April 23, 2017

2016-17 Season Preview: Are Hamburger SV Moving beyond Mere Stability?

Basics

Name: Hamburger SV (Hamburger Sport-Verein e.V)
Nicknames: 
Der Dino (the Dino, a reference to HSV’s never-relegated Bundesliga status); Die Rothosen (” the Red Shorts”)
Founded: 29 September 1887
Club colors: blue, red, and white.
Primary rivals: Werder Bremen (Nordderby) and FC St. Pauli (inter-city derby).
Fan friendship: Rangers (Scotland) and Arminia Bielefeld.

Volksparkstadion

Capacity: 57,000

2015-16 attendance: 912,900 (53,700 per match – 4th most in Bundesliga)

HSV's Volksparkstadion, one of Germany's biggest grounds.
HSV’s Volksparkstadion, one of Germany’s biggest grounds.

Trophies

3 Bundesliga (or Domestic) Championships (1922-23, 1927-28, 1959-60, 1978-79, 1981-82, 1982-83).

3 DFB Pokal Championships (1962-63, 1975-76, 1986-87).

1 European Cup (1982-83)

2015-16 Finishes

Bundesliga: 10th with 41 points (40 goals scored, 46 allowed, -6 GD)

DFB Pokal: 1st round (3-2 loss on penalties at Zeiss Jena)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals:  6
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 5
Number of Matches drawn:  8
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 10
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals:  4
Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in loss: 3
Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in draw:  3
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw:  1 (!)
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory:  3

Top 2015-16 Scorers

Nicolai Müller: 9
Pierre-Michel Lasogga: 8
Michael Grigoritsch: 4

Early Bundesliga Results

Record: 0-1-1
Goals Scored: 2
Goals Allowed: 4

HSV 1:1 (1:0) FC Ingolstadt

Bayer Leverkusen 3:1 (0:0) HSV

Already, HSV is caught amid speculation about being rubbish after allowing an Joel Pohjanpalo hattrick in the match’s final 15 minutes against Leverkusen on Matchday 2 and after allowing an Ingolstadt equalizer during the home opener on Matchday 1. Thus is the life of one of Germany’s biggest clubs. Already, speculation about Bruno Labbadia not making it to October is being whispered.

Questions with an Expert:

For this segment, I tapped Pascal Martin of VAVEL‘s excellent 2.Bundesliga coverage for his expertise on the club with everyone’s favorite blue hue. Pascal has been with Vavel since June 2015 and became editor-in-chief for the relaunched VAVEL Deutschland project in January 2016. Moreover, he writes for a local sports newspaper in Hamburg and aspires to become a fulltime sports journalist. Finally, he’s a football addict and HSV supporter since as long as he can remember.

Keep an eye out for . . .

Michael Gregoritsch. I don’t think he’ll play regularly, but when he does he brings so much to the team, especially in the “Zehner
position as an almost deep-lying forward where he exudes tremendous danger. He makes short work in front of the goal; he’s agile, and because of his height, he’s also difficult for opposing defenders to challenge aerially.

Player that should be driven to another club . . .

Some players in the current squad are not good enough and should be sold, like Dennis Diekmeier, Matthias Ostrzolek and Cleber leading the way. But also our captain, Johan Djourou, hasn’t yet shown that he’s an actual strength for the team or a good leader.

Advice you’d give your manager . . .

I would say that Bruno Labbadia should start new signing Alen Halilovic in central offensive midfield and take Aaron Hunt out of the line-up. Unfortunately, Labbadia sees Halilovic as a winger and Hunt as the “Zehner.” Hunt hasn’t convinced with his performances yet and still needs to improve if he wants to have a future with HSV.

Personally, I think that Hunt confounds our offense, because we should play with pace in passing and finishing. However, Hunt slows the game down, and he didn’t do well last season with just a single goal and three assists to his name. Halilovic is exactly the player who should play in CAM. He brings qualities which we need to improve our offensive and become more dangerous.

Opposition player you despise . . .

I don’t have a player or team which I really hate in Bundesliga. But of course there are players I don’t like, such as Hakan Calhanoglu, who dislike because of his move to Bayer 04 Leverkusen and his “sick note” from that time. Or I would pick FC Augsburg’s Philipp Max who seemed really arrogant before the relegation play-offs between HSV and Karlsruher SC.

What will opposing sides underestimate?

