Bundesliga season preview I: The battle against relegation

Justin Separator August 15, 2018

Thick smoke floats through the stadium. The stadium is – put mildly – tense. The calm before the storm. In Hamburg some hundred people are getting ready to go ballistic. In contrast are the thousands of HSV Fans who accept the relegation of German football’s dinosaurs, already looking forwards.

They pledge themselves to their club, taking a clear position against the morons who want to destroy this positive general atmosphere. The relegation battle is linked with emotions. Nowhere in the Bundesliga are the future of clubs, colleagues and players at play as much as in the bottom third of the table.

In today’s edition we take a look at two promoted sides and four teams who have flirted with relegation several times in the recent past. Who will go down this season? Who can save themselves?

1. FC Nuremberg

A long journey and a particular coach

Whoever you meet, people are always pleased. Everyone says thank you for promotion. That shows you the meaning of what we’ve achieved this year,” said coach Michael Köllner after his team managed to secure their return to the big leagues.

In 2014, the club went down with just 26 points. Five years in the Bundesliga came to an end. During that time they even managed to come sixth one year. The last four years in the second division were fair to middling. Following a ninth place finish, relegation came in 2016. Eintracht Frankfurt just about came through, and Nuremberg came just 12th in the following season.

Last season, however, the club finally found consistency in their performances. Since Köllner took over in the dugout at the start of 2017, the team has clearly moved forwards.

Köllner is a very particular guy. It’s not just about sport for him. Visits to the monastery and discussions on everyday things are part of his way of leading the team. Politics, then, is just as much a topic as world football. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported in March that he put the Mertesacker interview about pressure in football to his players.

The 48-year-old is a master of minimising precisely that pressure as much as possible. When Nuremberg – still in second place – went four games in a row without a win, Köllner had to face the questions at the press conference.

“We were expecting it,” he said completely calmly. “Everyone except Bayern Munich has phases of being stronger or weaker.” It’s that realism, paired with composure, that gave fans, club and players the ever-present feeling that they would have enough for promotion in the end.

Nuremberg also played very attractive, attacking football. They scored 61 goals – only Kiel (71) had more. But that wasn’t the big secret to their success. FCN impressed with a superb balance of risk and insurance. Leaving aside Sandhausen briefly, who only conceded 33 goals, the club had the best defence of the second division. 39 goals conceded were enough to get their noses ahead in most ties.

For the coming season, the only goal for a promoted side can be to lift that balance to a higher level. If the men from Nuremberg managed to keep the pressure as low as they have, and if they come out playing as liberated as they did, then much can be expected of them in a league in which balance and composure have been rare goods of late.

Our prediction: 1. FC Nuremberg stay in the Bundesliga, finishing 14th.

The entirety of Nuremberg was in a state of euphoria. Can FCN now manage to stay up in the first division too?
(Image: Christof Stache / AFP / Getty Images)

Expert interview

To get an even better assessment, we put four questions to Florian Zenger of Clubfans United.

After relegation in 2014, 1. FC Nuremberg are back with the big boys. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the target will surely be to stay up first and foremost. But what do the club’s long-term ambitions and potential look like?

If you ask Michael Köllner, then he’d reject the goal of staying up, because he doesn’t want to define his goals ex negative and doesn’t want to limit his thinking to a specific league finish. In spite of that, staying up – however it happens – is obviously the goal.

In the last four years of second division status, the club has lost a lot of ground compared to all the other Bundesliga sides. That’s also visible when you see that the make-up of the Bundesliga, except for Leipzig and Düsseldorf (in place of Braunschweig and Hamburg) is identical to Nuremberg’s relegation season in 2013/14. Fellow promoted side Düsseldorf aside, Freiburg, Hannover and Stuttgart were all in the second division for a year, and Leipzig for two. All 13 other Bundesliga sides were in the first division without interruption. Making up the distance to those teams, in times of extreme financial disparities, seems almost impossible. When you see that FCN’s budget is as high as the fee Freiburg paid for Luca Waldschmidt (50 Bundesliga games, 2 goals), you see how far the club has been left behind.

