JUST over 40 hours after finishing a Europa League match against Dutch side FC Twente, Hannover will begin their 13th match of the 2012/2013 1. Bundesliga season at runaway leaders Bayern Munich. Admittedly, Mirko Slomka’s side were already assured of their progress to the next round of Europe’s secondary competition before Tonight’s match, but at least nine players likely to be involved at the Allianz Arena – a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Hannover – featured in the 0-0 draw with Steve McClaren’s Eredivisie outfit. Bayern, on the other hand, had their midweek European game done and dusted by Tuesday evening, as their 1-1 draw with Valencia in Spain proved enough to secure both sides’ passage to the next round of the Champions League.
The Bavarian giants come into this game eight points clear at the top of the table, with a 1. Bundesliga record of ten wins, one draw – which came last weekend in a physical state derby at Nuremberg – and a single loss, with 33 goals scored, and a mere five conceded. One aberration at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen aside, the runners-up in last season’s Champions League have won every match they’ve played at home in the league, cup and Europe so far this season. Hannover, on the other hand, come into this game with an average domestic away record. Slomka’s side have won two and lost three of the 1. Bundesliga games they’ve played on the road in the 2012/13 campaign; one of the latter results being a noteworthy 4-2 win at Stuttgart a few weeks back, where Hannover came back from 2-0 down to win 4-2.
They come into this clash in sixth spot, having lost only their second game at home since April 2011 last weekend at the hands of Freiburg. But, the so-called 96ers are 14 points behind Bayern, and just six ahead of the team in the final relegation zone spot, Fortuna Düsseldorf. Goals haven’t been a problem for either team this season, though, as Bayern are the league’s leading goalscorers, and Hannover, who have struck more than four goals in a game six times already this season (one more than Jupp Heynckes’ league-leaders, who’ve only scored a quartet of goals or more in a quintet of their games), are joint-third with 25 strikes.
Judging things on paper, no player has been more effective this season in Germany’s top flight than Thomas Müller, who has notched up seven goals and five assists. His teammate, summer signing Mario Mandžukić, has also been in red-hot form, taking advantage of Mario Gómez’s start-to-the-season-delaying injury absence. The 26-year-old has bagged nine league goals and an assist, and kept fellow summer arrival Claudio Pizarro – a fan favourite from his first spell at the club several years back – on the bench.
While the Croatian – signed for a paltry €7million from Wolfsburg – has been consistent all season, Hannover’s most effective player on paper, Szabolcs Huszti, has had a little dip in his domestic form in recent weeks following a blistering start. The Hungarian has still registered three goals and seven assists – the same number of goals but one more assist than Franck Ribéry, who has – statistics aside – probably been Heynckes’ best player so far this season.
Toni Kroos, meanwhile, has notched up four goals and three assists for Bayern Munich, while for Hannover, striker Mohammed Abdellaoue has four goals, Senegalese attacker Mame Biram Diouf has three goals and one assist (the same tally as Bayern Munich’s Luiz Gustavo), Lars Stindl has two goals and two assists, Polish striker Artur Sobiech has bagged three goals, and fellow strikers – Hannover have arguably one of the strongest forward rosters in all of European football – Jan Schlaudraff and Didier Ya Konan each have two goals and one assist.
The only ever-presents in the league for Bayern this season have been German national team goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and Brazilian centre-back Dante (who joined from Borussia Mönchengladbach over the summer). The latter, a 29-year-old yet to be capped by the Seleção Brasileira, has picked up two bookings so far this season, one less than his compatriot Gustavo, and Bastian Schweinsteiger – getting back to his best in recent weeks after finishing last season with a penalty miss in the Champions League final, and a limp semi-final exit from the European Championships with Germany. Centre-midfielder-cum-centre-back Javi Martínez, signed for €40million from Spain’s Athletic Bilbao after a protracted chase, has only made ten appearances for his new club so far this season, seven of which have come from the bench. His arrival, though, has ensured that Gustavo has been playing out of his skin; performances embellished by the 25-year-old Brazilian chipping in with a few long-range screamers.
