Hanover - They may only be sitting in mid-table, but victory over VfB Stuttgart on Sunday (kick off 17:30 CEST) would thrust Hannover 96 very much into contention for a third consecutive European campaign.
Home and away strengths
Mirko Slomka's men have the chance to reduce the gap on the UEFA Europa league quailifying spots to just two points at the AWD Arena and Hannover's coach hopes his side's two previous involvements in the competition will inspire them against Stuttgart. “We're very determined," explained the 45-year-old former FC Schalke 04 tactician. "Mainly because we've had some great experiences with our fans on our trips around Europe.”
Konstantin Rausch's brace in last weekend's 2-0 success at FC Augsburg ended a streak of three winless games and was only their tenth away point in the current campaign, but Hannover have been showing a prettier face on their own territory this season with eight victories to go with three draws and only two defeats. Interestingly, Stuttgart have been at their strongest away from home in 2012/13, collecting 20 of their 32 points on their travels. “Stuttgart are very strong away from home," warned Slomka, "we have to stay very focused.”
Slomka will therefore be pleased to have Senegal striker Mame Diouf and Sergio da Silva back from suspension, the former having netted an impressive 14 goals in 16 games at the AWD Arena since arriving last winter, while defenders Steven Cherundolo and Felipe have both recovered from injuries.
Labbadia wary of Hannover's attacking quality
Knowing that Hannover have top-class forwards such as Didier Ya Konan, Jan Schlaudraff, Mohammed Abdellaoue and Artur Sobiech in their squad, in addition to the aforementioned Diouf, VfB coach Bruno Labbadia is particularly wary of 96's attacking threat. When speaking of the strengths of Sunday's opponents, he said: “They have a great deal of quality and quantity up front." Labbadia, a 103-time Bundesliga goalscorer himself, certainly knows what he is talking about. "They get a lot of goals from very few chances," he added.
Despite only one win from their last five Bundesliga encounters, Labbadia seemed very much upbeat ahead of the trip, reeping the positives from last weekend's 2-1 home loss to Borussia Dortmund and the previous 2-1 victory at Eintracht Frankfurt. “We want to pick up where we left off in our last two games - the manner, determination, pressing and our general play were all good," he said, highlighting that compared to earlier performances, "there was more incision in our game. I really want to see us continue as we have been going.”
Tasci, Kvist and Okazaki back in action
Both Martin Harnik and Georg Niedermeier will be out for Matchday 28's concluding encounter through suspension, whereas team captain Serdar Tasci, William Kvist, Cristian Molinaro and Shinji Okazaki have all returned to team training.
Hannover 96: Zieler - Chahed, Djourou, Schulz, Pander - Hoffmann, da Silva Pinto - Ya Konan, Rausch - Abdellaoue, Diouf
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich - Sakai, Tasci, Felipe, Molinaro - Kvist - Gentner, Boka - Maxim, Traore - Ibisevic