Two of the Bundesliga’s best strikers made their mark as Hannover and Freiburg played out a 1-1 draw that keeps the latter in the relegation zone. For nearly 70 minutes, it had looked as though the class of Mohammed Abdellaoue was going to settle a not particularly memorable tie in the visitors’ favour. They were the better team in the first half, and took the lead through an own goal after great work by the Norwegian international. Yet, despite demonstrating on a number of occasions that they offered more edge, technical ability, penetration and pace than Freiburg, Hannover – in an unusual-for-them 4-3-1-2 system – still had to endure one or two nervy moments. Nevertheless, Mirko Slomka’s centre-back pairing of Karim Haggui and Emmanuel Pogatetz did a fantastic job of nullifying dangerman Papiss Demba Cissé on the whole, keeping Freiburg’s chances to a bare minimum. However, it was the same two defenders who were at fault positionally for Freiburg’s equalizer, failing to step out quickly enough, thereby allowing Cissé to head home the sort of chance he never misses. The hosts then finished the match as the stronger of the two teams, but Hannover defended solidly, ensuring they took at least a point having squandered the other two.
Hannover instantly attacked down the left-hand side, looking to exploit Freiburg’s inexperienced right-back Jonathan Schmid (who was standing in for the injured Mensur Mujdža). Some slick one-two football allowed the visitors to get a few balls into the box, but Freiburg sat deep, defended doggedly, and weathered the – slight – early storm. However, when the home side got the chance to take the ball down in the midfield in the fourth minute, Hannover’s banks stood high, eliminated the corridors, and barely had to press – the lack of room in itself was enough to break the hosts’ moves down.
One minute later, though, Freiburg were a bit less predictable. Veering infield with the ball, Julian Schuster delayed making a pass so as to wait for Schmid to make the disguised overlap. The Frenchman duly obliged, but his cross was just about nicked off the head of the back post-lurking Cédric Makiadi by an agile Haggui. Holding possession and attacking was seemingly infectious, because Sorg’s side continued to do it as we neared the ten-minute mark. Unfortunately for them, at least three moves broke down when the linesman flagged for offside – Hannover’s back-four stepping up in unison each and every time.
Despite many expecting him to stand by Hannover’s de facto 4-4-2, with Didier Ya Konan on the right, Slomka elected to play a 4-3-1-2 system at the Dreisamstadion, with Jan Schlaudraff in the hole. The reason Freiburg had grown into a position where they could get hold of the ball and reach the final-third at will, however, was because Hannover had no midfield width. Although the full-backs – standing high anyway with the centre-backs, as is Slomka’s wont – could hound their opposite number when Freiburg robbed their guests of the ball, generally, it was far easier and quicker for the hosts to get more bodies onto the flank. Nevertheless, the game’s first real chance fell to Abdellaoue in the 14th minute, when, after one of the away side’s lightening-quick breaks was broken down, Hannover managed to regain possession, and fed the Norwegian through the left-hand side of the box. Despite taking his left-footed shot first-time and from a decent angle, the ball whistled over Oliver Baumann’s bar.
Spurred on by the chance, Hannover began to grow back into that position of authority they had held during the game’s opening stages. They pressed higher and harder, the strikers taking it in turns to pressurise whichever of Freiburg’s midfield men had the ball. Despite the visitors looking far more comfortable and technically-gifted on the ball than the home side, Sorg’s players were well-organised and looked at ease sitting off and narrowing and widening their banks in response to Hannover’s swift flank-to-flank passing tactics. The away side had to work hard to get the ball into the final-third, because Sérgio Pinto being closely guarded by either Cissé or Makiadi. As a result of this, Schlaudraff often dropped back to get the ball; and, as a result of the lack of width, either Ya Konan or Abdellaoue moved out onto the wings to offer the man on the ball a passing option. With the movement of both ball and man good, Hannover had no trouble in reaching the final-third. However, when a cross was eventually put into the box, there weren’t enough players there to meet it.
As we neared the 25-minute mark, although Hannover had improved, Freiburg were still occasionally forcing their way towards Ron-Robert Zieler’s goal. Forcing is the key word here, because, despite their occasional attempts to play some pass-and-move football, Sorg’s players weren’t good enough to pull it off. So, they had to resort to getting Cissé to hold the ball up and lay it off, or just running at their guests with determination being the primary ingredient.
Christian Schulz was heavily involved in the opening half-hour, using his experience to either get by Schmid, or stop him in his tracks. However, after stumbling over the ball on one of his own forays forward, Stefan Reisinger had the chance to exploit the hole Schulz had left. But, his run was slow and ponderous, and despite Reisinger nearly reaching the edge of the box, Hannover had been given time to regain some semblance of defensive shape, and Manuel Schmiedebach the chance to get across and make the tactical foul. But, the home side had the free-kick, and very nearly with it the lead. Schuster curled the effort towards the penalty spot, but the ball somehow evaded everyone in the huddle. Standing a few yards off the back post was Heiko Butscher, primed to fire home the loose ball. The centre-back didn’t get his moment of glory, though, because several Hannover players did well to block the effort on the line.
