Hamburg gave Hertha Berlin a real scare in the relegation/promotion play-off last season before ultimately coming up just short in the two-legged tie. With key players staying and a strong squad assembled, they seem primed to make another strong promotion push.
bundesliga.com examines why the Red Shorts - relegated from the Bundesliga for the first time in 2018 - are well placed to make the 2022/23 season their last in the second tier.
They know what it takes
Producing a brilliant run to finish third and secure a play-off spot, Hamburg were within 90 minutes of returning to the Bundesliga when they won 1-0 away to Hertha Berlin in the first leg of the play-off. Top-flight Hertha completed a great escape, however, with a 2-0 win in the second leg.
As Hamburg skipper Sebastian Schonlau put it afterwards: "Football can be brutal."
Watch: Hamburg led Hertha after the teams' relegation play-off 1st leg last season
While it will have been of little consolation at the time, however, something Felix Magath said after the first leg should give Hamburg plenty of hope for the new season.
"We played like a Bundesliga team," the Hertha interim boss - and Hamburg legend - declared. "But so did Hamburg."
While they ultimately came up short, Hamburg had shown that they could more than hold their own against a top-flight team. In the first meeting of the sides they delivered a particularly impressive performance, snapping into tackles and making life seriously uncomfortable for the home side in Berlin. Hertha had won crunch home games against the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim and VfB Stuttgart from December on, but Hamburg seemed to relish the challenge of playing at the Olympiastadion.
While they couldn’t complete the job back at their own Volksparkstadion, the feeling that they belong at the top level is motivation enough for the coming campaign.
"The disappointment has unleashed so much energy in the dressing room, which is great," Hamburg head coach Tim Walter said during pre-season training. "That's exactly what's driving us."
Glatzel is staying
Any successful side needs a top goalscorer and Robert Glatzel is one of the best - if not the best - in the second tier. Only Schalke star and promotion specialist Simon Terodde (30 goals) found the net more often in the 2021/22 Bundesliga than Hamburg's main man, who finished with 22 goals and three assists in the league. Glatzel was one of only three outfield players to start all 34 league matches last season, and the 6'4" frontman also scored five times during HSV's run to the DFB Cup semi-finals. The 28-year-old ended 2021/22 with a tally of 27 goals and four assists in 41 matches across all competitions, so it was no surprise that he was in demand this summer.
Glatzel, though, turned down several offers from higher-placed clubs, giving Hamburg a huge boost by extending his contract with the club until 2025.
"After the end of the season, I already thought about how things would go for me… and listened to various things,” he told club media on his return to pre-season. “Then, on holiday, I decided with my family that there were many more reasons for staying with HSV. The overall situation with the trust in the coach, the chance of promotion, the city and the family's sense of well-being were of primary importance. For all that, it's simply worth fighting again to get promoted to the Bundesliga. That would be worth much more with HSV than with any other club."
Kittel is staying too
One of the main reasons for Glatzel's impressive numbers - which included a four-goal haul in February's 5-0 win at promotion rivals Darmstadt - was because he had creative players like Sonny Kittel around him. Playing in behind the striker, Hamburg's No. 10 ended the 2021/22 Bundesliga 2 campaign with an equally eye-catching total of nine goals and 12 assists from 33 appearances.
Kittel took 10 set-pieces that led to goals, while he provided the most passes for a shot on his team (88) and was second on the list for shots taken (62). Aged 29 and with only year left on his deal, it seemed likely that the former Eintracht Frankfurt and Ingolstadt attacking midfielder would be moving on after getting 30 goals and 33 assists in 104 matches for the club he joined in July 2019. Major League Soccer in the United States appeared to be on the horizon but Kittel was another key player that decided there was unfinished business at Hamburg.
"We happily accept the turnaround around the possible transfer, as we never wanted to proactively give Sonny away anyway," Hamburg board member Jonas Boldt said. "With his qualities, he can make a decisive contribution to achieving our goals in the coming season."
Successful second seasons
Last season Glatzel led the way in terms of players who starred in their first year in Hamburg. The former Cardiff City and Mainz forward feels it is something he can build on that in 2022/23.
"At the beginning of last season, I noticed that I needed some time," said the man who got 16 of his league goals from mid-December on. "Now I know the league, my teammates and the coaching team, so I have more experience now and an advantage overall. That's why I also think I can back up my performances… the goal is definitely to continue where I left off last season."
Glatzel is far from the only player with the potential to do that, or indeed to improve further in their second year in the set-up. Former Barcelona youngster Ludoveit Reis started to come of age with five goals and two assists in 32 Bundesliga 2 matches, and the Dutch U21 cap also got the winner in the first leg against Hertha.
Fellow midfielder Jonas Meffert and Schonlau both made 33 starts, while 20-year-old Croatian Mario Vuskovic has signed on a permanent deal after featuring regularly alongside his captain at the heart of the defence. Former Chelsea academy left-back Miro Muheim is also staying after a loan move, while ex-Germany youth international Jonas David will hope his second year as a first-team regular is a fruitful one.
A settled squad with added quality
The coming campaign also marks a second year in the job for Walter, who - after three fourth-place finishes in a row since 2018 - brought Hamburg closer than ever before to going up.
His team won their last five games and six of their last seven before the play-off, and they finished with by far the best defence in Bundesliga 2 - conceding only 35 goals in 34 games. They also had the fewest defeats across the second tier (six), but some of their 12 draws - the second-highest total league-wide - could well have cost them promotion as one of the top two.
Many teams in their situation would lose a host of important players over the summer - it’s happened to some of their competitors - but Hamburg are still a huge draw. Gambian Bakery Jatta (three goals and eight assists) and right-back Moritz Heyer (six goals and three assists) are among the senior players hanging around, with winger Faride Alidou - who left for Eintracht Frankfurt - being the only major departure.
Walter has since boosted his central midfield options by adding a quality old acquaintance. Slovakian Laszlo Benes, who has joined from Borussia Mönchengladbach, worked under the Hamburg coach and alongside Meffert while on loan at Holstein Kiel in 2018/19.
"He can definitely bring us that something extra," Walter said of the 24-year-old. "He has an excellent left foot and a very good understanding of the game. That's why he can definitely make us better."
Further additions include goalkeeper Matheo Raab - who won promotion to Bundesliga 2 with Kaiserslautern last season - and attacker Filip Bilbija - who got seven second-tier goals for Ingolstadt in 2021/22. It could be all that Hamburg need.
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