four matches. When they beat Hamburg in the Friday night game which kicked off matchday 4, the Niedersachsen side actually topped the table for a few hours- the first time they had done so since August 1969!
It wasn’t until matchday 7 that Andre Breitenreiter tasted defeat in the Bundesliga and then it was only after VAR had awarded Borussia Mönchengladbach a 94th penalty in their clash at the Borussia Park. They would lose a further four times in the Hinrunde, but carried on picking up important points beating both Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim in the process.
The start of the Rückrunde saw points harder to come by and they garnered only two wins (9 points) in their first ten games compared to five wins (18 points) in the Hinrunde. A particularly abysmal run saw them lose five games in succession and in danger of being sucked down, but wins over Werder Bremen, Hertha Berlin and a point against Stuttgart proved enough.
Their first season back in the top flight was marred a little by the continuing fractious relationship between the club’s fans and the owner Martin Kind. Kind’s on-going efforts to circumvent the Bundesliga’s 50+1 rule have not gone down well with the fan and the ‘Kind Out’ banners are seemingly an ever-present fixture now at home games.
An average attendance of 42,008 filled the HDI Arena (the 10th highest average in the Bundesliga), but the stadium only sold-out on six of the club’s seventeen home games.
The hugely positive start to the season was a high and at least fans could enjoy sitting in first position even it was only for a matter of hours. That sort of thing doesn’t happen too often for Hannover fans and they’ll probably have to wait another 48 years for it to happen again.
With regards single matches providing high points, two games in particular stand-out. Their matchday 10 victory over Borussia Dortmund did come at a time when the Schwarzgelben were on a downward spiral, but the way Hannover played and the manner of their win was impressive nonetheless
Togolese striker Ihlas Bebou was the hero of the day scoring twice to help Hannover to a 4-2 victory. The 23-year-old finished off a great counter attack five minutes before half time to restore Hannover’s lead after Dan-Axel Zagadou had cancelled out Jonathas’ opener.
Then in the 86th minute with BVB chasing an equaliser at 2-2, Bebou was once again the man on the spot to fire home as Hannover once more countered Dortmund at pace. Racing from just inside his own half, the forward took his chance brilliantly. It was his first career brace and his first goals since matchday 4 when he scored against Hamburg.
The final game of the Hinrunde produced one of the best games of the entire season as they shared eight goals with Bayer Leverkusen at the HDI Arena in a thrilling 4-4 draw.
The home side conceded in the 11th minute only to see Bebou equalise instantly. Niclas Füllkrug gave them the lead from the penalty spot only for Mehmedi to square things four minutes later. Felix Klaus ended the first half scoring right on the whistle sending Hannover in 3-2 up.
The arrival of Leon Bailey as a second half substitute seemed to have turned the game in the Werkself’s favour after he scored a brace to see Leverkusen lead 4-3, but Hannover were not done, and Julian Korb’s 83rd minute equaliser capped a fine match which saw eight goals shared.
The lowpoint in Hannover’s season came midway through the Rückrunde, when their form deserted them and they went on a poor run of five consecutive defeats. 1-0 defeats to Mönchengladbach and Frankfurt were followed by a 3-1 home defeat to Augsburg. Dortmund then gained revenge at the Signal Iduna Park with a 1-0 win before a five goal thriller with RB Leipzig ended with Hannover on the wrong end of a 3-2 loss.
The dip in form and absence of points saw the Hannoveraner sucked towards the bottom three and meant that ultimate safety wasn’t achieved until the penultimate week of the season. Squeaky bum time in Niedersachsen.
Hannover scored 44 goals giving them an average of 1.3 per game. Scoring wasn’t really the issue this season, rather the ability to keep the opposition out. When you consider Stuttgart finished 7th just outside the European places having scored just 36, Hannover’s tally looks respectable to say the least.
Niclas Füllkrug, who was an ever-present, led the way with 14 goals, while leading scorer from their promotion season Martin Harnik had to settle for a back-up role following injuries but still scored 9 goals. The highlight for Füllkrug came on matchday 18 with his hat trick helping Hannover come back from 2-0 down at home to Mainz to win 3-2.
