Hamburg Looking Towards Europe

After the last-minute transfers of Rafael van der Vaart (€13m from Tottenham Hotspur), Milan Badelj (€4m from Dinamo Zagreb) and Petr Jiracek (€4m from VfL Wolfsburg) at the end of August, HSV have slowly overcome a poor start to the 2012/2013 season and started to collect points while improving their style of play and organization in midfield.  Along with René Adler (free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen), who had been signed before, van der Vaart and Badelj have had an especially huge impact on the team that finished 10th in the “Hinrunde”, only two points behind 6th-placed Freiburg.

While van der Vaart made the club and fans fall into euphoria with his pure presence, the young Croatian quickly showed his worth on the pitch. He plays a much deeper role and can dictate the pace of a game from there with a great passing range, very good anticipation and a lot of touches in front of the back-four. Hamburg’s build-up play, a huge problem in the last few years, finally seemed to improve significantly.

Behind only the aforementioned former German number one goalkeeper, René Adler —who played a great first half of the season himself, saving results on several occasions—Badelj was voted the second-best HSV player by the club’s fans in December. Badelj has had an impressive start to his Bundesliga career, especially considering he did not spend any of the pre-season with the team. Having switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a diamond-shaped 4-4-2 in late November, because of injury problems, manager Thorsten Fink has made a virtue of necessity and kept the system going forward.

Going into the “Rückrunde,” people can certainly expect further tactical improvements because several summer signings have been able to prepare with the team for the first time and work on the new system with the coaching staff during the winter break. The defence in front of goalkeeper René Adler has looked a lot more solid lately. The midfield diamond with returning talisman Rafael van der Vaart at the top was much stronger in possession than the five-man midfield at the beginning of the season, and the strikers Heung-Min Son, Artjoms Rudnevs and Maximilian Beister are all on a similar level now to compete for two spots in the starting eleven.

These are good prospects on the pitch if the team is able to find consistency now and improve in the creative department and in the attack. A few big “ifs,” but the fundamentals for a successful second half of the campaign are definitely there, and sporting director Frank Arnesen has given out the goal to double the current 24 points until the end of the season to “finish with at least 48 and see where it gets HSV in the table.”

Last season, Hannover finished 7th with that amount of points. They qualified for the Europa League in the process, an achievement Hamburg would like to accomplish as well in the near future. Depending on the first few games in January and February, they could redirect their goals quickly, as it seems there are a lot teams in contention for the spots behind Bayern, Dortmund and Leverkusen this year. Consistency, once again, will be key and dreaming about a return to Europe is only that, until the team finally proves to have made the next step.

Financially though, the situation did not change much in the right direction during the winter break, as Arnesen has not been able to sell any of the players that he wanted to leave HSV in January. Only Robert Tesche left on a half-year loan to Fortuna Düsseldorf, which will save the club about €600k in wages until summer, but is only a drop in the ocean for the Dane, who had the precept of generating €6.4m in transfer fees and wage savings this month.

The more worrying the financial situation is at the moment, the more important consistent results are on the pitch. HSV certainly have the potential to get back on track in the mid-term and need to make a step forward now to fulfill their own expectations and these of the supporters. The second half of the 2012/2013 will show, which path the “Rothosen” will go in the near future.

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