Hamburg and Rafael van der Vaart desperately need to a halt a run of six straight league defeats when they travel to Braunschweig
Hamburg and Rafael van der Vaart desperately need to a halt a run of six straight league defeats when they travel to Braunschweig

Crunch time for HSV, derby day in Baden-Württemberg

Munich - The Bundesliga relegation battle continues to twist and turn in 2014, and the standout fixture of Matchday 21 is undoubtedly in Lower Saxony, where rock-bottom Eintracht Braunschwieg meet a plummeting Hamburger SV.

Eintracht Braunschweig - Hamburger SV

Elsewhere, SV Werder Bremen host Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Weserstadion and 1899 Hoffenheim contest a local derby at home to VfB Stuttgart. previews the action...

Hamburg coach Bert van Marwijk remarked after the defeat to FC Schalke 04 that his players need to be aware they are in a battle to survive in the Bundesliga this season. Since then the Red Shorts have suffered two further league defeats and been swept apart by FC Bayern München in the DFB Cup.

Now, nursing seven defeats in a row in all competitions, it is imperative that the league's only ever-presents arrest their poorest ever start to a Rückrunde. Van Marwijk has received the boost that Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Rafael van der Vaart should be fit to feature in Braunschweig, but it will be sheer hard work that extricates HSV from their current predicament.

'Most important game of the season'

Van Marwijk himself is under no illusions as to how difficult the test will be in the Eintracht-Stadion. "We have to forget about Bayern. This is the most important game of our season," he said. His counterpart Torsten Lieberknecht took a similar view: "HSV will be fighting for their lives, but so will we."

The 40-year-old continued, "Tactics are important but games like these are decided by things like mental toughness and passion. This is a relegation battle, pure and simple."

Werder Bremen - Borussia Mönchengladbach

There has not been much joy in 2014 so far for SV Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach, who are both out to change their fortunes on Saturday.

Bremen have picked up just one point since the turn of the year, while the Foals are yet to pick up a trot, never mind a canter, registering three straight defeats. All that should change this weekend for Bremen defender Sebastian Prödl, who says he has been trying to ignore the clamour after his side's 5-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund last weekend. "There are so many distractions at present that we've got to try and block it all out," said the Austrian. "We've also go to block out the league table because that just puts us under even more pressure. We should only look at it when the situation is more relaxed."

Three years of Favre

Gladbach's league position is of no such concern. Their biggest motivation will be ending a run of three straight defeats and getting their challenge for a top-four finish back on track. Nevertheless, with coach Lucien Favre in command, a glance at the table on the day he took over three years ago shows how far they have come in that time.

"We were rock bottom then," said the Swiss coach. "Overall, these have been three fantastic years. It's been brilliant and it's nothing new to be going through a tough time like we are now. I'm still learning new things each day." Reaching the play-off round of the UEFA Champions League last year is a measure of what Favre has achieved. "It's a stroke of luck that we got Lucien," said sporting director Max Eberl.

1899 Hoffenheim - VfB Stuttgart

Hoffenheim's year began somewhat underwhelmingly with a 4-0 defeat to 1. FC Nürnberg, but since then die Kraichgauer have responded well, beating Hamburg and stealing a point away at SC Freiburg on Matchday 20, before Wednesday's somewhat unfortunate to VfL Wolfsburg in the DFB Cup.

Hoffenheim were also thrashed 6-1 in the return fixture in September, but head coach Markus Gisdol insisted he wasn't intent on exacting revenge. "Revenge is a bad motivator in football. We need to keep our heads clear and build on the performances we've given in the last three games."

Stuttgart crisis?

VfB, it would seem, are in desperate need of points. They still command the sympathy of many neutrals after such a courageous display against Bayern a fortnight ago, but that performance has papered over what have been a string of negative results: the Swabians have lost five on the trot, with their last win coming against Hannover 96 on 7 December.

Accordingly, coach Thomas Schneider made no bones about the severity of the situation. "It needs to be clear to everyone how important this is. We need to perform as a team, and our priority is to keep a clean sheet. Up until now we've conceded far too many goals." Indeed they have (41), but then so have Hoffenheim (43). We could be set for another high-scoring affair.