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Hannover fly up table, Gladbach stall

by Michael Huguenin on Apr 04, 2012

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Having ticked into April, most European leagues head into the final straight of their 2011/12 season.

The next two months will see titles decided, relegation battles lost and European spots secured all across the continent of Europe.

Due to a combination of this country’s heritage, the media’s priorities and TV broadcast deals, most Australian football followers will be up to date with how the English Premier League and Spanish Primera Liga are progressing but there are so many more stories out there.

Throughout April and May this blog will feature a game per week that is either at the centre of a title race, key to European qualification or part of a team’s struggle against relegation – and mostly from leagues that get less coverage in Australia.

In an innovative approach the reports will divide the matches into 15-minute episodes and incorporate background stories from the teams, players and leagues in question. The aim is to give ggarmy.com’s readers an insight into more of the myriad of narratives that European football has to offer.

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Both Hannover 96 and Borussia Mönchengladbach went into Sunday’s match at Hannover’s AWD Arena in terrible form but still well in the hunt for European football next season.

The home side started the game in ninth spot with one win in their last five Bundesliga matches but still in with a shot of qualifying for the Europa League for the second season in a row.

Gladbach also had just one victory in five league games but remained just two points behind third-placed Schalke 04, who were occupying the final automatic Champions League spot in Germany. Schalke were to play Hoffenheim later the same day, meaning Lucien Favre’s side had the chance to move third at least for a little while, if they beat Hannover.

Favre left Mike Hanke on the bench due to a groin strain, replacing him with Brazilian-born forward Igor De Camargo and Gladbach’s manager continued his rotation policy in central defence bringing in Martin Stranzl for Roel Brouwers.

Hannover manager Mirko Slomka decided to rest star midfielders Lars Stindl and Manuel Schmiedebach after his side’s Europa League loss midweek to Atletico Madrid. Christian Schulz and Didier Ya Konan started instead.

With both teams faltering but neither having lost twice in a row this season, this game was going to be highly contested.

Keen to attack but still rusty

Mönchengladbach started the match with more influential periods of possession. Scoring troubles had coincided with the visitors’ recent poor run of form and the first 15 minutes pointed to a lack of coherency up front as the reason.

The Foals impressed earlier in the season with a willingness to play out from the back, sharp passing, quick movement and a desire to attack. While the focus on possession and movement off the ball remained, Gladbach struggled to find gaps to open up Hannover’s defence thanks to inaccurate passing.

Marco Reus set up the best early chance. His in-swinging corner after 10 minutes flashed across the six-yard box and was missed by Roman Neustädter, Dante and then inexplicably headed wide at the far post by De Camargo.

As pointed out in November, Reus is the star of the show for Mönchengladbach. The 22-year-old attacker drifts around the field, probing with a pass or a dribble. Reus has six assists and is also his side’s top scorer this season with 15 goals. Unfortunately for Gladbach’s fans, the former Borussia Dortmund youth player will return to his old club in July after Gladbach agreed to sell him mid-season.

While the visitors dominated possession early, Hannover looked comfortable in defence. Slomka’s side was more direct going forward, getting the ball to Senegalese striker Mame Biram Diouf early in the hope they would catch Gladbach’s defence in transition.

Hannover increase pressure and take control

After the opening period, the home side began to get on top.

Hannover’s midfield quartet of Sergio Pinto and Schulz in the middle, with Jan Schlaudraff and Konstantin Rausch out wide, started to pressure Mönchengladbach with more intensity. The visiting side struggled with restricted time and space on the ball and on more than one occasion, 96 stole the ball around the halfway line and attacked promptly.

The Reds’ pressure in midfield was even more impressive with regular starters Stindl and Schmiedebach not involved. That duo had done a great job in Hannover’s 2-1 quarter final first leg defeat to Atlético Madrid, with Stindl setting up the German club’s goal.

In the 16th minute, Schulz nipped in ahead of his opponent to intercept a pass. He immediately passed to Ya Konan. The Ivory Coast international sprinted forward, Pinto and Diouf in support, but Ya Konan’s shot drifted wide.

Just two minutes later Hannover’s two African strikers created another nervous moment for Gladbach with Marc-Andre ter Stegen coming out of his area to clear the ball. The 19-year-old goalkeeper looked incredibly calm as he volleyed the ball out of play, despite Diouf’s in close proximity.

Game opens up with halftime looming

Both sides barely registered a proper shot on goal in the first half an hour underlining their rustiness throughout March but after a tense opening, the game stepped up a gear before the break.

First, Schlaudraff had a shot blocked after he stole the ball inside 96’s attacking half, then, in the 34th minute, Patrick Herrmann and Hårvard Nordtveit linked in their own half to release Reus. Gladbach’s star dragged two defenders to him on the right edge of the penalty area, before cutting the ball back to Nordtveit but the Norwegian’s shot curled over the bar.

In the 40th minute, Hannover created their best chance of the first half. Ya Konan received the ball wide on the right, passed inside to Schulz and the defensive midfielder shot from over 30 metres, however the ball flew just over the crossbar.

With a minute to go, Gladbach again showed their capabilities in attack. Reus’ well-timed through ball allowed Hermann to get in behind and the right-winger, who had been very quiet, fizzed a cross into the box. Unfortunately for the travelling fans, it was just a bit too high for De Camargo, who was completely free, right in front of goal.

