Hamburg - Part one in the final act of Hamburger SV’s bid to remain the only side to survive in every Bundesliga campaign since its inception gets underway on Thursday night, with the northerners welcoming Greuther Fürth to the Imtech Arena for the first leg of their relegation play-off (kick-off 18.30 CET/20.30 CEST).
Despite of the season, Hamburg managed to cling on to the play-off spot thanks to an identical run of defeats for the two teams that finished below them, 1. FC Nürnberg and Eintracht Braunschweig. Form will be put to one side now, however, as the Red Shorts gear up for two 'cup finals' that will determine whether or not they will join their already fallen competitors or prolong their top-flight shelf life for another year at least.
HSV's last game of the regular season ended in a 3-2 defeat to 1. FSV Mainz 05, Hamburg’s ninth away loss on the trot. Nevertheless, there were positives to take from the Coface Arena, above all a more competitive team display and the return to fitness - and finishing - of Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
The 22-year-old had missed the previous five games with injury, but he notched his 13th goal of the season against the 05ers, and his physically imposing style has, Slomka and Co. hope, set an encouraging precedent for the upcoming two games. "He's fought his way back into the team after his injury and it's important for him that he feels everything is working well," said the coach, with captain Rafael van der Vaart describing the Hertha Berlin loanee as "incredibly important to this team".
Pressure on HSV
In his pre-match press conference, Slomka calmly and readily admitted there was huge pressure on his side to provide a positive ending to the worst season in the club’s history, but nevertheless exuded an air of optimism in front of the scores of journalists. “There hasn’t been a single day since I’ve been here when we haven’t been under pressure,” said the 46-year-old defiantly. “We are the Bundesliga side and the favourites. Fürth have played very well this season, but this will be a huge challenge for them.”
Indeed, the Bavarians remain the clear underdogs against their illustrious opponents, but head coach Frank Kramer welcomed the tag, refuting any claims that the team might still be disappointed at having missed out on automatic promotion, after dropping points in five of their last nine games to allow SC Paderborn to sneak second spot. “That we’ve reached this stage is a mark of how far the club and the players have come,” said the former 1899 Hoffenheim boss.
“We don’t need to hide and we’re comfortable with being the underdogs,” said the 42-year-old. “We know who we’re playing against but we know that we can cause them problems in the game. We can look back on a great season, but we'll be putting that satisfaction to one side when it comes to the next two matches.”
Hamburg: Adler - Diekmeier, Westermann, Mancienne, Jansen - Badelj, Rincon, Tesche - Calhanoglu, van der Vaart - Lasogga
Fürth: Hesl - Brosinski, Mavraj, Röcker, Gießelmann - Fürstner, Tyrala - Stieber , Weilandt, Djurdjic - Azemi