Hamburg - Coming into Tuesday evening's match on the back of a disappointing defeat to Fortuna Düsseldorf, and minus two key players, few would have put their money on Hamburger SV getting the better of title-chasing FC Schalke 04.
No stars, no problem
"Most believed we were likely to lose," conceded Michael Mancienne in an interview with bundesliga.com after the match. However, with playmaker Rafael van der Vaart and top scorer Heung-Min Son taking in the action from a fan's perspective at the Imtech Arena, Thorsten Fink's revamped side put in one of their most proficient performances of the season to beat the Royal Blues 3-1, rekindling their prospects of potentially making a push for Europe in the process.
19 shots on goal represented a new best mark for HSV in the current campaign, but their attacking exploits relied heavily on a tireless work ethic, which Mancienne felt made the difference between the two sides. "We went into the game happy to take a point, but as soon as the game started you could see that everyone wanted to win," explained the 24-year-old. "From the start of the game everyone put in 110 percent and that's why we won it at the end of the day."
Head coach Fink had plenty of positives to focus on outside of the result, as his side's performance dispelled thoughts of the Red Shorts being overly reliant on their star duo of Son and van der Vaart. "To be honest, [Rafael] is a massive loss," stated Mancienne. "His ability is unbelievable. But the boys that came in today did really well, they did a great job. Everyone was really up for [the match]."
Neutralising the Hunter
While the English centre-half focused on praising the efforts of his colleagues, his personal performance rightly received great acclaim, as he kept last season's Bundesliga top scorer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, on a very tight leash. Mancienne won 87.5 per cent of his challenges and though 'the Hunter', who has now scored in each of his last three games against HSV, did net Schalke's only goal of the game, a rebound effort after Rene Adler had saved his initial penalty kick, it's fair to say it was quiet evening by the Dutch international's standards.
"I think he's a great striker, a great player," admitted Mancienne. However, the 24-year-old displayed defensive discipline beyond his years to prevent Huntelaar posing a greater threat and his performance was a true mark of the progress the former England U-21 international has made since leaving Chelsea. "He's world class in the box," declared the London native, who crucially denied the towering forward time on the ball. "You always have to stay focused and concentrated to mark him because he's a very clever striker."
Fink the tinkerer
Having gone into the game with just one win in their last four encounters, beating the Royal Blues, freshly qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, went a long way towards underpinning Hamburg's own ambitions of reaching Europe. "Everyone was going to each other and getting each other up for the game, I think that helped," said Mancienne. "And [Thorsten Fink] gave a rousing team speech to get all the players ready for the game."
The former Basel boss, who has already had a taste of Europe's elite competition with the Swiss outfit, again opted to alter his system as he set his side up with a diamond four in midfield. While they are undoubtedly exceeding expectations this season, the constant rotation of the starting line-up has not helped Hamburg find the consistency required for a side hoping to qualify for Europe. For now though Mancienne believes HSV have to "concentrate on one game at a time and try to take as many points before Christmas as we can."
Interview by Michael Reis, compiled by James Thorogood