HANNOVER, GERMANY - MARCH 18: Mame Diouf of Hannover celebrates the third goal during the Bundesliga match between Hanover 96 and 1. FC Koeln at AWD Arena on March 18, 2012 in Hannover, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Hannover 96 have qualified for the Europa League for two straight seasons. Can they make it a third?
Team: Hannover 96
Manager: Mirko Slomka
Key Additions: Hiroki Sakai, Felipe, Szabolcs Huszti
Key Losses: Emanuel Pogatetz
2011-2012 Finish: Bundesliga 7th
2012-2013 Prediction: Hannover 96 were floundering in January 2010. With a relegation battle ahead of them, the club turned to former Schalke manager (and former Hannover assistant) Mirko Slomka to save them. The results went their way, and Hannover survived the 2009-10 season on 33 points --- 2 points out of the final relegation position. In Slomka's first full season, the club finished on 60 points in 4th place. This qualified Hannover for their first European competition since the 1992-93 European Cup Winners' Cup. They advanced to the quarterfinals before bowing out to eventual champion Atletico Madrid. Hannover managed to keep their focus on the league also and found their way into 7th place which qualified them for this year's Europa League.
With another season of European football ahead of them, Hannover added some quality depth to their defense and midfield. Felipe from Standard Liege was brought in to challenge for a starting position at the centerback position with Emanuel Pogatetz on his way to Wolfsburg. Hiroki Sakai will be used mostly as a reserve, but he may just be the eventual successor to team captain Steven Cherundolo at right back. Young Swiss midfielder Adrian Nikci has been brought in from Zurich, and former Hannover player Szabolcs Huszti has been brought back from his Russian adventure. They've bulked up for the coming season and could make an interesting run in the Europa League.
If you were lucky enough to see him play last year, you understand that Hannover's player to watch for 2012-13 is Mame Diouf. When he made the move to the Bundesliga from Manchester United during the winter transfer window, it wasn't quite known what he would manage to do. The Senegalese international went right to work scoring 10 goals in 15 appearances before picking up an injury late in the season. A healthy Diouf returning to the Hannover starting eleven could spell trouble for a lot of clubs, not only in Germany, but across Europe.
The battle for a Europa League place in the Bundesliga this season will be very entertaining this year. Hannover have improved on their squad in the transfer window without losing many players. They now have the depth at key positions to maintain their challenge against their rivals in the table for a European place. A lot of their success is going to depend on the health of their top two forwards in Mame Diouf and Mohammed Abdellaoue. The two combined for 27 goals in all competitions last year out of the club's total of 60. If one of them miss significant time this season, they may struggle. Qualifying for Europe next season won't be easy for Hannover. Many of their rivals for these places have improved their squads this summer. Hannover should have a top 10 finish, but I'm afraid that they're going to just miss out on Europe for next season.