Hannover pulled off one of the great upsets in recent memory by eliminating Sevilla and qualifying for the Europa League group stage. It is the first time in 18 years that Hannover will be participating in European competition and they did so by believing in and executing their system to perfection. It was a scrappy card-laden match but a disciplined performance by Hannover. Sevilla wasted several chances and became more nervous as the match progressed, ultimately failing to match the strong and well oiled system in place at Hannover.
Slomka, very much a believer of consistency, started the same eleven that beat Sevilla in the first leg and that drew against Hertha Berlin this past weekend in the Bundesliga. A fit Ya Konan was left on the bench, a possible game going into this match but indicative of the trust and confidence Slomka has instilled in this squad since taking over. Sevilla coach Marcelino on the other hand made three changes, starting Alexis, Medel and Perotti instead of Spahic, Armenteros and Fazio.
Over the years and in their back-to-back UEFA Cup wins, Sevilla became known for their potent counter attacking football, quick on the break and deadly in front of goal. Similarly, that is the image Slomka has fashioned his side after since taking over, just one of the many reasons why this tie was so engaging.
First half – Hannover firm in their approach
Hannover’s counter attacking system has benefited them tremendously over the last couple of months but many questioned it against an attacki minded and dangerous side like Sevilla. Despite a counter attacking moniker of their own, the Spaniards came into this match a more balanced, technical and experienced side and sitting back and defending the 2-1 goal lead could have very much blown up in their faces. Slomka stood firm however and instructed his side to keep on doing what they have been doing so far and even managed to take the lead by doing so.
Prior to that though they had to survive early scares with Kanoute missing two clear chances in the 5th and 6th minute. Kanoute continued to look threatening and even Trochowski had a shot on goal in the 15th minute because of the striker’s clever movement. The Mali striker’s propensity to drop back posed the biggest challenge to Hannover early on. His experience and intelligent running pulled Pogatetz and Haggui out of defense and preoccupied Pinto and Schmiedebach. That in turn gave a lot of space to Sevilla’s wide players, Navas and Perotti while former Bundesliga player Trochowski now had the space and time to come forward more.
Despite Sevilla’s early chances, it was the visitors that scored first. Hannover’s goal came in typical fashion, a run down the left flank by Rausch and a precise cross into the box, which Abdellaoue read to perfection, timing his run past the Sevilla defender to touch it past Palop. Practiced on the training pitch, executed to perfection in the match. It was counter attacking that even Sevilla would have been proud of. The lead did not last too long though and Sevilla began to emphasize attacks down the flanks more and more as the half progressed. Sevilla eventually got the equalizer eight minutes before the break when a Perotti cross from the left was not cleared properly by Pogatetz, instead deflecting it into his own net.
Hannover were unfortunate to concede the equalizer after a good defensive performance in the first 45 minutes and they played their patient counter attacking game well. Their passes were precise going forward and they looked composed for the most part. Kanoute’s presence was troubling though as the striker continued to carve out chances for his team even after the equalizer and the pressure mounted from the flanks.
Second Half – Sevilla increase pressure
Trochowski to Perotti was a common combination in the first half. The former German international, playing in the center of the pitch with Sevilla as opposed to out wide in his time in the Bundesliga, continuously sought out Perotti on the left. The reason was apparent. Sevilla looked most threatening down Hannover’s right side with Perotti vs. Cherundolo always looking the most likely to produce clear cut chances for the Spaniards. The hosts looked much more in control in the second half, pinning back Hannover and continuing to press them while moving the ball out wide. The pressure down the flanks eventually got Hannover’s fullbacks, Schulz and Cherundolo booked and it looked like Sevilla were now completely geared to run at the the two players for the remainder of the game, amassing over 30 crosses by the end of the match.
Escude had a great chance on 56 minutes after a free kick was floated into the box and the Frenchman found himself unmarked, his header just going wide. Hannover were now playing with fire, content to sit back and absorb the pressure rather than take the initiative they did in the first half by sending the ball forward more. Their counter attacking strategy had worked well so far but with various players booked and Sevilla’s pace it seemed a risky approach. It was increasingly becoming a case of Hannover keeper Zieler having to bail his team out, making a crucial save against Negredo on 60 minutes. The rest of the team became visibly more nervous with each passing minute. A lot of sloppy passes and runs were made when Hannover did get a hold of the ball and as such most of their attacks broke down before they even approached the final third but their keeper’s fine form ensured they stayed in the match.
Sevilla looked to make their 65% possession count and sent on Del Moral for Negredo after the hour mark, a fast striker who is comfortable drifting and playing from the flanks, an indicator that Sevilla coach was very much aware of what Hannover’s weak spots had been so far. The pressure continued but Hannover remained steadfast in their defending. Slomka deserves credit for sticking to his principles and never compromising them no matter how dire the situation looked. He was vindicated in the 75h minute when his side launched another good counter attack. This time Schlaudraff was played through on goal. An onrushing Palop came for the ball and got Schlaudraff’s legs instead. Surprisingly all referees missed what was an obvious penalty, a call that would undoubtedly be a talking point would Sevilla advance.
The game became increasingly scrappier after the incident and a lot of fouls were being committed in both frustration and fatigue. As time ran down the hosts now looked the more frustrated side, giving Hannover the impetus to sneak another goal. The Germans got into another good scoring chance minutes later when Rausch was played through past Sevilla’s defense only to pass it into the arms of Palop, an open Abdellaou standing just meters next to him. With only 10 minutes remaining 18-year old Campana was brought on for a tired Trochowski and the more attack oriented Fazio came in for Alexis. Sevilla were primed to go all out attack. Slomka cleverly reserved his substations for the end of the match though, bringing Ya Konan on for Abdellaoue and Pander for Rausch, taking more time off the clock by doing so, interrupting any momentum Sevilla was able to build and effectively seeing out the game.
Hannover completed one of the biggest upsets in recent German football history, eliminating two time UEFA Cup winners and one of the favorites for the competition. It was an industrious performance by Slomka’s men and one that was earned the hard way but thoroughly deserved in the end. Hannover stuck to their game plan for all 180 minutes, defended well and kept their heads better than their opponents. They made the most of their opportunities and were even unlucky not to win the match. The win is just another testament to the great work of Mirko Slomka.
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