HSV sit in 17th place, level in the standings with another powerhouse of German football in 17th-placed VfB Stuttgart and two points adrift of yet another sleeping giant in 1. FC Nürnberg, who currently occupy the relative safety of 16th, the relegation play-off spot. Coach Mirko Slomka, however, stated his season objective loudly and clearly in his pre-match press conference: “Our target is 15th and we’re confident we can achieve it.”
Home form the key?
Slomka’s enjoyed all but the briefest honeymoon periods when taking charge of the Red Shorts prior to Matchday 23. His first game produced a stunning 3-0 win over UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists Borussia Dortmund, but the five points amassed since then have still not been enough to extricate his team from the relegation mire. It would also appear the 46-year-old has bequeathed to the club his woeful record away from home of 12 consecutive defeats as a top-flight coach, the last three of which have come with HSV.
The club’s best hope of delivering that 15th spot, therefore, could rest on their comparatively decent home form. Victory over Dortmund was followed by a win against Nürnberg and draws with Eintracht Frankfurt and SC Freiburg, and if that unbeaten run remains intact, survival will seem that much more realistic. “The support of the fans is incredible and it’s another reason to give our all. It’s a game we almost have to win. We can put the pressure on the other teams [with a positive result],” continued Slomka.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga will miss the game having had a tooth operation this week, meaning will likely lead the attack, with midfield schemers and supporting from midfield.
Calhanoglu in particular has, despite still being only 20 years of age, emerged as one of the team’s key leaders on the pitch, demanding the ball at all times and shooting on sight, a tactic that has brought him a goal in three of the last four home games. Leverkusen have their own sharpshooter in tow, however, and his is a name that HSV fans know well.
The prodigal Son
scored 20 goals in 73 Bundesliga appearances for Hamburg before transferring to Bayer last summer, where three of his nine goals for his new club came when the two sides met in a 5-3 victory for die Werkself back in November.
He also notched in his last away game, a 3-1 win in Augsburg, hence Slomka’s admission that, “He’s a dangerous player, very quick and a great finisher”. Son himself, meanwhile, admitted that he would be returning to his former haunt with mixed feelings, but insisted his entire focus on the pitch will be for his new employers. “It hurts to see Hamburg struggling, but for these 90 minutes, my only focus will be Bayer.”
Hamburg: Adler - Diekmeier, Djourou, Mancienne, Westermann - Jiracek, Arslan, Badelj, Calhanoglu - van der Vaart - Zoua
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Guardado - Bender, Rolfes, Can - Son, Castro, Kießling