Hannover’s Abdellaoue has been brought on as a substitute in seven of his side’s 12 1. Bundesliga games so far this season, so is just as familiar with the bench as Bayern’s Spanish international – the club’s most expensive ever signing. The only ever-present for Hannover so far this campaign has been goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, although centre-back Mario Eggimann – featuring more in the first team these days after the summer sale of Emmanuel Pogatetz to Wolfsburg – and the highly-rated Lars Stindl have only been absent for 14 and 17 minutes of Hannover’s stop-start season respectively. The latter, 24 years old and a versatile midfielder most at home on the right flank, has picked up three bookings in 1. Bundesliga so far this season – the same number as Huszti (who is the only 96er to have been red-carded so far, after picking up two bookings for one exuberant celebration back in September), but one less than centre-back Karim Haggui.
Heynckes has rotated fairly frequently in the league this season, using a total of 19 players. Although young Austrian David Alaba has come in at left-back in recent weeks, Holger Badstuber has generally played in that position this season, with Philipp Lahm on the opposite flank, and Dante and Jérôme Boateng in the centre. Heynckes most often utilises a 4-2-3-1 formation, and more often than not, Gustavo and Schweinsteiger play in the deep midfield positions behind – from right to left – Müller, Kroos, and Ribéry, and then Mandžukić leading the line. Bayern have decent strength in depth this season, with the likes of Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri, Pizarro, Rafinha, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Martínez and Daniel van Buyten – not to mention the now-returning Gómez – keeping the players in the starting line-up on their toes
Slomka, meanwhile, has veered between 4-1-3-2, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-2 systems so far this season, using a total of 20 players in the league. Since matchday two, Konstantin Rausch – who spent last season playing as a winger – has been the club’s left-back, most commonly featuring in defence alongside Haggui and Eggimann, and club-stalwart Steve Cherundolo (right-back). Ever since Danish midfielder Leon Andreasen sustained another long-term injury, having only just come back from more than a year on the sidelines, Hannover’s 45-year-old coach, who has been given a deadline of mid-December by club president Martin Kind to sign a new deal with the Lower Saxony side, has generally fielded a midfield comprising of Stindl, Huszti, Sérgio Pinto, Manuel Schmiedebach, and Schlaudraff (who either operates on the wing, or is blessed with something of a free role). With the aforementioned array of strikers at Slomka’s disposal, the former Schalke coach has chopped and changed every game, although the hard-working, goal-poaching Diouf seems the best bet to start, perhaps in a lone frontman role, as Hannover look to play the sit, absorb, and attack-from-one-end-of-the-pitch-to-the-other-in-ten-seconds tactic they’ve become renowned for in recent years.
Heynckes actually played for Hannover 86 times between 1967 and 1970, bagging a decent tally of 25 goals. Schlaudraff, meanwhile, who is undoubtedly one of Germany’s most naturally-gifted footballers, had an unsuccessful stint at Bayern Munich between 2007 and 2008: he is the only player in either squad to have represented both clubs. In the last two seasons, both sides have won their home games against one another – a record which highlights the strides Hannover have taken under Slomka, as well as the iffy period Bayern have endured these last few years. But, Hannover haven’t won at the Allianz Arena since November 2006, when a Huszti goal – the Hungarian then in his first spell with the north German club – proved the difference between the two sides.
Robben and Gustavo will both be missing from the Bayern squad this weekend due to injury, while the only players of note expected to miss out for Hannover are long-term injury victim Andreasen, and summer centre-back signing Felipe. The weather has been dry but nippy in Munich this week, and the players can expect to play in those conditions on Saturday. The referee, meanwhile, will be Felix Zwayer. The 29-year-old, who has had an average season so far, is yet to hand out a red card. Zwayer – who has officiated in two Europa League matches so far this season – was the man in the middle for Bayern’s 5-0 win at Düsseldorf in September, and also took charge of four of the Munich side’s matches last season (wins over Eintracht Braunschweig, Augsburg, Wolfsburg, and Nuremberg). The Berlin-based referee also took charge of two Hannover matches in the 2011/12 campaign; 1-1 draws with Mainz and Hamburg.
Bayern Munich against Hannover 96 kicks off on Saturday at 2.30pm (UK time), and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com