With the pesky international break in the rearview mirror, Borussia Dortmund look to defend their spot at the top of the Bundesliga table in Hannover on Saturday.
The hosts are winless after the three opening matchdays and looked positively hopeless in defeats to Leverkusen and Mainz. Having saved the team from relegation last year, Michael Frontzeck is already on the hot seat after a slow start to this campaign – he is the bookmakers’ odds-on favourite to be the first Bundesliga head coach getting the axe.
Hannover seem like a club in a downwards spiral ever since Mirko Slomka miraculously led the team to the Europa League in the 2010/11 season. Like many mediocre-at-best Bundesliga sides, a lot of roster turnover over a short amount of time has depleted the club of a discernable direction.
Mainstays like excellent (and underrated) Goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler or dependable defender Christian Schulz, who have been at the club since 2009 and 2010 respectively, and a bunch of new signings, especially over the last three transfer periods, haven’t gelled into playing cohesive team football.
Trendsetters under Slomka, back in a time when the fast transition game was new and exciting in the Bundesliga, Hannover have deteriorated in nearly every aspect of the game over the last few years.
They played in one of the ugliest games of modern Bundesliga history on opening day, drawing newly promoted Darmstadt 2:2, thanks in large part to baffling defending from the hosts. Hannover then lost its home opener to Leverkusen, with a patented Calhanoglu free kick screamer the only highlight in a snoozefest, and got thrashed at Mainz before the international break, with some diabolical defending that at least made the game enjoyable to neutral viewers.
Hannover will probably punt the ball forward a lot and hope for a miracle against Borussia on Saturday. The expected return of Japanese playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake could go a long way in that regard. It was he who scored from a free kick in 96’s smash-and-grab away win at the Westfalenstadion a year ago.
As for Borussia …
Die Schwarzgelben have found a way to deal with this kind of opponent under the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel. They’ll again see a lot of the ball, as it will most likely take a bit of patience to break down Hannover. Converting one of the inevitable goal scoring opportunities early in the game would ease the burden a lot.
It will be interesting to see how Borussia copes with the break in action, having won a perfect eight out of eight and looking mighty fine while doing so before more than half of the players were flying out all over the globe on international duty. In his pre-game press conference, Thomas Tuchel actually called it a “welcomed break” for his side. While the euphoria of topping the table has naturally died down a bit over the international break, the team still is on a roll that hasn’t been stopped by anybody they’ve faced so far. With history on their side in Hannover, having only lost on one of their last seven visits, chances are they’ll make it nine out of nine in competitive matches this season.
Lukasz Piszczek, Erik Durm, and Nuri Sahin are still unavailable with their various injuries. Marco Reus is “most likely out” for the game according to Tuchel, which comes as no surprise after the 26-year-old missed Thursday’s training session with a small toe-fracture. Adrian Ramos is questionable with a slight knock he picked up in Tuesday’s friendly at St. Pauli, additionally suffering from a cold.
Meanwhile, BVB survived a scare when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had to be helped off the field in Gabon’s AFCON qualifier against Sudan last weekend. It goes without saying that any kind of prolongued absence would’ve been absolutely catastrophic for the club.
Despite the game in Lower Saxony being the prelude to a gauntlet of seven matches in three weeks, there’s no rotation to be expected. Gonzalo Castro looked great in the friendly on Tuesday but most likely won’t break into the starting lineup. The only question to be answered is the replacement for Reus. With Tuchel telling the media on Friday that, like any newly acquired player, Adnan Januzaj needs time to adapt to the specific demands of Borussia Dortmund (despite making a very positive first impression), Jonas Hofmann seems to have the inside track.