Cologne - Hannover 96 can be more that satisfied at present. With the exception of a Matchday 8 slip-up, the Reds spent the entire Hinrunde in the top half of the table and at the halfway stage of the season are just three points off of a UEFA Champions League qualification spot.
New, more attacking role
The Reds' current standing is all the more impressive given the fact they were without their captain Lars Stindl until very recently. Even then it didn’t start well for the German midfielder, with the Lower Saxony outfit enduring a run of collecting just a single point from four games upon his return from torn knee ligaments. “I hope no one draws the conclusion that there’s a connection between the two,” chuckled Stindl following the 3-3 draw with SV Werder Bremen on Matchday 15.
Anybody watching the game would have been able to explain that the 26-year-old was far from the reason behind his side’s mini-crisis though. Stindl comfortably covered the most ground of any player, won an incredible 69 per cent of his challenges, distributed the ball with great composure and even opened the scoring in the six-goal thriller.
In short, Stindl, who can play in any position across the midfield, is Hannover’s unquestionable leader and not just because he wears the captain’s armband. He sets the pace and rhythm of the 96ers' attacking movements and almost always has a hand in their most promising moments in the final third. “He’s our most important and valuable player,” was sporting director Dirk Dufner succinct assessment.
Joselu profiting from Stindl’s presence
After missing the opening ten games of the season, Stindl wasted no time in making his mark after celebrating his comeback. Furthermore, he slotted into a new role in Tayfun Korkut’s team. When earlier in his career the No10 could be found out wide on the right or in central midfield, towards the back end of the Hinrunde he adopted a more advanced role, acting as a secondary striker, a position he’s more than familiar thanks to his time with Karlsruher SC.
With his position now mirroring the number on the back of his shirt, it seems Stindl’s value has increased even further. In seven outings he has provided two assists and notched three goals, more than he’s ever scored for Hannover in a single season. In the fashion of six-yard-box striker, he proved able in exploiting space and being in the right place at the right time. Just as important though are his qualities as a distributor, a facet of his game that top goalscorer Joselu profited from most, as he went on a run of scoring in five straight games.
It’s the minimalistic movements on the pitch and the sly element to Stindl’s game that make him such an unpleasant opponent for the opposition’s backline and are often responsible for his ability to make the difference. The opening goal in Matchday 16’s meeting with FC Augsburg stands as a perfect example, as Stindl made a nuisance of himself in and around keeper Alexander Manninger to lose his marker and flick a corner on that Salif Sane unknowingly headed home.
It’s no secret that Stindl’s qualities as a functioning utility man at the top level have long caught the eye of potential suitors both on the domestic front and abroad. However, no one can doubt that the 26-year-old will be anything but fully focused on Hannover 96 in the second half of the season and, with an in-form Stindl in their side, the Reds' chances of qualifying for Europe may not be so far fetched.