Head coach Mirko Slomka (r.) has a new sporting director at his side now in Dirk Dufner (l.)
Head coach Mirko Slomka (r.) has a new sporting director at his side now in Dirk Dufner (l.)

Change in the air at Hannover

Hanover - For Dirk Dufner, it has been a case of so much to do, so little time to do it since he took up the reins as sporting director of Hannover 96 at the end of April.

Exodus of regulars

The Lower Saxony club, who missed out on a third successive berth in the UEFA Europa League last season, are undergoing a major personnel overhaul. For the first time since narrowly avoiding the drop in 2010, Dufner, who succeeded Jörg Schmadtke in the job, is beavering away on the transfer front to that end in tandem with head coach Mirko Slomka.

Mohammed Abdellaoue, Sergio Ricardo da Silva Pinto, Mario Eggimann, Konstantin Rausch and Sofian Chahed, key players for Hannover over the past few years, have all departed over the summer. For those in charge, meanwhile, it has not been difficult to establish the urgent need to first and foremost beef up a defence which leaked 62 goals over the previous campaign, more than relegated duo Fortuna Düsseldorf and Greuther Fürth.

That particular task remains a work in progress. Alongside Eggimann, Johan Djourou - having swiftly emerged as a fans' favourite during his loan move from Arsenal FC - also opted not to extend terms at Hannover, switching instead to Bundesliga rivals Hamburger SV. The situation was further exacerbated by a renewed injury blow to the luckless . Having only just returned on Matchday 34 from a near nine-month spell on the sidelines - on top of missing the entire 2011/12 campaign - the hard-tackling Danish defensive midfielder has now missed much of the pre-season with knee problems.

Back-row concerns

All of which leaves Slomka with just two experienced central defenders currently at his disposal, Karim Haggui and Felipe. Hannover's defensive woes last time out often originated further up the pitch, however, as evidenced by the 15 goals they conceded on the break, the highest tally in the division. The signings of versatile midfielder Edgar Prib from Fürth and defender Salif Sané from France's AS Nancy are targeted in part at producing an improvement in that area.

Tracking back may not be one of their strong points, but the 96ers are still among the Bundesliga leaders when it comes to switching upfield at speed. Slomka caught the opposition off-guard back in 2010/11 with his "ten-second rule," which earmarked the team's time frame between winning possession and getting off an attempt on goal. The tactic has long since lost its element of surprise, but it remains effective nonetheless; Hannover netted eleven times directly after winning back possession last term, a figure no other side managed to top.

Options up front

Set-pieces are another Reds' speciality, leading directly to 18 goals in 2012/13, one fewer than division leaders Nuremberg. Providing he remains injury-free this time around, Hungarian midfielder Szabolcs Huszti can be expected to chip in to good effect on that front, as he did nine times over the course of the last campaign before joining the team's casualty list on Matchday 23.

With his continued preference for fielding two established strikers, Slomka finds himself going somewhat against the grain these days. The loss of the reliable Abdellaoue to Stuttgart notwithstanding, he still has plenty of forward options at his disposal. Twelve-goal (and eight assists) top scorer Mame Diouf is set to lead the way again, ably assisted by Didier Ya Konan and "supersub" Artur Sobiech.

Europe calling?

Deniz Kadah, Jan Schlaudraff and new arrival from Dortmund Leonardo Bittencourt will also have their part to play as the Lower Saxony outfit seek to improve, particularly, on a poor away record that saw them pick up just 13 points on the road last season.

Given the large-scale restructuring job in hand, Slomka and Dufner may well be satisfied simply with a finish in the top table-half this time around. The fans, on the other hand, have developed a taste for the European arena, while club president Martin Kind even has his very own Champions League dream. If Hannover can steer clear of extensive injury trouble and up their points return away from the freshly renamed HDI Arena, the Europa League at any rate is undoubtedly within their grasp again. Dufner meanwhile still has until the end of August to demonstrate that he has as good an eye for a signing as his predecessor Schmadtke.

Jürgen Blöhs in Hanover