It might be our new attack. With Bobby Wood, Luca Waldschmidt, Filip Kostic and Alen Halilovic, we’ve signed four players who will increase our offensive quality. All four exude danger in attack and can help us immediately. Through them, our coach has the opportunity to rotate players frequently, create new plans, and simply drop regulars if they don’t perform.

What are fans overestimating?

I would answer, again, that it’s our new attack (laughs). The expectations of Hamburg fans are always high and with a record signing, a talent from Barcelona, and one of the best strikers from the last 2. Bundesliga season, these fans want to see improvement and success. But they have to wait until the new players settle in their new situation.

Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting Volksparkstadion for the first time  . . .

Don’t drive with the car, because the motorway is just too full and it’ll take years to get home after the match. Use the train and get off at that Stellingen stop. You can walk to the stadium by foot, which is really cool for special matches like the derby against Werder Bremen, because the fans are singing. If you want to feel the atmosphere in the stadium, then go to stand 25A, the Nordtribüne. It’s full of singing fans, who create atmosphere for the stadium. And also have a look at the club museum – it’s worth a look about. HSV’s story is definitely interesting. Also, take a tour the whole stadium. Just beside the museum is the arena store where you can buy a souvenir and take in the good view into the stadium.

Where will HSV finish?

After the last few years of almost-relegation, we need to step up and continue to solidify. In finishing 10th last season, we did quite well, but our performances in some matches were simply not good enough. For example, we’re too inconsistent – we played good in a first leg of the season, but falter in the second. So we need to improve our consistency. Finally, we made great signings for our attack, but have big questions on defense.  So, a good season result would be a one-digit place in table like 9th.

What is your standout HSV memory from last season?

Surely the both derby wins against Bremen. There’s almost no better feeling than winning twice in a season against your archrival. Ivo Ilicevic’s goal in the first leg game was a wonderful moment. He finally scored and it was a real stunner! But we also showed great performances during the two wins against Borussia Mönchengladbach where we scored (on aggregate) six goals. We should keep that in mind. Hopefully, we can see more moments like this in upcoming season.

When last we saw them

A season ago, HSV finished 10th – a far cry from the near-certain relegations during the previous two seasons. On the macro level, HSV scored 40 goals (12th best) and conceded 46 goals (11th worst) with an uninspiring -6 GD. 

hsv-2015-16-saison-chart
Well, they avoided relegation and finished in the midtable, which equals a successful season by HSV’s recent cellar-dwelling standards. (Courtesy of kicker.de)

In all, 2015-16 has to be judged a successful season. Relegation was never really a possibility, as HSV stabilized under the tenure of a single head coach for an entire season.

However, it’s not as if Hamburg won over many neutrals last season with their flat attack and uninspiring defense. I mean, Pierre-Michel Lasogga was HSV’s 2nd leading goal-scorer. Woof. I swear that most commentators I read / heard constantly pegged HSV for dark horse relegation candidates as the Rückrunde.

They were wrong. HSV always seemed to find a way to stay mid-table.

But it wasn’t pretty. The Müller-Holtby tandem never really materialized. Djourou still didn’t emerged as a leader to marshall the backline around. And finding goals seemed mostly to involve luck.

Aspiration

Europe, Europe, Europe. Similar to traditional powers like Schalke and Köln, HSV’s fanbase (and attendant media narrative) demands the highest from a club seemingly incapable of delivering the results. Nonetheless, now that HSV managed to finish mid-table a season ago and signed a bevy of attacking talent during the summer, you bet fanatical HSVers are banking on Europe. And the Hamburg will be eager to fan the flames.

Reality

Lower mid-table. Because of the pitched expectations, HSV – also like a Schalke or Köln – inevitability disappoint everyone in Hamburg, fall into turmoil, fire a few coaches, then cross their fingers.

Unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe this very HSV-ish scenario won’t at least be half possible this season. Some people never learn.

Why? The backline and defensive midfield seem a few cuts below average still. Look, conceding a 15 minute hattrick to Pohjanpalo and Leverkusen is disastrous, but also probably random. However, in the match HSV conceded 15 (t0 6) shots, as well as a heavy volume of Leverkusen passing in HSV’s defensive 3rd. I don’t think HSV is skilled enough to sit back and simply absorb pressure like this each Matchday. During the same match, you’ll also notice that HSV’s most frequent passing combination was Adler-Gregoritsch (!). Not a promising sign for a side who signed loads of attacking talent this summer.

The Boss

Bruno Labbadia did something unique for recent HSV coaches: survive an entire season – and then some! The well-traveled coach helped save HSV from relegation in 2014-15, and previously coached HSV in 2009-10.

