Hannover may be one step ahead of Stuttgart in the UEFA Europa League, having already wrapped up qualification for the knockout stages, but domestically there is very little to choose between the teams. Just one point separates them in the table and they both boast a striker at the very top his game.
Stuttgart’s group stage win over FC Kobenhavn was the latest result in an encouraging run of form for the Swabians. They are unbeaten in nine matches, and confidence levels will be high after their last league outing, when they shut out defending champions Borussia Dortmund at the intimidating Signal Iduna Park to earn a hard-fought draw.
Key to that excellent run has been the form of striker Vedad Ibisevic. Signed from local rivals Hoffenheim in January, the Bosnia-Herzegovina international has scored 20 goals for Stuttgart in just 32 appearances, including 13 in the Bundesliga, and was on target again in Denmark on Thursday evening. The 28-year-old has also notched twice in the Bundesliga against Hannover and, in this purple patch, more could well be on the cards.
In his pre-match press conference, VfB’s sporting director Fredi Bobic commended the work done at this weekend's opponents Hannover, but also reserved special praise for his counterpart Jörg Schmadtke, saying he had "bought very well." And indeed he has. During his tenure with the Reds to date, Schmadtke has consistently brought in quality to improve the squad, and one his greatest acquisitions is Mame Diouf, Hannover's very own answer to Ibisevic.
The 23-year-old’s Bundesliga career only began in January, but his scoring record is arguably even better that Ibisevic’s. Having netted 17 times in just 25 appearances for the 96ers, nine of which have come in the league, Diouf has also found the net in his last two Bundesliga games. Also like Ibisevic, the Senegalese notched in the midweek win over Helsingborgs. After missing the start of the season with injury, he is making up for lost time in the best way possible.
Tough place to go
Diouf himself is expecting a tough afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Arena and spoke before the match of Hannover’s need to "be focused and play as a team." The Reds will no doubt have to be at their competitive best on Sunday, not only to finish off a satisfying week but also to arrest their poor recent record in Stuttgart, where they have lost on each of their last four visits.
Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Niedermeier, Boka - Kvist - Holzhauser, Gentner - Harnik, Traoré - Ibisevic
Hannover: Zieler - Cherundolo, Eggimann, Haggui, Rausch - Schmiedebach, C. Schulz - Stindl, Huszti - Ya Konan, M. Diouf