Hamburg - They may have taken just nine points in the season so far, but consider that seven of those came against clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and the evidence is strong that Hamburger SV are heading in the right direction under new coach Josef Zinnbauer.
Proving the doubters wrong
The Red Shorts have defeated Borussia Dortmund and Bayer 04 Leverkusen and took a point from league leaders FC Bayern München, keeping clean sheets in all three games. Despite not being the biggest name himself, Zinnbauer appears to have hit upon a winning formula against the bigger names in the division.
Few people gave HSV a prayer when they prepared to host the champions on Matchday 4. Bayern had been winners in the teams’ five meetings, scoring 24 goals in the process, including nine in one game back in March 2013. Against all odds, though, Hamburg matched their illustrious guests yard for yard at the Imtech Arena to grind out a 0-0 draw.
Three weeks later HSV travelled to Dortmund and stifled a Borussia attack to eke out an impressive 1-0 win at the Signal Iduna Park, a ground where they conceded six last season. And most recently, on Matchday 10, they frustrated a Leverkusen side that had scored three in its previous away game, eventually edging a 1-0 victory.
Healthier team environment
Hamburg are one of Germany's biggest, most successful and best-supported clubs and in that vein they are determined to show they can still compete with the league's best. Moreover, it seems - dare we say it - that stability is beginning to return to the club, both on and off the pitch.
Alongside Zinnbauer, there is a new chairman in place - Dietmar Beiersdorfer - and a new director of football - Peter Knäbel - both of whom have entrusted the coach with long-term control of first team affairs by offering him a new three-year deal, which Zinnbauer signed last week.
Goals are proving something of an issue still - only four have been scored in Zinnbauer’s seven games - but no longer does one get the feeling that HSV will collapse or give up the ghost in matches, which was routinely the case last season, as well as in Slomka’s final two games in charge, a 3-0 reverse at home to SC Paderborn and a limp and lifeless 2-0 defeat away to Hannover 96.
Showing who's boss
Hard work and hard running has been the mantra since Zinnbauer took over and nowhere was that more evident than against die Werkself. Both teams made the referee's life difficult and a total of nine players were booked, but stormy though the encounter may have been, HSV captain and matchwinner Rafael van der Vaart delighted in his side showing guts to overcome another of Germany's bigger fish, by foul means or fair.
“It was important to show everyone who was boss,” he said. “It was an amazing fight from all of us. Of course the football we played could have been better, but today we demonstrated pure battling qualities.” Their current style of play - tenacious and energetic - is also one tailor-made for summer signings Lewis Holtby, Valon Behrami and Pierre-Michel Lasogga, all of whom have played their part in the club’s rise to 14th in the table.
It may not be the football that wins you championships, nor will it make die Rothosen the league’s most exciting side, but grit and graft is what keeps clubs in the division. In their current plight, and in view of last season's flirt with the drop, that alone should be enough to satisfy the Hamburg masses.