As such, I’m personally rather sceptical as to whether the club can establish itself in the Bundesliga long-term. The potential for fans is definitely there, as evidenced by the friendly games which are intentionally held regionally, or by events like “The club fans out”, where are players and functionaries visited fan-clubs throughout Bavaria over one day. How far that goes to evening out the deficits of the past years is hard to say. All in all it seems like the board are using this season in the Bundesliga more for financial consolidation and not taking any great risks, as seen in that small transfer budget. As a result I’ll assume that it will be more of a brief guest appearance in the Bundesliga. Existence as a team in the bottom third of the Bundesliga or the upper third of the second division also seems to me realistic for the next few years.

What do you expect from FCN tactically in the Bundesliga? What will the club concentrate on, and where does the team still have a lot of work to do?

In our promotion season Michael Köllner mostly went with a 4-1-4-1 and the formation will certainly continue to be in his repertoire. At the same time, in pre-season he has tried out a 3-4-1-2 to gain greater flexibility. I’m assuming that Nuremberg will vary between the two formations according to opposition and their own plan. All in all, I expect an approach untypical of a promoted side from the club that puts technique and ball circulation at the fore. FCN were already a rather atypical second league side last season, defining themselves less by physique and duels and more by a fluid passing game. That doesn’t need to change fundamentally. The same goes for the strengths at set-pieces, where Enrico Valentini excelled with his corners and free-kicks.

So for the club it will mostly be about how last season’s key players – that is the full-backs Valentini and Leibold, captain Hanno Behrens, striker Mikael Ishak and all-rounder Edu Löwen – make the leap to the next level. If that comes off, then the club could in fact spring a surprise. On the other hand, the risk of going into the season with so little Bundesliga experience is of course a big one, and I find it quite unlikely that all the players manage to make the leap. So there are places to improve. As of now, the attacking wings are somewhat lacking (above all in the 4-1-4-1) and also lacking are three player in central midfield with Bundesliga experience to lend the squad additional quality. In tactical terms, play in the final third needs to be improved and tweaked above all, firstly on the right, because Kevin Möhwald will now be missing, a player who did still have a trick up his sleeve now and then. Over wide stretches things looked pretty solid defensively, but in the friendlies the three-man defence still looked extremely vulnerable, and since none of the centre-backs are blessed with pace, there could be another weak point there.

Are you personally already looking forward to the game with FC Bayern, or are they just games like any other for you?

After our derby experiences in the second division against Fürth were somewhat below-average (two wins, one draw, five defeats), I’m not particularly keen on the replacement for that derby in the first division. Generally a derby is more linked with tension for me, because I find the hype over-done. Still, I don’t think any fan of any other club would see a game against FC Bayern as a completely normal game. Bayern have been so far ahead of the competition in recent years, losing only 13 times in the four seasons during which FCN weren’t in the first division. Obviously you always hope that your team will be the one that manages to trip Bayern up this season. No matter how unrealistic it is. Personally I probably have less animosity towards Bayern than the average club fan, because I come from a family full of Bayern fans and so I know that Bayern fans are also just people.

Where will FCN end up at the end of the season, and will FC Bayern be champions again?

I have already hinted at it: for me it would be a minor miracle if the club stays up this season. I’m obviously hoping on 16th or upwards, but I’m more expecting relegation. That doesn’t mean that it has to go like that. Darmstadt and Ingolstadt also stayed up for a year. I just think it’s not likely.

Bayern will be champions. Other than Tolisso none of the World Cup players have brought back positive experiences from Russia, meaning the motivation to really do something will be there. On top of that comes Kovač, a coach who has proven that he can work well on a domestic level. Perhaps it’ll be a little tighter than in previous seasons, but at the end the 29th title will be lifted.

Fortuna Düsseldorf

In Funkel we hope

Düsseldorf hardly got off the ground after the relegation in 2013. After the direct rebound in 2014 failed with a sixth place, it was only enough for places 10, 14 and 11 in the following years, but similar to the Nuremberg team, Fortuna managed to get a good balance on the pitch in the past season.

57 goals and 44 conceded goals are not outstanding values for a champion, but the distribution of the goals made the difference. At the beginning of the first half of the season, the strategic discipline and orientation were nevertheless better than in the second half of the season.

This was not least due to Peter Hermann, who followed the calls of FC Bayern and Jupp Heynckes in the current season. In Munich we know the high quality of the assistant coach, especially in everyday training work. Hermann doesn’t give up until the last steps in the pressing are perfect.

