Previously the Bundesliga’s last remaining ever-present club, Hamburg will be desperate to end their stay in the second tier in 2021/22.
Anybody still needing confirmation of how difficult Bundesliga 2 is need look no further than Hamburg. Relegated for the first time in their history in 2018, ending the last-remaining uninterrupted record of top-flight allegiance since the Bundesliga's inception in 1963, they have failed in three attempts to return to the top flight. With two going up automatically and third place getting a promotion play-off shot, Hamburg have finished fourth three seasons in a row, including 2020/21.
The northern Germany side's early-season form was nothing short of spectacular, however, raising hopes – that were ultimately illusions – that they were finally going to return to the big time. Five straight wins over Fortuna Düsseldorf, Paderborn, Greuther Fürth, Erzgebirge Aue and Würzburg had Daniel Thioune's men flying, with respectable draws against northern rivals St. Pauli and Holstein Kiel extending their unbeaten start to the season to seven.
Three straight defeats followed, starting with a 3-1 home reverse to eventual champions Bochum, but an 11-game unbeaten streak had HSV back on top of the pile at the midway stage and into the new year, before back-to-back defeats to Würzburg and St Pauli saw them take a stumble out of the top three.
They climbed back into automatic promotion territory with two wins and a draw before two more defeats saw them drop to fourth on Matchday 24, just five games before the end of the campaign. Although HSV lost only one more game, winning two under caretaker coach Horst Hrubesch, who was brought in for the final three games of the season, the pace of Bochum, Fürth and Kiel was simply too much to keep up with and, for the third straight season, Hamburg were the first team outside of the promotion equation.
Watch: Hamburg's historic relegation from the Bundesliga
Hamburg's main new arrival sits on the bench, with Tim Walter installed as their new full-time head coach. Formerly of Kiel and VfB Stuttgart – where he, incidentally, lost his job following a 6-2 defeat to Hamburg – the 45-year-old signed a two-year contract in the summer and was quick to replace 2020/21 top scorer Simon Terodde – who has moved to Bundesliga 2 rivals Schalke – with Robert Glatzel from Cardiff City. The 27-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Mainz, with whom he scored two goals, while he has previous Bundesliga 2 experience with Kaiserslautern and Heidenheim, with whom he scored 13 goals in 26 games in 2018/19.
He will be joined in the HSV attack this season by Danish prospect Mikkel Kaufmann, who has arrived on loan from Copenhagen. The 20-year-old hit the headlines in Denmark with 16 goals in 17 games for Aalborg's youth team, but has struggled to make an impact since joining Copenhagen in 2019 and will look to rediscover his best form just south of the border. A loan move has also allowed Hamburg to acquire the services of full-back Miro Muheim, while Jonas Meffert has joined from Kiel to add his experience in the centre of the park.
What to expect
Expectations are invariably high at one of Germany's best-supported clubs, but this season could arguably be the one which HSV do not enter as promotion favourites, and that – paradoxically – could be of some benefit. There can be no denying that Hamburg are a giant of the German game and, with a capacity of 57,000, their Volksparkstadion is more than fit for top-flight football. Yet the burden of expectation has hampered their previous four attempts to get the elevator back up to the top floor, and the comparable absence of that burden this time around might actually allow them to play with a little more freedom.
With fans expected to return this season, the Volksparkstadion could once again become a fortress from where Hamburg can construct a successful campaign, although the loss of Terodde's goals will need to be compensated for with Glatzel and Kaufmann under pressure to deliver from the get-go. While northern rivals Werder Bremen and Schalke will be considered a notch above HSV, this is where Hamburg's four-year experience at this level could help them upset two teams punching above their weight, as they proved on the opening day of the season in Gelsenkirchen, and they could thrive in the role of dark horses for that sought-after return to the top table.
Schalke 1-3 Hamburg
Hamburg vs. Dynamo Dresden (Sunday, 1 August)
DFB Cup: Eintracht Braunschweig vs. Hamburg (Sunday, 8 August)
St. Pauli vs. Hamburg (Friday, 13 August)
Hamburg vs. Darmstadt (Sunday, 22 August)
Heidenheim vs. Hamburg (Saturday, 28 August)
Hamburg vs. Sandhausen (Saturday, 11 September)
Werder Bremen vs. Hamburg (Saturday, 18 September)
Hamburg vs. Nuremberg (Sunday, 26 September)