Hamburg - The clock is fast ticking down on a singular era in German football. Hamburger SV go into their final home game of the season against FC Bayern München on Saturday (kick-off 13.30 GMT/15.30 CEST) closer than ever before to losing their status as the Bundesliga's only ever-presents.
Van der Vaart: 'We need to hurt Bayern'
Third from bottom of the table and pitted against the reigning German, world and - for the next three weeks at least - European champions, the one thing Hamburg do at least have going for them is that their fate is still entirely in their own hands. The same cannot be said of the sides respectively one and two points behind them in the two automatic relegation slots, 1. FC Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig.
“The lay of the land's pretty obvious when you're up against FC Bayern,” head coach Mirko Slomka noted at HSV's pre-match press conference, “but obviously we're going to go out there and give it everything we've got. We want to try to get right on top of them, make it as uncomfortable as possible and look to create the odd chance of our own.” Or, as skipper Rafael van der Vaart more succinctly summarised: “We need to hurt Bayern.”
The visitors are, of course, hurting already off the back of Tuesday's home dismantling at the hands of Real Madrid CF, which put paid to their dream of becoming the first side successfully to defend the UEFA Champions League title. At Bayern's own media meet on Friday, Pep Guardiola acknowledged that both the result and the manner of the defeat would “not make it easy for the team to regain their rhythm" and, responding to the debate on his style of possession-based football, he insisted he is “even more convinced" by his system. The aim now is to rediscover said rhythm at the earliest opportunity, with “the best possible performance and result against Hamburg. A win would help restore the players' confidence”.
Stretched up front
The points would no doubt have an even more rejuvenating effect on the hosts, whose mood was further dampened by a 3-1 defeat at Augsburg last week. The necessary fighting spirit has been replenished in the interim, however, with Slomka issuing an unequivocal call to arms: “If we want to cause a sensation, we're going to have go to the very limit.”
The coach will have Van der Vaart at his disposal for the attempt, the veteran Dutch playmaker having recovered from a calf strain, and defensive stalwart Heiko Westermann is also available after overcoming illness. Slomka's main area of concern is up front, where Hamburg, struggling badly as it is in the absence of injured top scorer Pierre-Michel Lasogga, will now be without Jacques Zoua as well, the Cameroon international having pulled a muscle in training. Indeed, the hosts are up against it as they bid to ensure Hamburg's 865th home game in the Bundesliga is not simultaneously their last for the time being.
Hamburg: Adler - Diekmeier, Westermann, Mancienne, Jansen - Jiracek, Badelj, Rincon, Ilicevic - van der Vaart – Calhanoglu
Bayern: Neuer - Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba - Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger - Robben, Müller, Ribery - Mandzukic