Help yourself with Hannover
The international break has been an unwanted early obstacle for many clubs, but we fancy it hasn’t been enough to put Hannover off their stride. 96 have flown out of the blocks at full pelt this season and they can continue where they let off when hosting Werder Bremen in a fierce-looking encounter.
There seemed a little uncertainty over the summer as to whether manager Mirko Slomka could build on two excellent seasons, but the initial outlook is overwhelmingly positive. Hannover's interplay was excellent in the 4-0 demolition of Wolfsburg two weeks ago, and came on the back of a creditable draw with Schalke and two thumping five-goal wins in the Europa League qualifiers over Polish outfit Śląsk Wrocław.
Slomka didn’t add many new faces in the closed season, but it’s the return of rejuvenated old ones that have given Hannover a shot in the arm. Artur Sobiech had a stop-start first campaign in Lower Saxony, but now looks fully integrated within the side and was on the spot to deftly finish twice at the Volkswagen Arena.
Yet the real star of that show was Szabolcs Huszti. The Hungarian has returned to Hannover after three years at Zenit Saint Petersburg and has been a revelation, creating all four goals last time out with his excellent left foot.
Then there has been the recovery of Leon Andreasen, out for nearly two years with a groin problem. The Danish international headed in a free-kick in his second game back and, if he can stay fit, will be a key asset in midfield alongside Sérgio Pinto, Lars Stindl and Huszti.
Unbeaten in 19 Bundesliga games at the AWD-Arena since April 2011, Hannover have continued to evolve under Slomka and are now one of finest counter attacking sides in the league, able to punish any defensive frailties in devastating fashion within seconds.
Such opportunities should arise on Saturday. We were with Werder for the Nordderby and they duly obliged, but they still show signs for concern at the back. Thomas Schaaf is assembling an exciting young side, yet they struggle to build on their possession away from home and Hannover look exactly the team to take advantage.
While that international break was a nuisance for some, it could not have been better timed for an abject-looking Hamburg outfit.
We’ve been after HSV for a while, not least in the Nordderby at Werder Bremen a fortnight ago, but the return of the iconic Rafael van der Vaart has breathed new life into the first XI and boosted morale all around the club.
The Dutchman was in the stands for that defeat at their local rivals, but will now line up in his favoured position - in the hole - after four years away and could well complete the midfield jigsaw alongside other new recruits Petr Jiráček and Milan Badelj.
Van der Vaart is revered in that part of northern Germany and the feeling appears mutual. His wife continued to work in the city after the midfielder departed for Real Madrid and, despite the sporadic injuries during his first spell, he still managed to contribute 29 goals in three years while lifting the performance of his teammates. If he can have a similar effect this time around, Hamburg will soon start to pull away from the bottom of the table.
Their opponents this week sit at the other end of the Bundesliga. Eintracht Frankfurt are currently second with maximum points, only kept off the top by Bayern Munich’s superior goal difference, but the newly promoted side are surely in an early season false position.
Die Adler came from behind to beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at home on the opening weekend, but only after the visitors had wasted a multitude of chances. They followed that up with a 4-0 success at beleaguered Hoffenheim, but once again presented the hosts with numerous opportunities with the score at 0-0 and only ran away with the game once 1889 completely imploded following Pirmin Schwegler’s wonder goal, finishing with nine men.
Hamburg are still a work in progress, but if Frankfurt offer them the openings that they have to others, they can ride the wave of Van der Vaart’s return to a much-needed away win.
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