TSG 1899 Hoffenheim moved into fourth spot in the Bundesliga after a 3-1 win against Hannover 96 at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. Andrej Kramaric was the star of the show with a fantastic hat-trick as Julian Nagelsmann’s side make a late charge for Champions League qualification.
Kerem Demirbay replaced the suspended Florian Grillitsch while Havard Nordtveit deputised for the injured Benjamin Hübner, who failed to recover from his muscular problem. André Breitenreiter made two changes for Hannover, Ihlas Bebou and Martin Harnik on the bench replaced in the starting XI by Julian Korb and Kenan Karaman.
Hoffenheim had the first chance, a free kick was cleared to Nadiem Amiri who found Kramaric but his shot was tame and straight at Philipp Tschauner.
Oliver Sorg and Timo Hübers were having a hard time coping with Kramaric, Serge Gnabry and Nico Schulz. Gnabry beat Hübers and found Kramaric, his pass setting up Demirbay with Tschauner making a smart save.
In the 16th minute Hoffenheim took a deserved lead. Salif Sané slipped while attempting a back pass, Gnabry intercepted and drew Tschauner out before rolling the ball across to Kramaric for a tap in.
Gnabry appeared to hurt his groin in the move and was soon replaced by Steven Zuber. Mark Uth had a long range shot deflected over the bar as Hannover equalised against the run of play.
Some nice interplay between Julian Korb and Sorg resulted in Korb putting Pirmin Schwegler through, he had too much time and space before squaring to Karaman who held off Kevin Akpoguma to stroke home from close range.
Sorg saw a fierce shot blocked by Akpoguma, the ball eventually finding Karaman who saw his effort from a tight angle saved by Oliver Baumann. Hübers then headed a Hannover corner over the bar as the visitors pressed for a second goal.
The game was disrupted by constant fouls as Hübers picked up the first booking for cynically stopping Zuber on a fast break. Amiri had a shot blocked with Schulz skewing his volley wide.
The loss of Gnabry was affecting the hosts who welcomed half-time in order to regroup. Whatever Nagelsmann said at half-time appeared to do the trick as his side came out firing.
Zuber released Pavel Kaderábek whose cross was headed away by Sané. Schulz was heavily involved and helped to win a corner from which Hoffenheim made it 2-1. Demirbay found an unmarked Kramaric who smashed a volley past a helpless Tschauner as the hosts stepped on the gas.
Zuber released Kaderábek who hit a tame effort at Tschauner before Zuber had a shot himself that sailed over the bar. Breitenreiterreacted by bringing on Bebou for Korb as Niclas Füllkrug failed to get enough power on a cross from Miiko Albornoz.
Amiri was booked for taking down Marvin Bakalorz in a dangerous position, Sané’s free kick was blocked before charging into the box to head the resulting cross at Baumann.
Bebou had a shot blocked before Uth made way for Ádám Szalai. Zuber, Amiri and Demirbay then controlled the middle of the pitch as a long ball from Kaderábek found Szalai behind the defence, but he couldn’t control with Tschauner to beat.
Iver Fossum replaced Josip Elez as Breitenreiter switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Bakalorz sitting behind Füllkrug. Demirbay picked up an ankle injury and was replaced by Ermin Bicakcic before a good spell of pressure from the visitors.
Baumann collected a long range header from Füllkrug as Bakalorz made way for Martin Harnik. Hoffenheim should have wrapped it up as Amiri got around Tschauner and crossed to Kramaric and Szalai who couldn’t connect with the goal at their mercy.
It mattered not as it was soon 3-1. A long ball from Schulz was brought down by Kramaric with his chest, with Albonorz closing in the Croatian produced an audacious lob over Tschauner in front of a rapturous Südkurve.
Hoffenheim closed the game out as they jump into fourth spot above Bayer Leverkusen who host Stuttgart on Saturday afternoon. With Nagelsmann’s side just two points behind Borussia Dortmund, the stakes could be high as Dortmund travel to Hoffenheim on Matchday 34.
Kramaric will get all the plaudits and deservedly so, stepping up after Gnabry was forced off to be the main danger for the home side. His first goal was as simple as it gets, but the volley for his second was class, with the lob over Tschauner to secure his hat-trick one of the goals of the season.
By Matthew Marshall.