Europa League Playoff: Hannover – Sevilla

After all the strikes, debates about TV revenue, sponsorship fiascos, transfer rumors, and so on, we finally have come to today: our first competitive match of the 2011-12 season. And boy, are we starting with a doozy. For the stakes, the quality of the opponent, and the time of year, it’s hard to imagine a more crucial and difficult first match than today’s visit to Bundesliga co-leaders Hannover 96, with a spot in Europe on the line.

It’s almost exactly the one-year anniversary of last year’s early failure to qualify for the Champions League, when Braga knocked us out over two legs and started our season about as ingloriously as any of us could have imagined. And once again this year we find ourselves taking on a strong opponent in great form while we ourselves are yet to play a competitive match (although the “friendly” against Naples was maybe more intense than a few Liga games will be this year). And to top it off, this year we’ve got a new coach overseeing HIS first competitive match in rojiblanco and first in Europe if I’m not mistaken.

I’d like to dig into exactly how and why this season is different, and why I feel confident that we’ll get a result over these two legs (respectfully, FEARFULLY confident, mind you), but I’ve got an early start this morning (I woke up at 4:45 this morning just so I’d have time to write this), and I can’t write the Homerian epic I’d like to about our heroes and the enormous task ahead of them. Suffice it to say, then, that I think if this team played last year’s pre-season team, this team would win (even if Rakitic is currently injured), and I believe (although this is maybe more hopes than facts) that we’re stronger and deeper basically everywhere (even goalie, where I expect Varas to start today). I’ll also add that while pre-season games don’t mean anything (until they do), you may recall that last year we were less than convincing, and this year we went undefeated against even a few good teams–I think that’s more than a good omen.

So you guys, take over–what will be the challenges? Our advantages? How are we going to do? And will you be here to comment? There is a small possibility that I’ll get out of clinic early and will be able to see the game, but most likely I’ll miss out. If anyone is definitely going to be around and wants to run a Liveblog, say so and maybe we can set it up. But if that doesn’t happen, shout and scream your support below. PUNCH THOSE KEYS so they hear you all the way in Germany!!!