Hamburg - After falling short of expectations during the first half of the season, three points are a must for both Hamburger SV and FC Schalke 04 when they close out Matchday 18 on Sunday evening (kick-off 17:30 CET).

With just five points separating them from the foot of the table. HSV will be hoping their winter reinforcements can get them off on the right foot in 2014 against a Royal Blues side currently struggling to underline their European ambitions.

Van Marwijk: ‘Good chance’


Having suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to 1. FSV Mainz 05 in their final encounter in the first season half, Bert van Marwijk’s troops have been fully focused on giving their fans something to cheer about in their Rückrunde opener. “Immediately after the game against Mainz, I said the only thing that matters now is our game against Schalke,” explained the former Netherlands head coach in his pre-match press conference.

36 days on from the Matchday 17 encounter it’s very much a case of win or bust for the Red Shorts, currently sitting in 16th with just 16 points to their name. Rafael van der Vaart and Co have reiterated on several occasions that “everyone is fully aware of the situation”. However, a win on Sunday would go a long way to healing some of their wounds and, while van Marwijk is expecting a very “energy-sapping and intense” game, he believes Hamburg have “a good chance of beating Schalke”.

Lengthy injury lists


One factor hindering their chances are the number of absent first-team regulars including goalkeeer Rene Adler (ankle), Maximilian Beister (knee), Johan Djourou (torn muscle) and Tomas Rincon (suspended). Former Schalke defender Heiko Westermann is set make his comeback in Hamburg, while right-back Dennis Diekmeier may not return to the starting line-up despite being declared fit after Zhi Gin Lam “performed very well” against FC Basel 1893 in the words of van Marwijk.

The Royal Blues, meanwhile, are coping with a lengthy injury list of their own, but one which has fortunately been reduced during the winter break. Marco Höger, Dennis Aogo (both knee), Julian Draxler (thigh) and new signing Jan Kirchhoff (knee) will all miss out, while the long-awaited return of striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could be on the cards. “He’s looked good in training,” explained head coach Jens Keller. “But we can’t expect miracles from Klaas just yet.

Short-term focus, long-term aims


Keller was refusing to start making excuses early by pointing at the club’s personnel situation though and instead underlined that “complaining won’t help, we’ve just got to get on with it”. With five points separating them from the UEFA Champions League qualification spots, the seventh-placed Royal Blues were handed a huge boost as five of the teams ahead of them in the pecking order all dropped points on Matchday 18.

A win on Sunday would catapult the Royal Blues into fifth place, a step closer to the target that Keller has set his charges. “We want to jump up into fourth place in the coming weeks and months,” stated the 43-year-old, who for the time being has encouraged his side to focus on the short-term targets. “We’re travelling to Hamburg to pick up a win. Furthermore we’re also determined not to concede."

Possible line-ups:

Hamburg: Drobny - Lam, Tah, Westermann, Jansen - Badelj, Jiracek - Ilicevic, van der Vaart, Calhanoglu - Lasogga

Schalke: Fährmann - Uchida, Höwedes, Papadopoulos, Kolasinac - Neustädter, K.-P. Boateng - Farfan, M. Meyer, Fuchs - Szalai

James Thorogood