The value of good home performances in football should not be underestimated, but there’s no club in the Bundesliga that relies on their home form more than Hannover 96. Mirko Slomka’s side are one of several candidates for a Europa League place come the end of the season, but one look at their away form leaves you surprised to see them battling with the likes of Hamburg, Freiburg and Mainz. Fortunately for them, they have made the AWD-Arena an almost impenetrable fortress over the past year, and they need to keep it that way if they have any realistic hope of another European adventure in the 2013/14 campaign.
Hannover started the season impressively and were third after five games, yet they have steadily slipped down the table and now find themselves in tenth. Despite there now being four teams between them and their desired finishing spot, there are also only four points separating them and Hamburg. With nine games left before the end of the season, there are plenty of chances to catch up on their rivals. However, five of them are away fixtures: Gladbach, Augsburg, Freiburg, Fürth and Leverkusen. While assessing those encounters you might expect Hannover to come away with perhaps seven points, but unbelievably that would match their current points haul from away matches in the 2012/13 campaign. Wins in Wolfsburg and Stuttgart – both courtesy of four Hannover goals – and a draw in Nuremberg are all the Reds have been able to claim on their travels around Germany. For a side with European ambitions, especially one that has spent the past two years competing in the Europa League, it’s a pitiful total and something that has to be addressed if they are to be taken seriously in their push for the top six.
96’s attacking strengths are well known and are accounted for by their impressive goals tally of 47, behind only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. It is most certainly their defensive frailties that have cost them a higher position in the table. 45 goals conceded is also the third highest amount, this time behind Hoffenheim and Bremen. Even bottommost Greuther Fürth have conceded less goals than Slomka’s men. The explanation for this is clear to see in Hannover’s away record: Despite a healthy 19 goals scored, they have conceded 30 – more than any other club – which also gives them the worst away goal difference of -11. Meanwhile, they have only conceded half as many goals at home and have scored a whole nine more. In fact, they set a club record in October by going 22 home games unbeaten. That run was put to an end by Borussia Mönchengladbach, the side they will be travelling to face this weekend and the Reds will be keen to make amends.
But just why do Hannover get such poor results away from home? As we’ve seen, 96 are a very attacking side and their defending just isn’t up to scratch. This causes issues when they change their playing style for away games to a more defensive one, like most travelling sides naturally would. The Hannover backline, affected more so in recent weeks by injuries to the likes of Steven Cherundolo and Mario Eggimann, has lacked solidity throughout the season. Even with a decent keeper like Ron-Robert Zieler, who has had more than a hand in the Reds’ positive results, Hannover have only kept five clean sheets in 25 games, and just one of them has come away from home. The fact is, the defence is just not strong enough for 96 to travel to any side in the Bundesliga and hope to implement an effective counter-attacking philosophy. Their best bet is quite simply to outscore their opponents. It worked in Stuttgart and they weren’t far off a point in their thrilling 5-4 defeat at Schalke. While it is a risky strategy to take, surely it can’t be any worse than their current one that leaves them without an away win in seven attempts.
This isn’t just a problem that has appeared this season either. The 2011/12 Bundesliga campaign also left Mirko Slomka frustrated on his side’s travels. By this stage last year, Hannover had amassed 11 away points – four more than this season – however, they failed to add to that total in their remaining four trips. If that turns out to be the case this time around, they can certainly wave their Europa League dreams goodbye. It is difficult to escape the stigma of regular below-par performances too. Just ask Fernando Torres. Hannover 96 are now considered to be a poor team away from home and they know that as well. The added pressure of knowing you haven’t delivered in a certain aspect of the game makes you less likely to do so and over time, you lose faith in your ability. Hannover need to start believing they can win on the road, otherwise their poor away record will continue to hang over their heads like a £50 million price tag.
Absentees have already been mentioned in defence, but an overall injury crisis in the squad at the moment has not made things any easier for the Reds. Other key players such as Szabolcs Huszti, Lars Stindl and Leon Andreasen are all on the long-term injury list. Meanwhile, Mame Diouf’s fitness has also wavered over the last few weeks and keeping their top scorer fit could prove pivotal over the next nine games. Hannover need to keep the goals coming and there’s no better place to start than in Gladbach on Sunday. If they can overcome their travel sickness, they might just find themselves hopping on a plane to the Europa League.
Written by Guest Author Matt Hardy
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