The Düsseldorfers lacked these nuances. After 9 wins, a draw and only one defeat at the start of the season, there were six games without a win. Until the end of the season only 10 more victories have been achieved.

It was still enough for the championship and promotion. Funkel and his team of coaches have a big task ahead of them in the preparation. You have to stabilize the individual parts of the team in the work against the ball again, and make the offensive game more flexible.

Funkel’s record in the Bundesliga doesn’t give much hope. He scored 1.07 points in his 457 games as coach per 90 minutes. He relegated seven times in 17 seasons. These statistics must be considered in a nuanced way. So often enough he simply did not have the best conditions to keep the class. Nevertheless, they show that his Bundesliga years so far have not been his most successful.

Already this season he can prove that he can keep a relegation candidate with his skills in the upper house. With his calm and composure he managed to stabilize Fortuna Düsseldorf in the second division. This time he is also in a much better position than at many other stages of his career.

With the euphoria of the fans in the back and the right adjustments, a surprise is also conceivable in the Bundesliga. Düsseldorf has the potential to establish themselves permanently in the league. The first step must be taken this season.

Our prediction: Düsseldorf will not make it and will run in as second to last. But it’ll be close!

It will be an important season for Friedhelm Funkel and Düsseldorf. Also for the image of the coach.
(Image: Christof Koepsel / Getty Images)

Expert interview

To what extent Thomas Nowag from SID shares our gloomy prediction, he explains us in a short interview.

After the promotion in 2012 the following year it went directly down into the second division. What factors will be important to maintain class this season?

Calm. Tranquillity. Strength of action. In the relegation season, things went excellently for a long time. I remember Spiegel online writing in the forecast for the second half of the season that it was more about the European Cup than about the relegation fight. Then everything collapsed, the team did not agree – the club raced with open arms into the abyss and refused to dismiss Norbert Meier.

How well do you think the squad is assembled in relation to the objectives?

The squad reflects what a promoted team can afford. The team of the second division champions, but without the outstanding Florian Neuhaus, complemented by some of the best players of the last second-league season and some who did not make it in larger clubs – such as Diego Contento. You may have heard of him. For me it actually looks quite good, especially with Marvin Ducksch and Kevin Stöger, who both have to prove their eligibility for the Bundesliga. Lack of experience could be a disadvantage.

Assuming Fortuna stays in the league. Are there any greater ambitions in the long term than to establish oneself in the league? How do you assess the club’s potential?

Fortuna is one of many clubs that has the potential for a sustainable Bundesliga midfield. However, the new arrivals Hoffenheim and Leipzig “steal” two first division places, which makes it more difficult for Düsseldorf, Nuremberg and others to become the new Hannover 96. Hamburg, Bremen and Cologne are also struggling. Fortuna attempts to reflect on a clear, tradition-conscious, fan-oriented guideline, the “DNA”. This also includes its own font: with the typically curved F from the crest.

Where will Fortuna land at the end of the season and will FC Bayern be champions again?

I am a merciless Fortuna pessimist from many years of painful experience. This club punishes every spark of hope with an even harder kick between the legs. Nevertheless, I do not automatically see 18th place, as most experts do. I believe in 14th place – and the champion Bayer Leverkusen, because predicting Bayern is so boring. If one of them doesn’t happen, that’s fine.

The following page is about the VfL Wolfsburg and Streich’s Freiburg.

While the Wolfsburg team wanted to start a new transformation, everything at SC Freiburg is going on as usual. Two clubs as they could hardly be more dissimilar, will probably find themselves in similar regions of the table again in the Bundesliga.

VfL Wolfsburg

It will be all right!

Before the 2017/2018 season, VfL Wolfsburg paid almost 70 million euros for 12 new arrivals. It didn’t do any good. At that time there was talk of one of the greatest changes in the club’s history. They had just stayed in the league and earned themselves a second chance in the Bundesliga.

Allofs had left a lot behind in 2016. There was hardly anything positive left underneath. Above all, however, a great power vacuum remained. The Managing Director Sport could never be replaced properly. Either the personnel who were supposed to take over his tasks were too incompetent or simply not available. This has caused unrest and chaos all the time. Both were increasingly transferred to the team.

