Hanover – Hannover 96 present the next challenge to newly-crowned league champions FC Bayern Munich when the two clubs meet at the AWD-Arena on Saturday (kick-off 15.30 CET), ahead of the latter's UEFA Champions League clash with FC Barcelona.
Hannover treading water
Tuesday's game in Munich is one of the most hotly anticipated in years, but first up the Reds are looking to keep their excellent run of form going at a venue where they have had their fair share of struggles in recent seasons.
After successive European finishes and eventful runs on the continent, the current campaign has been a shade less successful for Hannover. A crippling away record of just three wins from fifteen games mean they trail the European spots by four points with five games left. Off the pitch, the club are not steering through the calmest of waters either at the moment, having just agreed to a parting of ways with sporting director Jörg Schmadtke as of this weekend.
Hardly the ideal circumstances to welcome the champions, then. Yet coach Mirko Slomka’s men can take inspiration from an excellent recent record in this fixture. The hosts have beaten Bayern three times in their last four league encounters at home, and are also unbeaten at the AWD-Arena in the Bundesliga in 2013. “We want to keep the streak going”, said Slomka. “Everything is going right for Bayern right now, so we’ll have to adapt our game.” Captain Steven Cherundolo, due to make a club record 298th league appearance, echoed those sentiments, saying "Bayern have very few weaknesses. but we have nothing to lose."
'Maintaining the rhythm'
As for the visitors, confidence is unsurprisingly sky-high. Having sewn up the league title, Bayern are now also in the final of the DFB Cup after in midweek. In his pre-match press conference, coach Jupp Heynckes admitted the Barcelona game was at the back of the players' minds, but reiterated the players' determination to impress in the league ahead of welcoming the Catalans on Tuesday.
“We're focused on the Hannover game," Heynckes stressed. “We know it will be tough there, so we’ll be ready.” One record that the club can still equal is going an entire season unbeaten away from home, but that was far from the forefront of the veteran coach's mind. “We’re not thinking about that run. Our concern is maintaining our rhythm with a view to the game against Barcelona.”
Strength in depth
Heynckes has the luxury of choosing from a squad of immense quality. Star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss out with an ankle injury, but with a 94.7 per cent pass completion rate, is not a bad replacement to be able to call on. and Tuesday’s hat-trick hero against Wolfsburg could also keep their places.
Even with the Barcelona fixture to distract them, stopping Bayern rack up their 13th consecutive league win in 2013 will be the tallest of orders for the 96ers.
Hannover: Zieler - Cherundolo, Djourou, Schulz, Pander - Ya Konan, Stindl, Hoffmann, Rausch - Schlaudraff, Diouf
Bayern: Neuer – Lahm, Boateng, van Buyten, Alaba – Gustavo, Martinez – Müller, Shaqiri, Ribery - Gomez