Bundesliga overachievers Freiburg ran rings around visitors Hannover in the first Bundesliga match of the weekend. If anything, the 3-1 scoreline flattered the losers, despite some lucky Freiburg goals.
Few had Freiburg on their radar when considering European candidates at the start of the season, but Christian Streich's side made another bold statement of intent on Friday.
The south-western side steamrolled Hannover 3-1 at home, to their fans' audible delight. The hosts enjoyed nearly 60 percent of the ball, took more - and better - shots than Hannover, and were denied by the woodwork once.
After 25 minutes in which Freiburg looked particularly dangerous down the right flank, it was a cross from the left that undid Hannover's defense. Jonathan Schmid - himself happier on the right - lofted in a comparatively poor cross, but Hannover goalie Ron-Robert Zieler got nowhere near claiming it and then an unsighted Christian Schulz neatly volleyed the ball into his own net. The own goal was a freak error, but a Freiburg lead had been coming.
Out of nowhere, as is so often the case with Hannover, the visitors found an equalizer with 10 minutes left in the first half. Striker Mame Biriam Diouf intercepted a terrible Pavel Krmas header back to the goalie, laying it off for Konstantin Rausch to finish.
Freiburg restored order before the break, however. Jonathan Schmid was the creator once more, this time finding one of his own players, Max Kruse, in traffic. Kruse, who's leaving for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer, was unfazed and slotted the ball home.
Schmid gets one of his own
Daniel Caliguri nearly got in on the action early in the second period, after yet another dangerous cross – this time from Kruse. Hovering at the back post, Caligiuri was denied once by Zieler and then again by the post itself.
The sole second half goal fell to a clear candidate for man of the match. With around 20 minutes remaining, Schmid converted a cross from Ivan Santini from close range. Again, Zieler looked shaky in the Hannover net. He got a glove on the low shot, placed around his left foot, but was too slow getting down to the ball. Hannover captain Steve Cherundolo, two games away from being the club's most capped player ever, was not at his best either when he kicked the air in a bid to clear Santini's delivery.
But for a goal-line clearance from loanee Johann Djourou, Freiburg might have added a fourth late on against their well-beaten opponents.
Freiburg are looking ever better in their drive for European competition, but will have to compete without several established stars next season if they do make it. Kruse is definitely leaving, his partner in crime Caligiuri looks set to go to Wolfsburg, midfielder Johannes Flum has been linked with Frankfurt, where he'd join already-confirmed Freiburg forward Jan Rosenthal.
"Very much," Freiburg's head coach, Christian Streich, told Sky television when asked how concerned he was about the imminent summer departures on Friday. "But we have some very talented young players ready to step in from the academy, and we do consider ourselves to be a development club."
In the event that Schalke were to lose a tricky weekend tie at home to Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg would go fourth in the table.