But as the half ended, Favre knew that, thanks to the lack of input from Juan Arango and Herrmann on the flanks, too much of his side’s creative responsibility was falling on Reus, while Hannover needed to turn their momentum into goals.

Home side take deserved lead

Just like the first half, Mönchengladbach started better than Hannover after the break but it didn’t last long.

The Reds had two half chances before they scored the opening goal. Ya Konan was brought back by the referee for a soft foul when he was bearing down on goal, well clear of Gladbach’s defenders and then Diouf was wrestled to the ground by Dante in the box but no penalty was given.

But those decisions were forgotten in the 57th minute. Hannover attacked down the right and Schulz’s cross was headed away by Stranzl. The ball fell to Rausch and he volleyed it towards goal. As the shot travelled wide, Ya Konan reacted quickest, diving in at the back post to knock the ball past ter Stegen.

Ya Konan has been out of favour this season, with Slomka preferring Mohammed Abdellaoue in most games. The Norwegian forward has repaid Slomka’s faith with 11 goals in 23 starts. In contrast, Ya Konan has started just 10 matches and Sunday’s goal was his fourth of the season. The stocky forward was key to Hannover’s fourth-place in the Bundesliga last season, the club’s best ever finish. Ya Konan scored 14 goals in 29 starts in 2010/11.

But Ya Konan was back to his best on Sunday, combining brilliantly with Diouf to give Gladbach’s defenders a tough afternoon. The duo almost created a second in the 60th minute when Ya Konan dinked the ball over the top to his Senegalese striking partner. Diouf collided with ter Stegen as the visiting ‘keeper knocked the ball away to deny a goal.

Subs get Gladbach going

Hannover relied on their African attacking duo and their wide men to unlock Gladbach’s defence. The home side’s back four and central midfielders stayed fairly compact throughout the match, not providing the Foals any gaps to attack.

In the 67th minute, Favre’s patience ran out and he turned to Hanke and Swedish international Oscar Wendt, bringing off disappointing pair De Camargo and Herrmann.

Hanke was immediately involved. He took a long-range shot a minute after coming on and significantly changed the way Mönchengladbach were playing. Suddenly the midfielders in white had a target to link with and, in particular, Reus and Arango began to dictate.

But for all Gladbach’s flowing play they still failed to make the final pass stick too often. Hannover’s hard work without the ball made it difficult for Gladbach, particularly with Schlaudraff and Rausch pushing up on the visiting fullbacks.

Despite sitting in the top four, the Foals are the sixth-best attacking team in the Bundesliga with 41 goals. The top three of Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke have all scored over 60 goals in this campaign so far. Hanke, while a key player for Gladbach, has to shoulder some blame for this. The big striker has only scored six goals in 24 games this season.

Two goals then late Gladbach flurry

In the 76th minute, Hannover struck again. Pinto broke up play in the centre circle and volleyed the ball towards the left corner flag. Schlaudraff got to it first, turned inside and dribbled at Mönchengladbach right back Tony Jantschke. On the edge of the penalty area, the 28 year old curled an in-swinging cross to Diouf who powered home a header from a metre out. Schlaudraff’s cross was incredibly accurate, picking out his teammate amongst five Gladbach defenders in the box.

Diouf has been one of the stories of Hannover’s season. The 24 year old only joined 96 from Manchester United in January and has made a huge different to his new club. Sunday’s goal was the powerful striker’s eighth in 10 games. Hannover reportedly snapped Diouf up for less than €2 million, which, if true, is already proving to be a bargain.

But as the home fans were still celebrating Hannover’s 2-0 lead, Gladbach hit back. Hanke started the move, receiving the ball of Stranzl and laying it off with his first touch to Nordtveit. The Norwegian central midfielder increased the speed of the attack with a one-two with Arango, rode a challenge from Schulz and then stabbed the ball with the toe of his right boot into the bottom corner.

In the final few minutes, the hosts had a couple of chances to finish the game through substitute Abdellaoue. First he headed Ya Konan’s cross straight to ter Stegen and then Diouf’s cross flashed just behind the Norwegian forward. But it was Gladbach that had the best chances to score late on.

In the second minute of injury time, 96’s goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler earned his pay cheque with two brilliant saves. First he punched a stinging volley from Reus wide of the goal and then from the resultant corner, made a diving save to stop Filip Daems’ powerful shot, ensuring Hannover’s 2-1 victory.

Hannover fly up table, Gladbach stall

Hannover’s deserved win sees them fly up the Bundesliga table to fifth. As such, the club from northern Germany is sitting in the first of two Europa League qualification spots. Hannover are a point ahead of Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg with a month left in the league.

But 96 are also still alive in this year’s Europa League after a decent result in Spain last week. Thursday’s quarterfinal second leg against Atletico in Hannover could play a big role in their chances of European football next season. If Hannover triumph, the extra matches may be too much for Slomka’s relatively small squad, especially with games against Schalke, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen to come. But if Hannover win the Europa League they qualify for next year’s competition automatically.

Favre must be very worried, with Mönchengladbach losing their second game in a row and third in five in the league. The Foals missed a chance to draw level with Schalke, who drew 1-1 with Hoffenheim on Sunday. Fourth place in Germany will provide a Champions League qualification spot next season, which would be an amazing result Gladbach after they were almost relegated in 2010/11. But having been higher on the table for a fair chunk of the season, Favre’s men will no doubt be disappointed if they miss out on automatic qualification.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelHuguenin