Hamburg Rising to European Berth, Stuttgart Fading, following Sunday Matchup

With the last spiel for MatchDay 25 HSV created a weeks worth of talking points with a 1-0 away win over Stuttgart. A cagey affair after Stuttgart’s 2-0 loss over Lazio, the heroics of Rene Adler in the keeper slot and a timely goal from Artjoms Rudnevs was all Hamburg needed to get the three points on Sunday and vault themselves into sixth place. Stuttgart fell to just eight points above Augsburg and the drop zone, signalling a poor run of form for the club after the high of the DFB Quarterfinal win and their Europa League success against Genk.

Their 2-0 loss to Lazio and the 1-0 loss Sunday has the club mired in a three match losing streak and with advancement in the Europa League almost out of the question and nine points out of the top six, times seem to be dire for Stuttgart. The opposite can be said about Hamburg, who now have secured ten points out of a possible 15 in their past five matches in the Bundesliga, with wins over Dortmund and Gladbach on their resume in that span. Now one point behind Frankfurt/Schalke for that all valuable fourth place spot, HSV has a chance to make a run in the season’s final nine fixtures and potentially finish in Europe.

Midfield Dominance for HSV

HSV’s 4-2-3-1 formation employed by Thorsten Fink gave the away side a strong lineup with defensive midfielders Milan Badelj and Tomas Rincon having excellent games anchoring the play against the hosts. Rincon completed 44 passes while Badelj did six better with 50 completed passes, giving the midfield combination nearly half the passes Stuttgart completed as an entire unit (197).

Dominance with the ball was the story of the day as Hamburg passed circles around the home side. With 306 completed passes and an 82.3% success rate, HSV’s midfielders completely controlled the game and rarely misplaced a pass with 66 misplaced passes, one less than Stuttgart’s 67 showing the utter imbalance in efficiency in the match. Without Stuttgart’s mission to keep the visitors out of the penalty area with conservative football, this game could have been a much wider scoreline with the attacking midfield of Van der Vaart, Dennis Aogo and Per Skjelbred combining nicely with Rudnevs. Playing without Heung Min Son, the success of Hamburg’s trio in the attacking midfield was a difference maker as the visitors were the much more composed side and controlled the flow and pace of the game through their five in form midfielders.

Badelj was however, the Man of the Match for HSV. Giving the winners pretty much all they could ask out of the defense midfielder, Badelj’s 50 completed passes, 88 touches, and 14 tackles, and despite missing ten passes he was one of the keys to his club’s success and was all over the pitch. Along with his partner Rincon in the defensive midfield, the two showed what Fink’s 4-2-3-1 formation can achieve if they consistently get the kind of hard work they received from their defensive midfielders.. With more performances like Sunday’s, HSV might just be able to compete with Schalke and Frankfurt for fourth place and stake their claim to Europe.

Adler’s Heroics

With the type of game Hamburg had, one would assume that their star keeper would have a slow night of action. Dominating the control of the ball for much of the game and Stuttgart’s woes in the passing game aside, the home side did manage to pepper Adler with seven shots on target. However Manuel Neuer’s backup for the DFB came up huge for his club as he often does, making the saves required to keep his seventh clean sheet of the season.

No save was more crucial than when Raphael Holzhauser’s free kick took a deflection off the wall. A generous bounce could have given the hosts the first goal of the match in the opening half, but Adler parried the deflection onto the crossbar and prevented Stuttgart from taking the lead. Adler once again came up big for HSV in the opening sequence of the second half, denying a close range header from Serdar Tasci that could have once again given the hosts the lead before Rudnevs struck at the fifty minute mark.

While Hamburg were deserving away winners over the much more defensively conservative Stuttgart side, the win would not have been possible if Adler did not demonstrate the world-class talent that has made him a German international. Adler has been invaluable to HSV since his arrival from Leverkusen and moments like this further prove his worth as the outcome of this game could have been much different if Hamburg did not possess the high level goalkeeping talent of Rene Adler.

Conservative Stuttgart Are Snakebitten

After two consecutive losses, Stuttgart seemed to be playing not to lose against HSV, trying to avoid three negative results in a row after their positive run of form to end February. With Hamburg’s defenders dealing well with Stuttgart’s long clearances down the pitch, it seemed at times that Stuttgart was far too comfortable prior to Rudnevs goal and were not making much of an offensive effort, eventually getting burned for it when the Latvian struck just minutes into the second half.

While Stuttgart did manage to get seven shots on target, including two chances to get on the front foot that were denied by Adler, their efforts on the offensive side of the game today were just not enough to get a result. After Rudnevs’ goal HSV could be even more composed with the ball at their feet and it was game over for the hosts who for the first fifty minutes of the match executed their gameplan.

