Freiburg - Ongoing surprise package SC Freiburg play host to Hannover 96, themselves still hoping to clinch a place in Europe (Friday, 20:30 CEST).
Only four points separate Mirko Slomka's men and fifth-placed Freiburg who, under the tutelage of head coach Christian Streich, have gone from veritable relegation fodder to genuine UEFA Europa League contenders in the space of less than twelve months.
Indeed, it's not just the Europa League that Freiburg now have within their potential grasp. Only three points currently separate the provincial south-western outfit from fourth-placed Schalke 04, with Bayer 04 Leverkusen a further four up the ladder in third. Add to that Freiburg's sterling run to the DFB Cup semi-finals and it's easy to see why Streich has earned such kudos from all quarters over his relatively short tenure to date.
"Above all, he's a great character," says midfielder of his boss: "He's earned that recognition through sheer hard work. He's very honest and always says what you've done right or wrong. He tries to get the best out of everybody. That's what makes him stand out. He's always there for you and tells you exactly how it is."
"Great, young players"
Integral to the Streich philosophy has been his ability to get the best out of younger talent - an element Freiburg goalkeeper believes explains much of the club's remarkable transformation. "The club know how to produce great young players. You're given the opportunity to develop and you're not just cast aside if things don't immediately go to plan."
Freiburg's 1-0 victory at Hamburg last time out took their season wins total in the league up to eleven, surpassing last term's relegation-dodging tally of ten. A follow-up three-point haul against Hannover would see the club notch another best-mark of three consecutive wins for 2012/13, following a run of just one defeat in six on home turf.
"Freiburg obviously have a real chance of representing German football in the Europa League next year," acknowledged Hannover coach Slomka, himself firmly focused on making it a hat-trick of European appearances next term. "Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be in the top half of the table with a chance, if all went well, of grabbing a Europa League spot."
Hannover's dire away form hasn't helped their cause, but having never lost at Freiburg under Slomka and with a star locker room boasting the likes of captain , , and , the Reds have every reason to be optimistic ahead of Friday night's battle at the Mage Solar Stadion.
Freiburg: Baumann - Mujdza, Krmas, Diagne, Sorg - Schmid, Ginter, Schuster, Caligiuri - Rosenthal, Kruse
Hannover: Zieler - Cherundolo, Djourou, Schulz, Pocognoli - Sakai, Hoffmann, da Silva Pinto, Rausch- Ya Konan, Diouf