Hanover - In their last home game of the calendar year, Hannover 96 are out to march back into the top half of the Bundesliga table when they host Sami Hyypiä's Bayer 04 Leverkusen, who have won their last four games on the trot.
Zieler: "Life left in our squad"
Having signed a three-and-a-half year contract extension in anticipation of taking charge of his 100th match as Reds head coach, Mirko Slomka will be hoping the announcement serves as added motivation for his side after another European success during midweek.
For now, Hannover's form in Europe is papering over the cracks of their domestic campaign, which has taken a hit in recent weeks on the back of three losses in their last four matches. Clinching top spot in their UEFA Europa League group should have restored some parity, however. "Certain players will hopefully have gained some self-confidence in the match against Levante," stated Slomka, whose charges were indeed demonstrating that confidence in the pre-match build-up.
"We've got to take it game by game, but we're determined to improve on our performances in the Bundesliga," declared goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler. "So we've got to make the most of our last two league matches and then we'll climb back up the table." The 96ers will be without influential midfielder Lars Stindl, who injured his ankle in the 2-2 draw with Levante, while Karim Haggui misses out after picking up a fifth booking on Matchday 15, not that that that has changed Zieler's perspective: "There's still life left in our squad and we'll be incredibly motivated going into the game."
Onwards and upwards
Leverkusen head coach Hyypiä is aware that Sunday's encounter will be "a difficult away game" for his side, but on the back of resting several key players during the week, the majority of his squad will be fresh for the final encounter of Matchday 16. "I'm very happy the other lads were able to help us out. Things are looking pretty good at the moment and the only possible question mark is over Ömer Toprak," explained the former Finnish international. "We'll wait until Sunday to see whether or not he can play."
At present the in-form team in the league, winning six of their last seven matches, Bayer will be hoping to cut the now eleven-point gap between themselves and league leaders FC Bayern Munich back to eight. Though Hyypiä knows that "Hannover's strength is clearly in attack", the 39-year-old believes die Werkself training in the snow will help prepare his side, considering "the pitch at Hannover isn't particularly great". Regardless of conditions, however, the directive from the 39-year-old is clear. "We're going to continue to work hard to win these three games," declared Hyypiä.
Hannover: Zieler - Cherundolo, Eggimann, C. Schulz, Rausch - Schmiedebach, da Silva Pinto - Schlaudraff, Huszti - Ya Konan, M. Diouf
Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Hosogai - L. Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes - Castro, Kießling, Schürrle