Hamburg - It was an opportunity spurned, with potentially historic consequences. With the only two sides below them in the table both having come up short the day before, Hamburger SV travelled to FC Augsburg on Matchday 32 knowing a win would take them a significant step closer to securing a last-gasp shot at top-flight redemption.
Slomka 'can sympathise'
Instead, a disjointed and mistake-ridden display from back to front saw the visitors slump to their eighth successive defeat on the road, 3-1 this time, maintaining the status quo at the bottom. At first glance, the Bundesliga's only ever-present club thus at least remain in the driving seat to claim that now-coveted relegation play-off place. With the mighty FC Bayern München due in town for the final home game of the campaign, however, the mood in the Hamburg camp at the moment is hardly one of unadorned optimism ahead of the last-ditch attempt to preserve that unique status.
When they headed over to the away end after the game in Augsburg, the players were greeted by a chorus of “We've had enough of this,” among other things, from their travelling support. “I can sympathise with the fans, it's an incredible disappointment,” said Slomka, “It's another long trip for them, and then we produce a performance like that." The former Hannover coach, who became the third man in the Hamburg hot seat when he replaced Bert van Marwijk in mid-February, admitted that even though Stuttgart could still theoretically be overhauled, “we're battling for 16th place now, nothing more.”
And so to Saturday's encounter with Bayern, who themselves got back to winning ways by hitting SV Werder Bremen for five to put the brakes on a mini-slump which had left them winless in three matches, after having wrapped up the title in record-quick time. The classic Bundesliga meeting of North and South has, in reality, more often than not been a rather one-sided affair down the years. The men from Munich have racked up more wins (57) and scored more goals (212) against HSV than against any other side - in fact, both figures are top-flight records for an individual club duel.
Hope on the home front?
More recently, Bayern are unbeaten in eight against their north coast rivals, six wins included, and boast an imposing goal difference of 28:4 from those encounters. Hamburg put on a decent show in Munich on Matchday 16 - not least in comparison to the 9-2 drubbing they had experienced on their previous visit to the Allianz Arena - but they finished on the wrong end of a 3-1 defeat all the same. Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who hit the net in that encounter, is still not back to match fitness following a thigh muscle injury and the 12-goal top scorer is being sorely missed by the Red Shorts.
“We've only got Hakan [Calhanoglu] scoring and apart from that, one of our most dangerous players up front is a central defender, Heiko Westermann, so we're basically always going to struggle to get any kind of result on the road,” Slomka reflected at last weekend's post-match press conference. On home turf Hamburg have fared rather better of late, not least when they welcomed the new coach on board with a thumping 3-0 success against Dortmund. Indeed, the 3-1 reverse against VfL Wolfsburg last time out was their first home loss in six outings and even Bayern have struggled on trips to the Hanseatic port club over the past few years, with last season's 3-0 win there being their first in six attempts.
Tough fixture list
However, the Bavarians will be coming into the game with a point to prove after a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals this week, which they will want to redress, and that could leave HSV on the end of a backlash. Come what may, the Imtech Arena will be packed to bursting on Saturday afternoon, with the vast majority of the 57,000-strong crowd fervently urging the hosts on, perhaps more in hope than expectation, to an against-the-odds victory over the current FIFA Club World Cup holders.
Should they pull it off, Hamburg would at the very least still have the maintenance of that unsullied Bundesliga attendance record in their own hands going into the final matchday - where, incidentally, a road trip to Europa League-bound 1. FSV Mainz 05 hardly promises to be a walk in the park either.