(Reuters) - Hoffenheim had high expectations at the start of the season as they prepared to competed in the Champions League qualifying round for the first time.
Four months on and Julian Nagelsmann’s team has long bid farewell to Europe’s top club competition and is also out of the second-tier Europa League after a disappointing campaign.
Following a good start to the season they struggled to replicate last year’s winning form that saw them finish in fourth place, their best finish ever.
A string of injuries and, for European first-timers Hoffenheim, an unusually busy match schedule looked to have taken its toll on the players.
But last week’s 4-0 demolition of second-placed RB Leipzig, including a sensational long-range strike by Serge Gnabry, lifted Hoffenheim to fifth and looks to have given them renewed hope as they prepare to face Hanover 96 on Sunday.
Matches against VfB Stuttgart and Borussia Dortmund will follow before the Bundesliga winter break in mid-December.
“I want us to get three times three points,” said Germany international Gnabry, on loan this season from Bayern Munich.
“I have the feeling that there is still something in it for us this year,” he told the club website (www.achtzehn99.de).
Nagelsmann this week unusually split up his players into two training groups.
Younger players prepared for their last Europa League group match against Ludogorets on Thursday, while his core team trained separately for the Hanover match.
“We want to carry our performance from last Saturday into this game but it is important that we are equally aggressive. We can still start a winning run this year,” said Gnabry, who scored twice against Leipzig, his first competitive goals since joining the club.
With two victories from their last eight league matches, Nagelsmann’s team need every point they can get to stay in the fight for a European spot.
Champions Bayern Munich, buoyed by a 3-1 victory over Paris St Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday, are brimming with confidence ahead of their match at Eintracht Frankfurt.
Bayern are top of the Bundesliga on 32 points, with Leipzig, who host Mainz 05, on 26 in second place.
Schalke 04, a point behind in third and without a league loss since late September, travel to Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Dortmund will be searching for their first league win since September when they entertain lowly Werder Bremen.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Ken Ferris