Hamburger SV's four-match unbeaten streak is on the line against struggling VfB Stuttgart on Sunday evening (kick-off 17:30CET) as the two sides round off the Matchday 8 action.
"We must not stop"
The Red Shorts looked basement-bound three games in to the new season, but a Rafael van der Vaart-inspired haul of ten points from their last four Bundesliga outings has seen them move five points clear of the bottom three.
"It won't be easy, but we want to extend our unbeaten run," said coach Thorsten Fink ahead of 15th-placed Stuttgart's visit to the Imtech Arena. "We must not stop playing football like we did in Fürth," he added, referring to his side taking a 17th-minute lead through Heung-Min Son and holding out for a second cleansheet on the bounce.
Indeed, three successive defeats at the start of the season must seem like a distant memory, with Hamburg since moving up to eighth in the table after recording back-to-back wins (over Hannover 96 and SpVgg Greuther Fürth) for the first time since January 2011.
In stark contrast, Stuttgart's Matchday 6 win over 1. FC Nuremberg is their sole three-point haul of 2012/13, with their first home goal only coming a week later in the 2-2 draw against Bayer 04 Leverkusen. "Our last two games were distinctly average. We have to do something about that," acknowledged Stuttgart coach Bruno Labaddia.
With so much room for improvement, the last thing Labbadia needed was a serious injury to one of his most influential squad members. Striker Cacau twisted a knee in training on Wednesday and faces at least six weeks on the sidelines with ligament damage. "That's hit us hard, we have to be honest," said sporting director Fredi Bobic, already scouting for potential winter replacements.
On the injury front, Hamburg coach Fink has concerns of his own ahead of the Matchday 8 encounter, after Croatian Milan Badelj (ankle) and Dutch international van der Vaart returned from international duty nursing muscle complaints.
Fortunately for Stuttgart, all 13 of those on international duty this past week have returned unscathed, with defender Tim Hoogland (ankle ligament) Labbadia's only other major absentee for the 655-kilometre trip north.
Hamburger SV: Adler - Diekmeier, Mancienne, Westermann, Jansen - Badelj, Arslan - Son, van der Vaart, Jiracek - Rudnevs
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich - G. Sakai, Tasci, Niedermeier, Boka - Kvist - Gentner, Holzhauser - Harnik, Traoré - Ibisevic