Surprise third and fourth-placed contestants square off on Sunday.
After suffering from a rough patch in September and the beginning of October, Hoffenheim are back near the top of the table, and have really found their form. They won their midweek DFB Pokal match, but far more impressively, the villagers held Dortmund to a draw last Sunday. Demba Ba, who now has scored in each of his last five appearances, netted an early goal in that match, and Hoffenheim were only denied a victory after Antonio da Silva was awarded a dubious late free kick that he converted.
A strong side at home, Hoffenheim now have a somewhat tricky fixture against a deceptively strong Hannover side. Before the match, Boris Vukcevic had complimentary words for Lower Saxony side, but suggested that they are a bit thin in attack:
“96 of course, have confidence and counter well,” he said according to the official Hoffenheim website. “But the team relies on Ya Konan.”
Assessing his own team’s performance against Ingolstadt in the Pokal, coach Ralf Rangnick was critical, particularly of his defence.
“There were gaps; on Sunday they had better not be there.”
Indeed, Hoffenheim are expected to use the makeshift pairing of Luis Gustavo and Marvin Compper in central defence, and could be susceptible at the back. Given Rangnick’s full throttle attack-based strategy, however, Hannover might barely have the chance to test their opponents.
Hannover Care-Free In Top Three
Just five months after narrowly avoiding relegation, Hannover are truly in nosebleed territory. Having won five of their first nine matches, the 96ers are third in the Bundesliga table, with 16 points - nearly half their 2009-10 total.
Heading into this weekend’s clash with Hoffenheim, die Roten are full of confidence. A week ago, they edged Koeln 2-1 thanks to an absolute wonder-strike from Didier Ya Konan.
Coach Mirko Slomka believes that their current standing in the league means that Hannover can play “without pressure, and equipped with a certain amount of confidence.” However, he admitted that he is not starting “to dream” of ending the season in a Champions League spot, citing the small points gap between third place and the lower half of the Bundesliga table.
Thanks to a needless second booking last week, Sejad Salihovic will miss out on the action through suspension, and will likely be replaced by Gylfi Sigurdsson. There are question marks over the availability of Isaac Vorsah, who may be replaced in central defence by Luiz Gustavo, allowing Boris Vukcevic to earn a rare start in midfield. In addition to Salihovic, the only confirmed absentee is Josip Simunic, who is short of fitness.
Probable Starting XI: Starke – Beck, Luis Gustavo, Compper, Ibertsberger – Weis, Rudy, Vukcevic – Sigurdsson – Mlapa, Ba
After featuring for 80 minutes last weekend, striker Mohamed Abdelaoue is expected to be fit enough to play the full match on Sunday. Hannover should be at nearly full fitness, although long-term absentees Carlitos, Leon Andreasen, and Emanuel Pogatetz remain sidelined.
Probable Starting XI: Fromlowitz – Cherundolo, Haggui, Schulz, Djakpa – Stoppelkamp, Schmiedebach, Pinto, Rausch – Ya Konan, Abdellaoue