It hasn’t been the easiest last couple weeks for HSV as the consecutive defeats against Hoffenheim (more of a thumping, rather) and Hertha Berlin had left die Roten Hosen in a tricky situation.
The arrival of Eintracht Braunschweig to the Imtech Arena left HSV fans scratching their heads: Was Braunschweig the ideal rival at this time due to them being, one would think, the weakest team in the Bundesliga, or could a bad result or performance be the final nail in Fink’s coffin?
It turned out to be the former, as HSV got to an amazing start thanks to quick goals by Rafael van der Vaart and a first goal from Jacques Zoua, all after 17 minutes. Thorsten Fink came out with new faces, such as Johan Djourou and Petr Jiráček, filling in for Lasse Sobiech and Artjoms Rudņevs, whilst he changed his formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a diamond 4-4-2, with Maximilian Beister and Jacques Zoua leading the line, neither a proper striker. The tactic seemed to have worked as HSV put in a convincing first half performance that allowed Braunschweig very little of the ball or to cause any dangerous chances.
Despite recent events, HSV was still expected to win but it was more about the performance. The willing and hard-working first 45 minutes by the home side pleased the crowd as this was more like what they expected from their side. Van der Vaart was involved and Zoua and Beister were dropping to the channels and not looking as clumsy on the ball as they had in previous games, causing more trouble than desperation.
After the second goal, HSV were in control and it clearly took the pressure off them, as they were able to play less nervously than we’d seen in the last three hours of football. It was the best start they could have wished for, as if it had still been goalless after half an hour, nerves and further whistling might have started to ring around the stadium and that would have no doubt influenced the players and their performances. However, it wasn’t the case as both teams went into the break with one clearly dominating the other and the fans satisfied.
The second half was a different story, as Braunschweig came out of their cave and started seeing more of the ball. HSV looked tired and allowed them to easily reach the final third, with the home midfield almost inexistent. Jiráček and Arslan were nowhere to be seen and Braunschweig started to dominate and reach René Adler. HSV’s performance started to resemble recent ones but Fink carried out the masterstroke of the afternoon by bringing on youngster Hakan Çalhanoğlu for van der Vaart with 10 minutes to go. He needed less than 60 seconds to make an impression as he skillfully picked up the ball, dribbled past the defender and put in a low shot that went through Daniel Davari’s gloves and into the net. Whilst clearly a goalkeeping mistake, there’s no denying that Çalhanoğlu has flair and doesn’t have stage fright. In injury time, Çalhanoğlu curled in a beautiful free kick for his second goal and his team’s fourth.
Çalhanoğlu’s performance overshadowed a little bit HSV’s poor second-half performance. Whilst a clear improvement on recent matches, there is still clearly work to be done, especially in midfield. The defence looked a bit tighter today but, in all fairness, they didn’t have much of a challenge in front of them. Djourou looked clumsy and wasteful on the ball and impetuous without it, so the clean sheet can definitely not be attributed to his presence in the side. The midfield needs to make more of an appearance in future matches, especially in the second half. HSV are definitely in need of a midfielder who can sweep up play, have some presence about him and can transition play with ease, as the talent up front is much more than the one at the back. However, it may be a little late to find such a player so Jiráček and Arslan will have to step up their play or risk being expendable come January.
All in all, it’s a weight off Fink and Kreuzer’s shoulders, as the team put in an overall convincing performance that gives them a bit more breathing space, with the added plus of Çalhanoğlu’s spectacular cameo, which will give HSV fans something extra to go home with.. However, they should wait before celebrating as Borussia Dortmund will prove a much tougher test next week at the Signal Iduna Park. One has to think though, just like today, will that game be anything to go by?
Header courtesy of Bild.de