Hamburg were held to a goalless draw at 1. FC Nuremberg on Matchday 18, while Thomas Schaaf's men suffered a heavy 5-0 home defeat to reigning champions Borussia Dortmund. "Both teams are trying to improve their current situation," says Werder's long-serving head coach, whose side have won each of the last three Hanseatic clashes, the most-played fixture in the Bundesliga's history.
Van der Vaart: "We're in better shape"
Hamburg's form, however, has certainly been much improved since the return of playmaker Rafael van der Vaart. "He can do special things, looks to score and can also provide the decisive pass," praises Schaaf, who expressed that he wasn't surprised by HSV's upswing in form following the Dutchman's signing: "Whenever you have such an experienced and good player, that can lead to an improvement in performance."
Van der Vaart himself believes Hamburg go into Sunday's encounter as slight favourites in spite of their low-key display against Nuremberg: "We are in better shape than they are at the moment," says the 29-year-old, who claims that due to both teams' undoubted quality, "the game will be decided by individual players."
Arnautovic and Hunt back in action
Hamburg have looked particularly solid on home soil recently, winning each of their last three matches. The battle for pole position in the North, however, could well be a whole different story. "Derby games against Werder are always special, not just for the club but also for the city," explained the Dutchman. "The team looks forward to the game with a little more anticipation compared to other games. We have to accept the challenge and be prepared to suffer pain in our own stadium."
Van der Vaart's campatriot Eljero Elia has experienced the derby in both green-white as well as HSV's red shorts. Looking for a return to winning ways, Schaaf is expected to field Elia, Belgian international Kevin de Bruyne as well Marco Arnautovic and Aaron Hunt, who both resumed training on Saturday after brief injury spells.
Hamburger SV: Adler - Diekmeier, Bruma, Westermann, Jansen - Badelj - Arslan, Aogo – van der Vaart - Son, Rudnevs
Werder Bremen: Mielitz - Gebre Selassie, Prödl, Sokratis, Schmitz - Junuzovic - Arnautovic, Hunt, de Bruyne, Elia - Petersen