Unfortunately for Slomka, Schmiedebach injured himself in the process of making the aforementioned tackle. He was replaced by Konstantin Rausch, who, despite normally playing at left-midfield or left-back, moved into the right-sided centre-midfield slot of Slomka’s 4-3-1-2. The five minutes played after Rausch’s arrival were immensely enjoyable; end-to-end play characterised by great last-ditch defending at either end, positive mindsets and hard work. A foul by Abdellaoue and the subsequent ticking-off from referee Dr Jochen Drees seemed to calm things down, however, with the punted-upfield free-kick which followed being easily guided towards Zieler by Haggui and Pogatetz. With three forwards – compared to Freiburg’s one – bobbing about whenever Zieler hoofed a ball up the pitch, Hannover actually created some of their better openings via Route One tactics. With the tall and strong Abdellaoue there to flick it on, Ya Konan and Schlaudraff timed pacy runs to perfection to get on the end of the knock-downs and in behind the hosts’ defence. But, despite one or two inviting squares, the territory and opportunities came to nought.
Between the 35th and 40th minute, both Cissé and Abdellaoue – two of the Bundesliga’s sharpest shooters with eight goals each coming into this game – caused trouble at the heart of the opposing defence. First, Cissé was fed to the right of the D, only to have his attempt to drop a shoulder and cut inside Pogatetz foiled by the Austrian’s slide. Moments later, Abdellaoue was far cleverer, cutting inside Pavel Krmaš only to be hauled back by the Czech defender. Drees, surprisingly, waved play on. The first half looked as though it was petering to a close, but not before Hannover had two chances to take the lead through Schlaudraff. However, in the 44th minute, the visitors did make it 1-0 – Abdellaoue again getting inside Krmaš, this time thanks to a great turn of pace, and seeing his square which put a chance on a plate for Ya Konan being turned into his own net before the ball got to the Ivory Coast international by the helpless Felix Bastians. That was the last action of the first half, and no doubt next to Sorg’s seat in the dugout during the interval would have been a screwed-up sheet of paper containing the recently-penned, now not-needed 0-0-at-half-time team talk.
Hannover’s tactical discipline hadn’t diminished at all over the course of the break, as they came out and imposed themselves on the hosts during the opening five minutes of the second half. Their desire to stand high was instilled with a confidence and understanding that made the plan even more deadly – Freiburg, ultimately, had no choice but to be dictated to. And, Slomka’s positive and forceful tactics not only helped facilitate a steady stream of possession for the visitors, but also meant that Freiburg, who were already looking sapped of energy and ideas, were forced into playing easily-guarded long balls over the top. As we approached the 55-minute mark, it was still Hannover doing all of the running, and there was far and away more desire from the visitors to give the contest its second goal.
Yet, despite ten minutes solid of being on top, Hannover couldn’t add to their tally. As we reached the hour mark, Freiburg had started to creep back into proceedings. However, despite two clever one-two moves resulting in return passes behind the Hannover back-four, Steve Cherundolo and Haggui showed great pace, power and determination to overcome the odds and get to the ball first and clear the danger. These moments illustrated that perhaps Hannover also now had the upper-hand in the determination stakes – a coup to go with the ones the away side had already secured in the energy and technical ability departments. Despite there being just under 30 minutes to play, the game, at this stage, looked as good as done.
Of course, Hannover still needed a second goal, though. They had a great chance to get it in the 64th minute, but that aforementioned midfield width problem came to the fore again. This time, Ya Konan collected the ball on the right chalk, and with Schlaudraff holding a position out on the left and Abdellaoue not making a six-yard box dart, the Ivorian’s square across the six-yard box went to waste. Two minutes later, it looked like the away side’s attackers might be made to pay. Stepping in off the left strip of chalk about 30 or so yards from goal, Anton Putsila’s right-footed powerbolt swerved this way and that, before Zieler felt comfortable enough in choosing where to dive and parry the ball away. With this chance – compounded by the fact that the away side were also totting up their foul count – increasing the noise among home fans, Freiburg grew into a position where they were now doing the running, with Hannover gradually starting to camp in and around Zieler’s box.
And, the visitors paid the price for sitting off in the 69th minute. With a couple of Freiburg players bobbing about and exchanging short passes just off the right-hand side of the box, Hannover forgot themselves and allowed their formation to become lop-sided. Thus, when Johannes Flum scooped a ball towards the left-hand side of the six-yard box, Cissé was there all alone. Why? Because Cherundolo had stepped up to play offside, not realising that his centre-back colleagues had stepped out later than him, thereby playing the Senegal striker onside. Under no pressure, the supposed Bayern Munich target placed a perfectly-weighted header beyond Zieler for 1-1!
Hannover began to look defensively sound again thereafter, making Freiburg’s goal – despite the class shown by Cissé in reading the line and burying the chance – look like an aberration. There was more zip and incision to Freiburg’s play in the closing stages of the match, but Hannover were back to using all their experience, intelligence, height and muscle to keep Zieler relatively untroubled. But, Freiburg just on coming and coming, with the resurgent Putsila at the heart of pretty much everything quick and slick. Only Zieler’s point-blank stop from Cissé’s 84th minute header stopped the home side from taking the lead, and, one minute later, Sorg stepped it up another notch by replacing Reisinger – who had spent the last five minutes in a 4-4-2 alongside Cissé, with Makiadi on the right-hand side of midfield – with last weekend’s goal hero Garra Dembélé.
Several other substitutes from both benches joined the Malian striker on the pitch, but none of them could make an impact. Although Freiburg spent most of the final five minutes attacking, it would be incorrect to say Hannover held on, as they looked as comfortable as any side could be when having the proverbial kitchen sink thrown at them. Over the course of the 90 minutes, a draw probably was a fair result, but Slomka will be ruing that one lapse in concentration that arguably cost his side all three points. His side host Bayer Leverkusen next Saturday, while Freiburg travel to Volker Finke’s current club, Cologne.