Season Preview – Hamburger SV – Fending off a bleak Future

This time last season, nobody would have predicted just how bad HSV would do in the league. Finishing 16th and 5 points ahead of the relegation spot actually flattered HSV’s performances. The season didn’t start well under the tutelage of Michael Oenning and was soon sacked in September after a run of 5 defeats in the first 6 matches. Rodolfo Cardoso took over as caretaker manager and won his first game in charge but his next and last game was another loss.  After scrambling for a replacement, Thorsten Fink was finally appointed. Under Fink, they lost no more games in the Hinrunde but only won 3 in 9. A poor February and March saw Hamburg flirt with relegation spots but eventually got enough points to ward off an unprecedented relegation. However, this didn’t mask what was one of the worst seasons in club history.

Frank Arnesen’s tactic of signing players from Chelsea’s reserve team (Mancienne, Rajković, Bruma, Töre and Sala) didn’t work and key players such as Petric, Jansen, Aogo and Westermann did not perform as was expected of them across the season. The only player to come out with any credit was goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobný but even he had a rough start. The fact that the only major signing this year has been René Adler to take over Drobný’s number 1 spot is somewhat unnerving and there are no visible signs that things are about to change. Also, Slobodan Rajković’s fight with Tolgay Arslan in pre-season has done nothing for encouragement and has demoted the Serb to playing with the reserves. The team remains in turmoil and if it gets any worse, it could end in tragedy.  In that sense, this season is absolutely vital for the future of the club.

Transfers:

In:

Artjoms Rudņevs (Lech Poznań)
René Adler (Bayer Leverkusen)
Maximilian Beister (Fortuna Düsseldorf)**
Lennard Sowah (Millwall FC)**
Paul Scharner (West Bromwich Albion)

Out:

Romeo Castelen (unknown)
Paolo Guerrero (Corinthians)
Macauley Christantus (UD Las Palmas)
Mladen Petric (Fulham)
Dániel Nagy (VfL Osnabrück)
Miroslav Stepanek (FK Senica)
Sörten Bertram (VfL Bochum)
Mickaël Tavares (unknown)
David Jarolim (unknown)
Gökhan Töre (Rubin Kazan)

The Team

As mentioned before, it’s surprising that a team that’s lacking in all departments other than goalkeeper, goes and signs a goalkeeper. Drobný was easily one of the team’s best player last season and now seems to have been relegated to backup behind new boy René Adler.

The defense last year conceded more goals than bottom of the league Kaiserslautern, and combined with the poor strikeforce (who had one of the worst chance to goals ratios in the league), makes it quite evident as to why HSV finished where they did. Little changes are expected in defense, with Dennis Diekmeier expected to start at right back and Heiko Westermann partnering either Michael Mancienne or Jeffrey Bruma in central defense, with Rajković likely to be out of the team for as long as Fink is manager. New arrival Paul Scharner should also have a part to play and could perhaps start in the middle with Westermann moving to defensive midfield or in the place of Bruma or Mancienne. Dennis Aogo will remain on the left, his tendency to get forward one of the team’s biggest assets last year, although he will have to look out behind him more often since he was caught out quite often last year, a major cause for HSV’s goal leakage.

Fink’s 4-2-3-1 system and who fills the midfield roles is still very much up in the air. Here is where many claim that HSV made a mistake, even club legend Uwe Seeler, stating that getting rid of David Jarolim was a rash decision and that he still had a year or two left in him at this level. Jarolim will probably be replaced by either Robert Tesche or Gojko Kačar, another player who hasn’t performed as expected since his arrival from Hertha Berlin two years ago although he has been terribly unlucky with injuries. Many wanted to see more of Ivo Iličević on the left wing, although his appearances came mostly from the bench and were not on the level that he showed for Kaiserslautern, and that’s why it’s more likely to see Marcell Jansen slot in there. On the right, HSV lost Elia to Juventus early in the season and replaced him with Jacopo Sala, who is still gaining experience at that level. This season, Maximilian Beister will most likely take up that spot and big things will be expected of the player who set the Esprit Arena in Düsseldorf alight last season. Hamburg also sold arguably their brightest talent, Gökhan Töre, after reported bust ups with the coach but getting Beister back made that decision a bit more easy. Behind the striker, Tolgay Arslan will probably be pushing for a starting spot and will be playing alongside the striker more often than behind him.  Fink has reiterated his desire for another creative player though so another signing or two may still be in the books for them this summer.

For the lone striker spot, Marcus Berg seems to have had enough chances already and new arrival Artjoms Rudņevs deserves a chance in the starting line-up after his impressive tally for Lech Poznań. South Korean Heung-Min Son will also have a part to play, either up front or out wide, as he continues to adapt to the Bundesliga and European football.

The manager and tactics

Thorsten Fink is on thin ice. There’s nothing to suggest otherwise that if he doesn’t start the season strongly, at least better than they finished, he could well be out the door in the Hinrunde. His decision to use the 4-2-3-1 seems to be the right choice but there is still the question of whether he has the right personnel to execute it. Marcell Jansen playing in front of Dennis Aogo seems a bit like having two players for a single role and perhaps cashing in for one of them to buy players for other demanding positions would make more sense, although HSV need all the talent they have at the minute. Fink seems to have dealt with dressing room problems with an iron fist, demoting Rajković to the reserves and selling Töre after his disciplinary problems and his highly-publicised car crash last year. HSV’s dressing room seems to be a bit volatile and more experienced like Westermann and new boy Scharner could be helpful in cooling the heads of the hot-headed young players, which is why Jarolim’s release is so baffling. Fink also needs to step up and give players like Beister and Iličević more games and time on the field since they’ve both shown they can be key players for their team.

Strengths and weaknesses

HSV are one of the biggest clubs in Germany and have a good stadium and fan base to go with it. The fact that they’re not competing at the top is quite simply unacceptable for the fans at the Imtech Arena and this demand for success or relative success should spur players and manager on. The club have the resources to turn this around and Frank Arnesen is an experienced man in this position so there’s no reason to believe that last season wasn’t just a blip. The quality is there to perform better and all the young players will have a year’s more experience now.  In that sense the only impediment is their own inability to use the resources they have at their disposal.

In terms of weaknesses, it’s not something easy to pinpoint because they are lacking in so many departments. The defense leaked too many goals and their concentration was a problem. The midfield didn’t impose themselves enough last year and were easily outmuscled by the opposition and up front, not enough goals came, with a poor tally of 35 in 34 matches, with only bottom-placed Kaiserslautern scoring less than them. Big players such as Jansen and Aogo didn’t perform at the levels that everyone knows they can on a consistent basis and a step-up is required this season if HSV are not going to become a mediocre mid-table team.  In addition, Fink’s high pressure quick passing system still has a way to go before being effectively implemented.  The high defensive line and offensive combinations Fink prefers were slow to get off the ground last season and will likely take more time to polish.

Prediction

The lack of big signings have not done morale any favours at the Imtech Arena. While René Adler is a very good goalkeeper, Jaroslav Drobný proved himself more than capable in his time there.  If anything, it might spur competition in a crucial position. The arrivals of Beister and Rudņevs meanwhile should make it a bit more exciting up front for them, especially in the wake of losing Petric, Guerrero and Töre. Their performance against Barcelona this pre-season showed no improvement in attitude and if this doesn’t change, it could be another disappointing campaign for HSV. Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for such a successful club so it’s not clear whether the problem lies with the players, with the manager, or even with both. Either way, something needs to change and the time for that is now.  Suffice to say, there will be no shortage of pressure on the club this season.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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