The final match of the Bundesliga’s third round of fixtures sees last season’s 2. Bundesliga champions travel to in-form Hannover. The last time these sides met,a top-flight clash in January 2010, Hertha Berlin came away from the AWD-Arena with a 3-0 victory. Given their patchy start to the new season, a repeat of that scoreline looks highly unlikely. However, you wouldn’t rule out Markus Babbel’s men taking all three points, as Hannover put in a heroic and draining shift on Thursday night to defeat Sevilla in the Europa League.
Mirko Slomka’s side were outstanding against their more illustrious Spanish opponents. Jan Schlaudraff, in particular, was unplayable; his energy, intelligence and determination was just too much for the Sevilla defence too handle. Left-winger Konstantin Rausch was equally imperious, although every man in maroon did his job that night against a technically more accomplished side with world class players such as Jesús Navas. Slomka might make changes from the team that defeated Sevilla for the game against Hertha today, however, although the coach insists that he has the squad to handle fighting on two fronts. “The lads will be able to cope with the double burden – this is why we expanded our squad during the summer,” said Slomka, adding: “This game means a lot to us as it enables us to build on our points tally.”
The additions the former Schalke coach is referring to include Christian Pander, signed from the Gelsenkirchen outfit, and midfielder Henning Hauger, signed from Stabæk. The only players to depart during the summer were fringe players, so Slomka has generally been sticking with the same side that finished fourth in 2010/11 – to great effect. Four wins from four games, Hannover started by thrashing Anker Wismar 6-0 in the cup, before beating all of Hoffenheim, Nuremberg and Sevilla by two goals to one. Didier Ya Konan is now near-enough back to full fitness, and could replace either Schlaudraff or Mohammed Abdellaoue up front in the coach’s favoured and stereotypically 1990s English 4-4-2 today. Two players definitely out, though, are Leon Andreasen, and Portuguese winger Carlitos.
Slomka is full of admiration for his side’s latest opponents: “Hertha have an impressive scoring rate and high quality attackers,” he said. The Berlin coach, Babbel, returned the club-to-club compliments, noting: “Hannover have built on their strength from last season and have gelled more as a team and are more self-confident.” However, the former Liverpool defender shares Slomka’s admiration for the strikers at Hertha, as he told his club’s fans: “We are going to Hannover to win.”
If Hertha play anything like they did on the opening day, a 1-0 defeat at home to Nuremberg, they don’t stand a chance of beating Hannover. However, they recovered to draw 2-2 away at Hamburg last week (maintaining their brilliant 2011 away record of zero defeats), and will travel to the AWD-Arena with a nigh-on fully-fit squad – goalkeeper Thomas Kraft did sustain a knock in training on Thursday, but will be fit enough to play, meaning that the only absentees will be defenders Nico Schulz and Roman Hubník.
Nevertheless, Babbel still has a job on his hands in incorporating new signings such Tunay Torun. The winger, who joined from Hamburg, is one of several strong additions to a 2. Bundesliga-winning squad. And, not only was Torun acquired on a free transfer, but so were Maik Franz (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Bayern Munich duo Andreas Ottl and Kraft – the former of whom can do a job at this level, and the latter of whom might just shine away from the spotlight of Bayern Munich and the politics of a maniacal Dutch coach. But, with René Adler out injured for the next two months, Jogi Löw won’t just be watching this game to see how Kraft fares between the sticks – alongside Mönchengladbach man Marc-André ter Stegen, Hannover’s former Manchester United rookie Ron-Robert Zieler is the hottest young goalkeeping property in Germany right now.
Hannover vs Hertha Berlin kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK, and can be watched live on Bet365.com. Refereeing the game, his first in the Bundesliga this season, will be Robert Hartmann.