The international break could have been very uncomfortable for everybody involved at Hannover 96. Could have been. At the seventh attempt, Hannover 96 were the last team in Germany's top flight to secure the long-awaited first win of the season ahead of the break. The team coached by André Breitenreiter beat VfB Stuttgart 3-1 putting the Swabians bottom as they moved up to sixteenth position in the table. The Lower Saxons did not really look like a bottom of the table team. Hannover put up brave resistance to impressive opponents from Bremen, Dortmund and Leipzig, picking up a point in the games against the first two. The fact it lasted until the Stuttgart game to add to the points taken from the first two matchdays put the club management under pressure to act. However, they remained calm and did not produce any knee-jerk reactions enabling them to be happy the first three points.
Coach André Breitenreiter completely relies on tactical flexibility. That produces frequent changes of formation from playing a back four to a back three for example and, on the other hand, his expectations on the players. The best example: Striker Ihlas Bebou was the front man in the 4-1 defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt but in the game against Stuttgart a week later he played as a wing back in a 3-4-3 formation – with success: In his usual role, the Togo international rounded off the scoring in the 3-1 win. In addition to Bebou, Breitenreiter, in spite of all the flexibility and frequent rotation, has a trio that forms an indispensable central spine of the team. On the one hand there is central defender Waldemar Anton (in photo above), currently the youngest captain in the Bundesliga at the age of 22, plus midfielder Walace, who recently made his third appearance for Brazil following impressive performances for Hannover, and the striker Niclas Füllkrug, last season third highest goalscorer alongside Kevin Volland and Mark Uth Dritter. In the win against Stuttgart, not mainly due to Füllkrug for a change, it was his strike partner Bobby Wood who was centre stage. The American, on loan from Hamburg, scored the first two goals against the Swabians – equalling his total for HSV for the whole of last season.
A look at the goals difference quickly reveals the problem area for Hannover 96: With 14 goals against from seven games, the Lower Saxons have conceded the most goals in the Bundesliga. That is partly due to the attacking approach that Breitenreiter has instilled in his team , which has made him popular at Hannover and further afield with exciting matches like last season's 4-4 draw against Bayer 04. On the other hand, Breitenreiter also appears to have problems in finding a second reliable central defender to play alongside captain Anton. The former FC Köln player Kevin Wimmer, on loan from the Premier League, as well as new signing Josip Elez and the Brazilian Felipe have failed to produce consistent performances up to now. Homegrown player Timo Hübers, a whizz kid at the end of last season in central defence, suffered a torn cruciate in the pre-season, and he will be unable to help out in that position at least for the first half of the campaign.
As quiet as the international break was at Hannover from a sporting perspective – the future structure of the club continues to provoke discussion. At the end of September, the club made changes to their status as a company and entered them in the commercial register. That drew the attention of the DFL, who feared the new regulations would reduce the company rights of the management club, which is forbidden in the DFL statutes. The parent association has been in constant contact with the Lower Saxons and they have emphasised the obligation to adhere to the statutes in all points. Whether or not it comes to conflict with the DFL: The restructure of the club, primarily driven by the club boss Martin Kind, will continue to dominate the headlines in Hanover for a while yet – and, at the end of the day, will show the direction of travel at Hannover on the pitch.
In the opening games of the season, Hannover 96 were frequently below par. The team definitely has the potential and also the quality to finish the season higher than sixteenth and again occupy a secure position in mid-table. The sticking point: The defence urgently needs to be more solid otherwise the Lower Saxons could end up in a relegation battle. On the other hand, if Breitenreiter is able to bring consistency to his defence then Hannover should definitely stay up.
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