The decline in fortune was turned round in record time. Hannover 96 ended the 2015/16 season bottom of the Bundesliga that meant relegation to the second division after 14 seasons in the top flight. Following immediate promotion, the Reds are back to where they spent most of the past 14 years – mid-table in the Bundesliga. After six wins and six defeats, Hannover are tenth in the league. A position that people in the Lower Saxony state capital can be very happy with – above all favoured by an impressive record in the second 45 minutes of games this term. Hannover have netted 16 of their 20 goals this season in the second half and that represents the best return of any of the teams in the league after the restart.
Not only are Hannover 96 back but so is André Breitenreiter – and that in two senses. In May 2016, when Hanover were relegated from the Bundesliga, Breitenreiter was forced to bow out as coach at Schalke 04 in spite of finishing fifth in the Bundesliga. In March of this year, the head coach returned to the club of his youth Hannover 96 where he led the team back to Germany's top flight with a run of 16 games without defeat after he took over the helm. Breitenreiter often varies his line-up according to the opponents and match situation, and has his team capable of playing different systems – of course, not without indispensable mainstays such as key player Salif Sané (pictured above) in central defence and the striking duo of Martin Harnik and Niklas Füllkrug, who have scored 10 of the 20 goals this season. A good return that is also badly needed as the Brazilian Jonathas, brought in as a new goal-getter in the summer, has been sidelined for weeks and is only expected to be an option for Breitenreiter in the second half of the season. For one of the other key players in the Hannover line-up, Sunday's game represents an encounter with the past: Playmaker Pirmin Schwegler made his Bundesliga debut in a Bayer 04 shirt and went on to make 60 appearances for Leverkusen between 2006 and 2009. The Swiss midfielder joined Hannover 96 in the summer and is available for the match against the Werkself after serving a one-match ban.
Schwegler often has to act on his own as the distributor in midfield as the regular captain Edgar Prib has missed most of the season with a torn cruciate. This is not the only position where Breitenreiter is lacking alternatives when established players are sidelined. Both in central defence and in attack it is currently scarcely possible to compensate for absentees. One reason why the coach has recently called for new signings in the winter break: "We are missing people. We need to have competition for places and that means bringing in new players." It could well be that the management led by general manager Horst Heldt will be on the lookout for a creative player in attacking midfield.
However happy Hannover 96 supporters are with the team's performances on the pitch at the moment, some of them are concerned about the future of the club. President Martin Kind is looking to make use of an exemption from the 50+1 rule and acquire a majority of the votes at Hannover 96. The development has been criticised by certain sections of the fans but it could have a successful impact in terms of sporting success. By taking over the club, Kind is looking to open the way for potential investors to make the club more competitive and make full use of future potential. Whether his plans succeed and leads to desired success will be closely watched by all football fans in Germany.
As a newly promoted club, Hannover 96 will do well to focus completely on staying up. The team have established a solid base in the first half of the season and are already seven points ahead of the play-off position. If Harnik, Sané & Co. continue to perform as consistently in the second half of the season then the team from Lower Saxony will probably return to the position at the end of this campaign where they were before relegation. Ten of the fourteen seasons between 2002 and 2016 ended with the Reds between positions seven and thirteen in the table. That appears to be realistic again this season and it would make everybody involved in the Lower Saxony capital happy.
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