Head coach Torsten Fink (l.) and skipper Rafael van der Vaart hope to be celebrating Hamburg's return to the European stage come the end of the season
Head coach Torsten Fink (l.) and skipper Rafael van der Vaart hope to be celebrating Hamburg's return to the European stage come the end of the season

Ambitious Hamburg eyeing Europe

Hamburg - Hamburger SV's increasingly long-suffering fans hardly had excessive occasion for cheer in 2012/13. On just 18 occasions all-told, the HSV faithful were able to celebrate Bundesliga goals on home turf; a tally "beaten" only by cellar-dwellers Greuther Fürth (ten).

Problems at both ends

That miserly scoring record notwithstanding, the Red Shorts did accumulate a solid enough return of 26 points from their 17 games at the Imtech Arena. At the end of the day, however, it was not enough to earn them the targeted European berth, with losses to direct rivals SC Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt delivering perhaps the most damaging blows down the home straight.

This time around, Hamburg are determined to do better. "We should have the Europa League firmly in our sights," head coach Torsten Fink has declared and skipper is with him all the way on that, insisting, "a club like HSV needs to be playing in Europe." Last time out they finished just three points shy of the target, albeit with a considerably worse goal difference than the aforementioned Freiburg and Frankfurt.

Alongside the paucity of goals at home, Hamburg leaked 53 at the other end, leaving them with the seventh-worst defensive record in the division. Fink has responded by bringing in three new centre backs in Johan Djourou (initially on loan from Arsenal), Lasse Sobiech and Jonathan Tah. Not that the coach is pinning the blame for his back-row woes solely on last season's incumbents; while acknowledging that the position was a transfer priority, he stressed that "we're working with the whole team" to ensure greater defensive stability in the upcoming campaign.

Promising fresh faces

The Bundesliga's only ever-present club needed to strengthen their ranks at the other end of the park as well, in the wake of Heung Min Son's switch to Bayer Leverkusen. From now on, last season's joint top scorer, , will have Jacques Zoua for company at the sharp end of the action.

Fink knows the Cameroon international well from their time together at FC Basel. "If I wasn't absolutely convinced of Jacques' quality, I wouldn't have pushed so hard to get him here." The most exciting arrival of the lot, however, could prove to be Hakan Calhanoglu. The 19-year-old playmaker was in the sights of a clutch of big-name clubs, both at home and abroad, after a great season helping Karlsruher SC win promotion back to Bundesliga 2. In the end though, Hamburg won the race to sign the German-born Turkish youth international.

No more excuses

On duty for hosts Turkey at the U-20 World Cup, Calhanoglu missed the start of his new club's pre-season preparations which, in terms of the results in friendlies at any rate, have proved something of a mixed bag. On the back of an ear-bashing after being beaten by a Salzburg select at their Austrian training camp, the Red Shorts won one mini-tournament at home - the Nordcup - before taking a 4-0 pasting off FC Bayern in another, the Telekom Cup in Mönchengladbach. Since then, they have lost 3-1 to West Ham and drawn with Inter Milan.

None of which, of course, will have much bearing on how things unfold once the action gets underway in earnest. Over the past four seasons, Hamburg have placed seventh, eighth, 15th and seventh again in the table. Each of those campaigns ended with them falling short of their own high expectations. This year, they really will want to do better.

Michael Reis/Angus Davison