The management planning was bad, the choice of the coaches showed no concept or future plans. Despite high transfer expenditures, the club could not get out of the downward spiral.

In the summer of 2018, the team was therefore also back in the relegation games. Again with the happier ending for the VfL. But after they announced Jörg Schmadtke’s appointment, some hope arose in the Autostadt.

Schmadtke has proven himself several times during his career. He certainly made mistakes, but he was successful and was able to provide proof of a concept. Again, much in Wolfsburg smelled of a new beginning.

But nothing really happened this summer. Wout Weghorst came for around 10 million euros from Alkmaar, Tisserand and Klaus together cost just as much. Daniel Ginczek is also now a Wolfsburger. He even cost the VfL 14 million euros, although Didavi was a really good player on top.

Bruno Labbadia will have to make the most of the current squad. Actually this team is supposed to be more, but why should everything suddenly change with 2-3 newcomers? If Labbadia is not equally successful, it will be a tight spot for the coach.

It is again at least questionable what is happening in Wolfsburg. It will be interesting to see if the club has finally drawn the right conclusions from its recent past. At the moment, it seems as if one would think again that the squad and the conditions would be sufficient to achieve the goals. It will be all right! Maybe…

Our prediction: If there are not 1-2 additional good players and the squad cannot be thinned out, things get tight again. Wolfsburg soon replaces HSV as an eternal relegation participant. Place 16.

For Labbadia it could quickly become tight if the VfL is not directly successful.
(Image: Cathrin Mueller / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Expert interview

Our favourite pessimist Antonia Menge was again close to the VfL during the preparation. In four answers she tells us what else she expects from her VfL.

You’ve been calling for a transformation for years. A lot hasn’t really happened yet. How do you see the state of affairs and what expectations do you have of the VfL before the start of the season?

You could say that. So far the VfL has actually only bought – a new beginning usually includes a few sales. The VfL is now entering the new season with the same squad, including a few new members. Not much is likely to happen before the start of the season, but I expect a few more exits. I don’t know which games last season gave the leadership the feeling that all players should be kept, but I’d like to be surprised.

Bruno Labbadia did not really manage to give the team – admittedly in a short time – a clear playing idea and a strategic advantage. The team seemed helpless in many situations. Do you think he’s capable of turning the squad into a competitive team?

Not yet. Of course you have to credit him that he came to us in a very difficult situation, in which perhaps it was simply not the “time” to give a team a playing idea. Nevertheless, I think it is dangerous to keep a coach under whom the same team has shown about 2 good performances. I still don’t see what is going to change so badly due to a summer break and a few new additions.

What are the club’s short-term and long-term goals and do you think they are realistic and achievable?

The goal for the next season is simple and clear: no relegation fight. A single-digit place in the standings would of course be nice, but no one would complain about a secure 12th place after the two seasons. It is difficult to speculate about the VfL in the long term – especially with a completely new management.

Where will the VfL finish the season and who will be champion?

I’m afraid it’s gonna be close for us again. I actually don’t see the VfL higher than 14th place at the moment. Everything’s possible down there. FC Bayern München will, of course, be the champion.

SC Freiburg

The eternal Streich

Christian Streich is a phenomenon. The man is an absolute survivor in a shark tank called Bundesliga. At the same time, he conquers the hearts of an entire league by making every press conference a highlight.

Not like Mourinho or Klopp, who consciously stage themselves. More like someone who rides his bike to work and regularly lectures parts of the media to explain to them what is more important in the world than this stupid football. The sport that all too often sets the wrong priorities in its merciless exaggeration.

He does this on the fly, too. If something is bothering him or the right question is asked, the words just come out of him. However, his main job is not as a politician, but as a specialist in keeping the league.

SC Freiburg is a club that plans to be among the country’s top 25 every year. This means that relegations are (must be) taken into account. Even under the eternal Christian Streich, this has already happened to them in 2015.

While the coach might have been fired from other clubs, they stuck with him in Breisgau, became champions in the second division, and suddenly just qualified for the Europa League.

How does he do that? Even his sometimes destructive and unattractive football, which he played last season, has been described as refreshing and courageous in many places in a dreary Bundesliga. Indeed, Streich is a very multi-faceted coach who adapts to the circumstances.

