Our next opponents: Tension at the top

One last push for the big target: When Bayer 04 take on Hannover 96 on Saturday (12 May, 15.30 CET) it’s not just about picking up three points. The Werkself are looking for a win to secure a berth in the Champions League next term. Our opponents are in a much more relaxed state of mind on the pitch: Hannover have nothing left to play for. In contrast, there have been a number of managerial changes at the Lower Saxony club recently.


Any remaining fears of relegation disappeared on matchday 33. Hannover 96 took an early lead at home to Hertha Berlin at the weekend and the Lower Saxony rivals from Wolfsburg went behind early on. At the end of the day, a convincing 3-1 win confirmed this season’s newcomers were staying up. The reason it took so long to make it mathematically certain, after a more or less untroubled season, was due to a poor run of form in the early part of the year. Ahead of the match against Hertha, the team coached by André Breitenreiter had lost seven out of nine games, which led to unwanted nerves amongst the supporters once again. Now that is all over with Hannover 96 lying thirteenth in the table on 39 points ahead of the final matchday the season. 


It was the icing on the cake for an emotional farewell: In his last home game for Hannover 96, Salif Sané made it 2-0 against Hertha Berlin. He went on to enjoy the acclamation from the fans for five years as a leader and performer in the Reds’ central defence. The Senegal international is set to join Schalke 04 in the summer and his final game in a 96 shirt will be against the Werkself. On the other hand, the Lower Saxony club have been able to secure the long-term services of another regular first choice. Midfielder Pirmin Schwegler, who made his first Bundesliga appearance for Bayer 04 in 2006, extended his current contract by a further year last week. However, Schwegler will not line up against his former employer at the weekend. The Switzerland international picked up a fifth yellow card of the season against Hertha and now serves a one-match ban. Three long-term injuries Felipe, Edgar Prib and Charlison Benschoop are also ruled out of playing against the Werkself.


There are several reasons for the dip in form after hopes of qualifying for Europe at the winter break. On the one hand, Hannover 96 too often lacked the means to break down opposition defences. That is clearly indicated by Breitenreiter's team not picking up a single point after going behind since the middle of February and the Reds are bottom of the table in terms of passes. Hannover are very dangerous from set pieces and counter-attacks but they lack a real playmaker; the assists for the two sharpest strikers Martin Harnik and Niclas Füllkrug have mainly come from the wings. Moreover, there is a certain lack of consistency in defence. That was evident in the spectacular 4-4 draw with Bayer 04 when the sides met earlier in the season. That has been even more the case recently. Hanover have conceded three goals in four of the last eight games..


Horst Heldt will stay "no ifs or buts" – was the clear pronouncement from club president Martin Kind to the kicker. The situation was completely different a few weeks ago. The Lower Saxony rivals VfL Wolfsburg wanted to acquire the services of the Hannover 96 sporting director and it appeared agreement was close. The move fell through which led to disquiet amongst the management of both clubs. Kind, who is on a war footing with sections of the fans, criticised Heldt for the timing of the negotiations but in the end he did not want to let his want-away manager move on. That is easy to understand when you consider the achievements of the Heldt/Breitenreiter duo since they took over responsibility for the sporting side of the club in March. Hannover are on course to establish themselves in the mid-table of the Bundesliga. However, that does bring certain expectations; Heldt and Breitenreiter could again become the target for bigger clubs next season. Whether or not Hannover will be able to keep the two over the long term will play a large part in the sporting success of the club in the future. After years of conflict between Martin Kind and sections of the fans, Hannover 96 cannot afford any more quarrels amongst the management.


The Lower Saxony club have achieved their targets for the season as a newly promoted side with the team set to finish between eleventh and fourteenth in the Bundesliga. Of course, it will be difficult for Hanover to keep the backbone of the side in their second year in top flight. In addition to crowd favourite Sané, forward Felix Klaus is leaving the club (for Wolfsburg),and players like U21 international Waldemar Anton and striker Füllkrug (13 goals so far this season) may be difficult to hold onto. Hannover will have to rely on a policy of taking it one step at a time. That should be clear to Kind as well as to Heldt and Breitenreiter. If the trio can come together in the summer break and work constructively then there's no reason why they cannot take the club forward.



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