Hamburg - The start of the 2013/14 Rückrunde was one to forget for Hamburger SV. With several teams below them picking up much-needed wins on Saturday, three points against FC Schalke 04 were more a necessity than a potential luxury for Bert van Marwijk's team.
It wasn't to be, however, as goals from the returning returning Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan and Max Meyer condemned van Marwijk's charges to a 3-0 defeat at the Imtech Arena. HSV are the only club never to have been relegated from Germany's top flight, but after a performance devoid of fight and, at times, quality against the Royal Blues, this most traditional of clubs has a real fight on its hands to stay in the division.
HSV now occupy the relegation play-off place in the Bundesliga and, with just two points separating die Rothosen and 1. FC Nürnberg in 17th, van Marwijk is under no illusions as to the size of the task his players face to claw their way out of trouble. "[The defeat] is all the more disappointing after the hard work we've put in these past three weeks," said the former Netherlands coach, referring to their mid-season preparations in Indonesia and China. "I hope the players are aware of that now."
Indeed, the sooner the players realise they are stuck in a battle for their Bundesliga lives the better. "Something has to change in their minds. We're playing just for our survival now," he said. The fact that Hamburg are now knee-deep in a relegation dogfight certainly hasn't gone unnoticed by Heiko Westermann. "The situation is very worrying and it should be clear to everyone that we'll fight to the end to stay in the division," said the 30-year-old centre-back.
To rub salt in the HSV wounds, Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Zhi-Gin Lam both suffered injuries in Sunday's defeat to Jens Keller's side. Lasogga, HSV's top scorer so far this season with nine goals, was forced off on a stretcher with a thigh muscle injury, while Lam was replaced just seven minutes later after picking up an ankle knock in a challenge with Christian Fuchs.
Both players are set to be sidelined for a minimum of two weeks and join Johan Djourou, Kerem Demirbay and Maximilian Beister, who is set to miss the rest of the season after tearing knee ligaments in a mid-season friendly, in the HSV treatment room.
Defeat to Schalke was, therefore, a costly one not just in terms of their league position, but those who came through the Schalke match unscathed will be given a shot at redemption against 1899 Hoffenheim on Matchday 19. Like Hamburg, the Sinsheim club also suffered a heavy defeat last time out, and HSV captain Marcell Jansen is determined to make up for the loss to die Knappen at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena this weekend. "We can start afresh at Hoffenheim," said the skipper. "We have to give everything to get the three points and gain some get confidence for the upcoming matches."
Self-belief is going to be vital if Hamburg are to climb out of the Bundesliga's lower reaches in the coming weeks, but van Marwijk is confident his players are up to the task, as long as they are aware of what is at stake. "If everyone knows what we're fighting for, we'll get the points we need," said the 61-year-old. "After all, will still have enough matches left. I'm expecting a response from my players against Hoffenheim."
Michael Reis/Matthew Howarth