Sometimes Freiburg wants to have the ball, but sometimes they also accept their situation, and then park the bus. But year after year, Streich manages to convey exactly two virtues to his players: Passion and brains. No matter how horrible a game of SC Freiburg looks or runs, they walk every step with passion. But they do not take these steps without a plan.

Their high running intensity is one side of the coin. The other side is the way in which they can perfectly close down the spaces relevant to their opponents on good days.

In this respect, it is refreshing every time you see at least this one team fighting, fighting for success in every game without losing your head and peace. Christian Streich is a phenomenon.

Our prediction: The SC will stay the league again. 13th place.

Christian Streich is a very special guy. Will he be able to keep his SC in the Bundesliga again this season?
(Image: Matthias Hangst / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Expert interview

Whether Mischa from Zerstreuung-Fußball sees it differently can be easily recognized by his answers to our 4 questions.

Freiburg have just managed to stay in the league and will probably fight for their place in the Bundesliga this season as well. Which factors are the most important for you to succeed?

As with so many teams, the biggest factor is that the injuries remain within manageable limits. Long losses of Gulde, Frantz, Höfler, Niederlechner and Ravet forced the coaching team to line up very creatively last season. However, the forced double six Abrashi/Koch had a negative effect on the creativity in the midfield. In addition, the important reinforcement from the bench from the 60th minute was missing, especially in tight games.

The early and suitable transfers, the few serious departures and the omission of two EL-Quali games in the middle of preparation give you a very positive view of the start of the season so far.

Streich has been a trainer at SCF since 2011. Have there ever been any signs of wear and tear or do you think it could soon come to that?

The general assumption seems to be that the sports club is so successful because everything runs so harmoniously there, the trainer is given freedom and idiosyncrasies and in principle one cultivates a friendly and communal relationship with each other.

I argue that it’s the other way around: Many things in Freiburg are so harmonious because they have always been successful under Streich. This harmony has undoubtedly gained a certain stability over the years and also carries over smaller crises. However, if the SC should actually be relegated without a chance, similar mechanisms would probably take effect as are customary in the industry.

Minor signs of this are the irritated reactions of Streich to lasting disappointments, but they have not only been observable since last season. To what extent this is also lived out within the team and whether it is actually an overload or wear and tear, I do not dare to judge.

On a sporting level, at least no wear and tear is discernible. Even though many elements from the first years of Streich’s career are still an integral part of the game philosophy (high pressing, running intensity, rotating offensive), the Freiburg coach has become much more tactically flexible and undogmatic. Here one could much rather speak of a further development than of a wear.

Where does Freiburg have to improve most in its playing style in order to be successful?

After two seasons (7th and 15th place) with over 55 goals against, one could think that the sports club would have to stabilise its defence in particular. However, the defense (at least at home games) is much better than it seems. Looking at the last second half of the season, it would be much more important to work on scoring goals more systematically in the last third. In this way one could also make oneself a little less dependent on standards and winning the ball early. However, this is not easy if you want to have enough players behind the ball if you lose the ball so that you don’t actually have major defensive problems.

It would actually take players who grow into comparable roles of Grifo and Philipp. With the offensive support of full-backs Günter and Stenzel, this could perhaps become Ravet, Haberer or even Waldschmidt.

Where will the Freiburg team finish at the end of the season and who will be the champion?

Place 18 is always possible under appropriate circumstances. But I’m optimistic that the club will do better than last season. If Bayern continue to lose quality after the departure of Guardiola, it could be someone else’s turn in 2020/21 – Nagelsmann’s second year in Leipzig.

On the last page we analyse the ambitions and opportunities of Mainz and Hanover.

FSV Mainz 05

Is Schwarz a good omen at Mainz?

The FSV experienced an emotional roller coaster last season. For a long time things did not look good for the new coach Sandro Schwarz. His tactical approaches were promising and exciting.

An early pressing, immediate counter-pressing after ball losses and a clearly structured positional game characterized the preparation and also the start into the season. In fact, what Mainz produced sometimes looked really good.

However, Schwarz’s approach failed because, on the one hand, the results failed to materialise and, on the other hand, the defensive stability was not provided by gaps in the positional play. But he was flexible and changed his strategy.

