We really enjoy getting some perspective from the "enemy" ahead of Bayern Munich matches, and I hope that you're enjoying these as well. Ahead of Saturday's match with Hannover 96, we were lucky to be joined by Ansgar Löcke to answer three questions. You can find Ansgar on Twitter at @Ansgarius_90 (tweets in German/English) and at Spielfrei Blog (German).
During the summer, my biggest question for Hannover 96 coming into the season was where the goals were going to come from. Then, you went out and signed Joselu. How important a player will he be to your success this season?
True, when (Szabolcs) Huszti, (Didier) Ya Konan, and (Mame) Diouf left for China, Saudi Arabia, and England respectively, more than half of our goals from last season had left the club. Replacing them was the biggest task of the summer break and Hannover really splashed the cash. The club's transfer record was broken when we signed Joselu from Hoffenheim for 5 million Euros. To add creativity, another 4.3 million Euros were used to sign Hiroshi Kiyotake from relegated Nürnberg.
Joselu looked a very convincing player when he was out on loan in Frankfurt and a lot of credit has to go to our management that they were able to recruit him despite the obvious interest of Frankfurt to keep him. He is a given starter up front and although he missed a couple of sitters in pre-season friendlies, he started the season well. A brace in the cup and goals against Schalke and Köln in the league made us Hannover fans forget Mame Diouf pretty quickly. Not only is he a good finisher with both feet and a physical presence up front, maybe the biggest improvement on Diouf is his immense work rate. He'll track back opposing players to the own box and then rush back forward for the counter attacks.
I'm not saying that he is the perfect striker - against Paderborn and Stuttgart he had a few heavy touches and also took too long to get a shot away. Also, it is not the best thing to rely on just the one striker for a whole season, as every attacker will have a dry run sooner or later. But, it's been a while since Hannover had a proper goal scorer, since their promotion in 2002 Hannover never had an attacker with more than 14 goals a season: Fredi Bobic in 2002/03 and Didier Ya Konan in 2010/11 managed that amount. I believe, however, that Joselu can get double figures, maybe even go for the 14-goal mark, not an easy thing here.
Tayfun Korkut has now been in charge of Hannover for ten months. How do you feel he's progressed since taking the manager reigns?
When Korkut took over during the winter break, Hannover had pretty much been stagnating for a good year. Slomka's initial success with the 4th spot and the Europa League quarter finals in the following season were great and nobody wants to deny him that, but even during that time, the away form had been iffy, things in the standings looked well because the Niedersachsenstadion was transformed into a fortress. Over the 2012/13 season, we went back to being a mid-table team and when, during the 13/14 Hinrunde, the home form also dropped and Slomka could find a single point on the road, there was only one thing that was going to happen. The way Slomka got the sack was pretty nasty, though.
Korkut was first thought of as a new assistant coach but when president Martin Kind in one of his many interviews talked himself into firing Slomka, Tayfun was presented as head coach. And he really shook things up in his first few months (not going to use that fresh wind - tayfun pun that is still used in most publications). In the Rückrunde, he tried some simple adjustments on the pitch but more importantly he managed to motivate the players again. Then again, after a rotten run of five losses and the embarrassing derby defeat in Braunschweig, I think he was pretty close to being fired again. Thankfully, the next opponent was Hamburg at home with Slomka and his away record as their new coach. Korkut moved Lars Stindl into the #10 position (something nobody really had thought of before), and he ran riot there, shooting from everywhere he could. That adjustment led the way to five unbeaten games till the end of the season.
I think he has a better understanding with manager Dirk Dufner than Slomka ever had. Most of our new signings have found their way into the squad. Four, possibly five, summer signings will appear in the first XI in Munich on Saturday. With Korkut, our defense is much more stable, the goals we conceded were a counter attack, a corner, an early cross where the whole defense napped, and an empty net goal from 85 meters. So especially our back four is now very solid. Sakai, Marcelo, Schulz, and new guy Albornoz look like they understand each other pretty well. That's a bit surprising, given that they come from Japan, Brazil, Germany, and Sweden/Chile. But, it works.
Hannover are entering the toughest part of their Bundesliga schedule starting with Saturday's trip to the Allianz Arena. They follow that up with Borussia Mönchengladbach at home before visiting Borussia Dortund. What are your expectations going into this stretch and what do you think you'll learn about your team?
Oh yes, certainly. October in the Hinrunde, March in the Rückrunde. Three games against three of the top five teams in Germany, that guy doing the schedule must be a Braunschweig fan.
Well, to be fair we had an easy start to the season: Schalke, Mainz, Hamburg, Paderborn, Köln, Stuttgart. I really thought, we could go unbeaten until the big guns are up. The losses in Paderborn and Stuttgart were really avoidable, but sadly deserved, and all of a sudden we find ourselves without an away goal in the first three games. A lot of our creativity has been on Kiyotake's and Bittencourt's shoulders, as both Stindl and Prib are out with knee injuries for a couple of months, and the two guys haven't really be able to create a lot on a consistent basis. But who'd blame them, really.
It looks that we will set up pretty defensively against Bayern, also given the lack of quality options up front, Korkut will try something more cautious. Perhaps three defensive midfielders again. As it doesn't look like either of Prib or Stindl will be ready to play soon, we'll most likely try to squeeze our way through these three games, hoping to get a point in all three. Being put on the spot now, I'd be happy with three points from the three games. None of the opponents have been in great form of late, but as a Hannover fan you really shouldn't get your hopes up unnecessarily.
Against the smaller teams like Mainz, Hamburg, Paderborn, and Köln we tried to work on our possession play but I am very sure that our focus now shifts to sitting back and playing perfect counter attacks. If we can get through the games without getting a big defeat and sneak a goal here and there, the team can be happy and look for easier opponents again.
The start of the season looked nice, Hannover up in 3rd, aiming for the Champions League, but barring a major miracle we'll stay well clear of those spots. When we unfortunately will have dropped down to mid-table again, we'll shake ourselves and try to achieve our target this season, a spot in the upper half of the table.
I'd like to take this opportunity to, once again, thank Ansgar for joining us.