All five of Ihlas Bebou’s goals came in the Hinrunde (two against Dortmund), while Brazilian Jonathas only scored three having missed two-thirds of the season through injury.
61% of their goals came from open play with 17 of their 44 goals arriving via a set-piece. Their attack produced an average of 12.8 shots per game with 4.3 on target.
Andre Breitenreiter’s adaptable defensive system which predominantly had a back three with two wing backs to make it a five when necessary conceded 54 goals, which was one more than relegated Hamburg.
Salif Sané was the central cog with Waldemar Anton and Oliver Sorg his usual partners. The wing back positions were occupied by the likes of Julian Korb and Matthias Ostrzolek. Set-pieces accounted for 21 (39%) of their 54 goals conceded, which considering the presence of Sané (1.94m) and Anton (1.89m) would be disappointing reading for the coach.
Of the goals from open-play conceded 18 out of 33 (33%) came through the centre rather than from the wings showing a soft centre to the Hannover defensive line.
There was also a worrying trend of switching off and conceding goals later in games. Twelve goals were conceded in the final 15 minutes with seven actually scored in the final five minutes or injury time.
The really was a dearth of goals and creativity from the Hannover midfield this season. Felix Klaus scored four, while Pirmin Schwegler provided six assists, but beyond that, there wasn’t much to shout about. Schwegler also provided the muscle in the centre of the park as his ten yellow cards show. He was the side’s top tackler and was up there alongside Sané for passes averaging 50 per 90 minutes with an 81% accuracy.
The deployment of Ihlas Bebou out wide paid dividends in the first half of the season and overall he led the side for dribbles (averaging six per game) and key passes (30 in total with a 53% accuracy rate). His impact however waned in the Rückrunde.
Improvement for Next Season
So Hannover survived the baptism of their return to the Bundesliga, but improvements are clearly going to be required if they are not to suffer from second-season syndrome and a fight against a return to the second tier.
The squad and especially the defence will need strengthening following the departure of key-man Salif Sané. The ability to keep the opposition out was tough enough without the rock he provided, and finding a replacement will be of paramount importance.
An injection of creativity would also be welcome, and again this is even more vital now that Felix Klaus has departed to Wolfsburg.
Transfer Review/ Preview
The loss of Salif Sané to Schalke is understandable after the impressive season he had, but his departure leaves a massive hole to fill and it will seem unlikely than a like-for-like replacement will be found. There has been talk of Kevin Wimmer returning to the Bundesliga from his unsatisfactory spell in the Premier League and Hannover are being linked.
Felix Klaus will depart to Wolfsburg, which depletes the quality of the side even more. What effect the potential departure of manager Horst Heldt to Wolfsburg will have on future transfer business is unknown, but Hannover currently, with all its off-field politics, may be a club few players want to move to.
Player of the Season
There would be a valid case to argue for either Niclas Füllkrug, or Waldemar Anton to get the award, but the stand-out player, who was literally head and shoulders above the rest, has to be defender Salif Sané.
The colossus will be virtually impossible to replace now that Schalke have taken him to Gelsenkirchen to become Naldo’s heir.
He was way out in front for Hannover in passing stats with 1857 across the season (Pirmin Schwegler was second on 1348) with an 85% accuracy. He was the go-to-guy in Hannover’s build-up from the back with the top four most frequent pass combinations involving him.
He made the most defensive challenges, was second for aerial challenges and managed to get himself on the scoresheet four times this season.
He was however involved in 17 mistakes, which led to opposition goals. Schalke’s gain is very much Hannover’s massive loss.
Hannover fans probably got what they expected this season with a few highs, a few lows, and a nervous battle to see whether they would survive. They did survive so the club can be pleased with their first season back.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the goals of Füllkrug and Harnik combined with the presence of Sané and the guidance of Andre Breitenreiter proved enough. Next season though looks set to be an even tougher ask for die Roten, but for this season it is a case of ‘mission accomplished’.
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