Hamburg - Received wisdom states that lightning never strikes twice, but this season Hamburger SV could be on course to disprove that theory as they brace themselves for another nerve-jangling escape act in the battle against relegation.
Almost immediate impact
Rewind to the same stage of the 2013/14 campaign and the north German giants were hovering precariously in 16th place with just 27 points on the board. They even lost their last three games of the season before clinging to their top-flight status via the play-offs. HSV’s situation is only marginally better this time around, with a 2-1 victory over 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Matchday 31 increasing their tally to 31 points and lifting them to .
Survival remains the primary objective, but the main difference this year is that a wave of optimism is currently coursing through the club as they prepare for their final three games of the season. Bruno Labbadia was appointed head coach just three weeks ago and he has already swept away the negativity that had become entrenched after the team picked up a solitary point from the six matches prior to his arrival.
Hamburg lost 1-0 away to SV Werder Bremen in Labbadia’s first game back at the helm – he was HSV coach in 2009/10 too – but beat FC Augsburg 3-2 in their next encounter and followed that up with the win in Mainz. “It was an intensive game, as we expected it to be,” said the 49-year-old afterwards. “We started well but our final ball wasn’t good enough and then in the second half we allowed ourselves to be pinned too far back into our own half. But then we fought back. We regained our belief with last week’s win and we’ve strengthened that feeling today.”
Crucially, self-confidence is starting to return to the players. “Suddenly we have the feeling out on the pitch that we’re going to win,” said centre-back Johan Djourou. Team-mate Rafael van der Vaart agreed: “We felt comfortable and really good out there - and it showed.” The statistics support their claims too: in their last two Bundesliga outings, Hamburg have scored almost a quarter of their total goals tally this season (five of 21) and earned almost 20 per cent of their overall points haul (six of 31).
And van der Vaart is in no doubt as to the reason for the upswing: “Bruno Labbadia is just a very good coach with lots of quality. It’s no coincidence that we’ve won our last two games.” Labbadia himself was keen to play down the euphoria, however: “We’ve taken the second step now – nothing more.”
He is right to preach caution, as Hamburg face two of the sides currently occupying the four places below them in the standings before the season is out. On Matchday 33 they travel to bottom-of-the-table VfB Stuttgart, but before then the port-city outfit host 16th-placed SC Freiburg on Friday in what defender Heiko Westermann labelled “our next final”.
And while Hamburg have risen to the challenge of avoiding the drop recently, Freiburg have crumbled. This will be the south-western club’s third successive ‘six-pointer’ against a direct relegation rival, but they come into the game having taken just one of the points available following a 2-2 draw with Stuttgart and a 2-1 reverse at home to SC Paderborn at the weekend.
Freiburg have fared well in recent meetings and are undefeated in their last four visits to the Imtech Arena, winning three and drawing one, but history is firmly on Hamburg’s side. As the Bundesliga’s only ever-present club, they proudly display a giant clock in their stadium marking the years, days, hours and even seconds they have been in the top flight.
Whatever the outcome of Friday’s encounter there will certainly be plenty of twists to come in the relegation battle, but with Labbadia in charge, the clock looks set to keep on ticking for another season yet in Hamburg.