This guy. You know you secretly cheer for him.
This guy. You know you secretly cheer for him.

Throughout his coaching career, Labbadia has a winning percentage of 46% in 383 matches (178 wins, 82 draws, and 123 losses).

Not exactly inspiring, but he’s ridden with HSV and a core group of these players during some dark times.

Philosophy

Ball circulation with a midfield diamond and fast wing play seem to be traits at the center of Nagelsmann ultra modern philosophy of on-pitch flexibility (cp. Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel); however, Nagelsmann’s side doesn’t have the make up to play a Bayern or Dortmund-styled possession game, so Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim express flexibility in other ways.

Plan B

Picture this: Hoffenheim’s defense (despite the anchoring provided by Süle, or perhaps the big guy is sold during the Winterpause) still isn’t very good and that GD is looking mighty negative. Nagelsmann pulls his boys back into a box of nine defenders and Hoffenheim become yet another “counter attacking” team. Like we need another. Riding the season out to top flight safety becomes the all-consuming purpose.

Notable Transfers 

Out:

  • Kerem Demirbay (Hoffenheim)
  • Zoltan Stieber (Kaiserslautern)
  • Jaroslav Drobny (Werder Bremen)
  • Gojko Kacar (FC Augsburg)
  • Ivo Ilicevic (Anzhi)
  • Artjoms Rudnevs (1.FC Köln)
  • Ivica Olic (1860 Munich)
  • Arianit Ferati (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
  • Sven Schipplock (SV Darmstadt)
  • Josip Drmic (Mönchengladbach)

In:

  • Filip Kostic (VfB Stuttgart)
  • Douglas Santos (Atlético-MG)
  • Alen Halilovis (FC Barcelona)
  • Bobby Wood (Union Berlin)
  • Luca Waldschmidt (Eintracht Frankfurt)
  • Christian Mathenia (SV Darmstadt)

Strengths

On paper, it’s the attacking half of the lineup that’s now loaded with talents like Lewis Holtby, Nicolai Müller, Michael Gregoritsch, Bobby Wood, Filip Kostic, and Alen Halilovic. On paper, mind you. But thank god, since HSV had one of the Bundesliga’s most uninspiring attacks last season. Hopefully by Christmas, assuming all else is equal in terms of stability and drama, Labbadia will have found his best attacking core, who will have gelled together.

In two matches, American Bobby “The Flying Hawaiian” Wood has scored twice and Gregoritsch has continued to look useful. However, the highly touted Halilovic has yet to see the pitch, Müller has been anonymous, Holtby’s been injured, and Kostic is bedding in.

In the long run, I’m betting on this attacking unit to carry HSV and menace many Rückrunde opponents.

Weaknesses

Defense. First, the defensive roster isn’t improved from a season ago when HSV well already established defenders – so don’t expect any sudden growth of young talent in this department. Cléber looks like lost sheep next to his grizzled veteran centerback partner, Emir Spahic. Perhaps it’s fair to conclude that the backline hinges on team captain Johan Djourou’s marshalling abilities – for better or ill.

Midfield. Specifically, I’m holding about HSV’s holding midfield. Current double pivots, Gideon Jung and Aaron Hunt, look woefully inadequate for a side with top half of the table aspirations. Get healthy soon, Mr. Holtby! However, even with Holtby healthy again, I’m skeptical that HSV can successfully (and simultaneously) both lock down opponents and distribution balls forward with this midfield. It’s more like One-Way street driving here, kiddos.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

Right now. As in the next five matches. After the disappointment of the first team matches, the soapy Real Housewives of the Bundesliga narrative is already sparking around der Dino. And veteran Bundesliga partisans know how this story ends: Labbadia is fired by mid-November. Another coach is shed in the Rückrunde, and HSV limp to table cellar.

Thus, playing at around a .500 level (to use American sporting terminology) over the next 5 Matchdays is crucial simply for ensuring stability, sanity, and actual future possibility.

Over the next five matches, HSV host RB Leipzig (the psychic vibrations are telling HSV win this one!), play at SC Freiburg, host Bayern (gulp), play at Hertha (yawn), and play at Gladbach (“hold onto yer butts“).

Verdict

9th place. The attack will be enough to keep HSV in close matches – grab late equalizers, or even winners. The defense will stress everyone out, however. No mystery there. Perhaps whether or not a single coach (i.e. Labbadia) remains at the helm is the key to HSV’s season.

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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and coaching the U6s are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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