From offensive and ball-hungry play Mainz changed into a deeper basic orientation. Back to the roots, so to speak. Hardly any other team has celebrated transition football as actively in recent years as the teams of Klopp, Tuchel and later Martin Schmidt.

From now on things went better for Mainz. In the last 7 games they collected 11 points, saving their lives before the last matchday. But Schwarz remained critical: “We will now sit down and critically analyze things.”

It’s exciting to see whether Schwarz will go back to his ideas from last season and try to correct the mistakes. Or perhaps he’s relying on the approach of the last season’s games. A mixture of both would certainly be the ideal solution. While Mainz lacked the balance for the very offensive variant, “stand low and counter” is part of the league’s standard formula.

It is conceivable that Mainz will not achieve such an important strategic advantage with both extremes. How long FSV will work with Schwarz will certainly also depend on how well the strategy works this time right from the start.

Our prediction: Mainz will narrowly save themselves, but experience a roller coaster ride similar to 2017/18. Place 15.

Mainz 05 is always good for a surprise – in both directions.
(Image: Maja Hitji / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Expert interview

Our expert and journalist Mara Pfeiffer is looking positively into the future. This quickly becomes clear in the answers to our 4 questions.

Mainz managed to hold the class relatively close last season. Realistically speaking, is there anything else possible in this season than the fight for Bundesliga?

Even if opinions on this topic differ in the fan camps: It is a great success for Mainz 05 every season to stay in the Bundesliga. This has been the case since the club was promoted for the second time (which can also be deduced from the fact that one could not hold on permanently after the first promotion) and this has not changed, especially since clubs like RB Leipzig have moved up. That’s why the fight for survival is at the top of the to-do list, so to speak. Whether and how early this succeeds depends on many factors. Of course it’s about your own performance, but also about what kind of season the clubs with similar goals have. If we play a great series and other, similarly large clubs a bad one, even more is possible. But that would be bonus.

Where does the FSV need to improve most in its playing style in order to further develop?

If you look at last season’s final table, there are six teams that scored fewer goals than Mainz. Two of them have been relegated, Wolfsburg has saved his ass. Then Bremen and Stuttgart, who scored considerably fewer goals, and Freiburg, who are behind us. In other words, the famous last move before the goal was often missing. I think a lot of things came together. It took me a while until the team had internalized exactly what the coach intended with them. Then, on the offensive, there was partly simply the plague, which is not an excuse, but an explanatory approach. At some point, you’re standing so deep, you don’t have the ease. But I am quite happy that the new season will be more positive in this respect.

How satisfied are you with your club’s (current) transfer summer and which players do you expect the most from?

Mainz has launched a tonge in cheek season ticket campaign, combined with the motto “Our dream is alive”. One motive is the sporting director Rouven Schröder saying: “Again only new players from France’s second division? Anyway, our dream is alive.” In other words, there are critical voices on Schröder’s priorities. I don’t share those. If you look at the explosion that Diallo (he came from the first French league) or Gbamin have made in terms of performance and market value, you have to pay some respect. That is why I find it totally understandable to continue this path, i.e. to identify young talents in France. I like what I’ve seen of defender Moussa Niakhaté so far. That a player like Aarón Martín moves to Mainz 05 is a small sensation. I am also curious about the other Kunde Malong, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Phillipp Mwene. My feeling is that the mix is right.

But the most exciting newcomers and perfect examples of the Mainz way are Ahmet Gürleyen, Leandro Barreiro and Jonathan Burkardt. The players from the own academy have completed both training camps of the professionals and may hope for play time in the Bundesliga. This is a great thing and follows exactly Ridle Baku as a newcomer from the U23 at the end of last season.

Where will Mainz 05 finish at the end of the season and who will be champion?

For Mainz, I’d like the club to finish somewhere between 11th and 15th, closer to 11th and without such an exciting end to the season. Everything else, see above, is always a bonus and even more so after the last two years. If I had to pick my spots, I’d say 12th place. As far as the championship goes, phew. I have a lot of confidence in Lucien Favre and Dortmund. But I think Julian Nagelsmann is also very hungry in his last Hoffenheim season. Who knows, maybe he’ll make a sensation.

Hannover 96

Party or Hangover 96?

Next to Augsburg, Hannover was one of the most likely relegation candidates in the past season. Even one year later, these predictions have not changed, although 96 secured their spot in the top fligth relatively confidently.

