Mönchengladbach – The Matchday 26 action winds to a close at the Borussia Park, where Borussia Mönchengladbach host Hannover 96 on Sunday evening (kick-off: 17.30 CET).
Separated by just one place in the table and having both tasted European football this season, this is one encounter where the sides could hardly be more evenly matched. “We still have to play a lot of teams who have similar objectives to us”, said Gladbach head coach Lucien Favre at the pre-match press conference: “Hannover are one of them.”
Both clubs exited the UEFA Europa League at the last 32 stage recently, but each hopes to secure a return to the competition next season. For Hannover, qualification would cement their place as one of the league’s most improving sides and a third successive appearance in Europe after a previous19-year absence.
The same can be said for Gladbach, who have more than enjoyed their first campaign in Europe since the 1996/97 season. After ending last season in 4th place, an equally strong finish to the season is their aim. The challenge of overcoming Hannover was clear to Favre, though. "We have to play this cleverly. They have huge potential in attack."
Last season, Hannover reached the quarter-finals in the Europa League and still managed to finish among the top seven in the league. This season, however, they have had rather more difficulty adapting to the extra fixture burden and their domestic consistency has suffered. They have not won back-to-back league games in the Bundesliga since November and their last three fixtures have yielded a 5-1 win, a 3-1 defeat and a 0-0 draw.
Despite the inconsistency, however, the Reds are confident they can finish strongly. “We would like to be able to see our names in the hat for next season’s [Europa League] draw”, said Slomka. “That’s why games like these are so important for us to get three points.”
Favre’s men have shared the points eleven times in their 25 Bundesliga matches this season, making themselves the division's ‘draw specialists.' Yet they will be buoyed their last encounter against the 96ers. Trailing 2-0 in the AWD-Arena last October, the Foals hit back with three second-half goals to end an unbeaten home run that had stretched back 13 months for the Lower Saxony outfit.
However, Hannover may well have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Didier Ya Konan. The Ivorian striker has scored five in seven games against Borussia, more than against any other side in the top flight.
Borussia Mönchengladbach: ter Stegen - Jantschke, Domínguez, Stranzl, Wendt - Marx, Nordtveit - Herrmann, Arango - Younes, de Jong
Hannover 96: Zieler - Chahed, Djourou, Schulz, Pocognoli - da Silva Pinto, Hoffmann - Ya Konan, Pander - Diouf, Abdellaoue