Allowing only three shots on target all game, Stuttgart clearly succeeded in their attempt to minimize the amount of scoring opportunities in the game. Ultimately putting in more tackles and getting more crosses into the box in the match, the conservative gameplan of Bruno Labbadia was embraced by his players and put into action, but it just did not earn any spoils for the hosts who did desperately need the result.

Now eight points above the drop, Stuttgart has just the DFB Pokal and the hope of a miracle in the second leg of the Europa League to play for. With just not enough talent to compete for Europe this season it is hard to blame Bruno Labbadia for his conservative tactics in trying to secure a vital point and maybe a win had they scored on their opening two chances, but they didn’t and at the end of the day the attempt to sit back played right in the hands of the visitors.

Super Rudnevs

No man at Mercedes-Benz Arena left happier than Artjoms Rudnevs. The Latvian scored his 11th goal of the campaign off a well struck volley to earn his team their 11th win of the season.

Dennis Diekmeier’s cross from the right found Rudnevs perfectly in the box and the Latvian executed a beautiful volley to earn the winner. In a game with very little quality chances on either side, Rudnevs moment of brilliance on the cross provided the difference in a match that very well could have ended scoreless had the hosts had their way with their intensive defending.

Now with nine games left in his first full campaign in Hamburg, Rudnevs has 11 goals and is on the upswing for a club that has been showing promise going into the future as well.  With a top-notch player like Van der Vaart at the center attacking midfield position Rudnevs can continue to build on his impressive first full Bundesliga season.

With an away brace against Borussia Dortmund, including the 18th minute equalizer just one minute after Robert Lewandowski made it 1-0 for the hosts and the assist in the club’s win over Mönchengladbach, Rudnevs has been instrumental in the club’s recent run of form that has them headed in the direction of European football for the 2013/14 season. Only time will tell if the 25 year old Latvian becomes a staple at HSV, but with the football the striker has been playing along with his team’s success, the sky is the limit for the Bundesliga newcomer in the final nine matchday’s of 2012/13.

Can HSV Claim European Ticket?

Perhaps it is a tired talking point, but going into the final nine matches of the Bundesliga season every weekend will be huge in deciding the final European spots in the Bundesliga. With the 1-3 positions all but wrapped up by Bayern, Dortmund, and Leverkusen the race for fourth through seventh will be the focus of the coming month. Hamburg made it even more intriguing with their win, now trailing Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt for fourth place by only a point, with Mainz, Freiburg, Gladbach and Hannover all within striking distance and even Nurnberg not out of the picture.

Home to Augsburg next weekend, HSV has a very valuable opportunity to continue to put pressure on the 4/5th placed clubs next weekend with three points over Augsburg, who are sitting third from the bottom in the relegation playoff position. Along with the fixture against Augsburg, Hamburg will also host Fortuna Dusseldorf on April 20 as well as playing Hoffenheim on the Matchday 33 May 11 giving HSV three fixtures that should be a sure three points in the direction of their European dreams.

Where things will get tricky however are their away fixtures with Bayern, Mainz, and Schalke. March 30 and April 13 will be monumental days on Hamburg’s spring calendar as the likelihood of a loss at Allianz Arena against the juggernaut that has been FCB this season will make Arpil 13’s fixture in Mainz’ Coface Arena one to circle on the calendar as both teams can be battling to stay in the top seven come next month. With a home date with Freiburg sandwiched between those two the beginning of April will be where we see if HSV can hope for the top four or settle for a chase for the consolation prize of the Europa League.

If Hamburg do continue their run of form that has seen them beat the likes of Dortmund and stay in striking distance of the top four then April 27 away to Schalke will be another match to circle on the calendar as Schalke will be looking to advance to the Champions League for the second straight season without a doubt regardless of what HSV accomplish in the coming month.

With away fixtures against Bayern, Schalke and their last fixture of the season at home to Leverkusen and a lineup that is decidedly not of top four caliber at this moment and Schalke finally hitting their stride as of late, it seems that this squad will be destined for a chase with Mainz, Freiburg, Frankfurt Hannover, and Monchengladbach for the three Europa League spots. However a club that made it clear that they have bigger ambitions with the acquisition of Van der Vaart and their attempt to extend valued attacker Hueng Min Son could use the excitement of the chase of the top four, no matter how long the dream realistically lasts. Three points over Augsburg at home will extend that dream that for the time being should have the spirits of a club that is peaking at the right time at a high.

 

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