In addition, the club seems to have strengthened in the summer. Walace and Wood came from HSV, Haraguchi from Berlin and some other young players – such as Leo Weinkauf from FC Bayern – also found their way to Hannover.

However, important pillars have also been lost. Salif Sané joined Schalke and Harnik also sought a new challenge in Bremen.

For coach André Breitenreiter, replacing this experience and quality will not be an easy task. With an average age of 25.8 years, his team is one of the oldest in the league, but the Sané change in particular could seriously endanger the stability and balance of the team.

Breitenreiter will bet on his typical transition football in the coming season. In Hannover, however, he also showed that he is quite adaptable in the basic formation. Regardless of the direction, however, it will be important for his ideas to strengthen the central midfield.

The space in front of the back four must remain stable. Sané, as a central defender with clever defensive actions, played a major role in ensuring that the team was relatively robust and strong in duels. Nevertheless, 54 goals were conceded.

Without his key player, it will be hard for the coach to get a better result. Breitenreiter’s season was marked by some close games, which Hannover could decide for themselves by will, passion and sometimes also with the help of the game development.

In 2018 and 2019, however, he will need a better strategic framework that will give the team better solutions on the defensive and on the offensive. Not an easy mission.

Our prediction: Hannover will develop backwards rather than forwards. Place 18 means the direct relegation.

Breitenreiter and Hannover are again candidates for relegation. Will they surprise again?
(Image: Cathrin Mueller / Bongarts / Getty Images)

Expert interview

Tobias Krause by 96Freunde of course contradicted us there. We asked him four questions.

Many people regarded Hannover as a firm candidate for relegation last season. In the end, the league was held clearly. Will the goal remain staying in the league or are there greater ambitions in Hannover?

Hannover 96 has been forced to release important pillars in the form of Salif Sané, Martin Harnik and Felix Klaus. Above all Martin Harnik was also invaluable off the pitch. The sporting quality of Salif Sané is undisputed. Other players have to fill these footprints first. I expect a difficult season. The start is tough and 96 has to be careful not to get into a downward spiral. On the positive side, support is returning from the ranks. In my opinion, however, the objective can only be “surviving in the league”.

How satisfied are you with your club’s transfer activities and which players have stood out so far?

This summer’s arrivals are quite exciting. Kevin Wimmer is certainly a strong addition. He has already shown his quality in the Bundesliga on the pitch. The other new players are thus somewhat in tune with the motto: “let’s see”. Walace brings a lot of talent and has what it takes to become the most important building block in central midfield. I’m sure Bobby Wood needs a little more time. But I hope that he too will show why after a strong season at Union Berlin the BVB was also interested in him. For me, Hendrik Weydandt has the potential to be a big surprise, if not a sensation. Signed up for the U23, he played in the fourth division just outside of Hanover last season. In the preparation he was the most successful player behind Füllkrug. I look forward to many goals from him and expect a breakthrough.

How do you expect Hannover from a strategic-tactical point of view and where must the team improve the most?

96 coach André Breitenreiter has already shown last season that he demands a high degree of tactical flexibility from his team. Whether in the back with a back three or a back four, in the defensive transition also the back five, whether with one or two strikers: 96 should be variable again and again during the game. With his fast wingers and good standards, Niclas Füllkrug can be set in scene again and again with his strong headers. I expect an increase in the playing area. Pirmin Schwegler received support here in Walace and the Japanese World Cup participant, Genki Haraguchi. An increase was also urgently needed. When the wings were closed, Hannover didn’t have enough ideas. There I expect a small improvement.

Where will 96 finish at the end of the season and who will be champion?

After 34 matchdays Hannover 96 will run in between places 10 and 14. FC Schalke 04 will be the surprise champion this season.

Preliminary conclusion

The battle against relegation will be very exciting again this season. Often the final results depend on nuances. Who has the fittest squad? Who can best hide their nerves in the final spurt? Who’s just lucky? There will certainly be one or two relegated teams among the six mentioned.

But FC Augsburg, Werder Bremen and other teams that are not yet dicussed are also at risk if they do not reach their limits. The second part of the Miasanrot season preview will deal with the alleged Bundesliga midfield.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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