There is no such thing as smooth sailing on the football pitches in Hamburg right now. Hamburger SV are yet to win for the first time this Bundesliga season after seven match days, and they have already sacked their head coach Bruno Labbadia, and have hired former TSG Hoffenheim and Schalke 04 coach Markus Gisdol to turn their fortunes around.
But HSV are not the only Hamburg based club looking for brighter days right now. 2. Bundesliga counterpart FC St. Pauli is also looking all but impressive in their displays on the field at the moment, and they have only managed to win one game out of a possible nine this season. The brown and whites begun the campaign by losing three games in a row, before ending the losing streak by drawing twice and winning against Arminia Bielefeld at home. The last three games have all ended in defeats though, with the setback against FC Erzgebirge Aue on Friday being especially painful since the visitors scored the winning goal late in the second half.
So is it time for St. Pauli to follow in the footsteps of their local rivals, and fire head coach Ewald Linen? Maybe, but not yet.
Linen signed with St. Pauli late in 2014, and guided the club to safety after a long and hard relegation battle. Last year was a bit more impressive, with the Hamburg-side almost competing for a promotion to the top flight. Summer signing Aziz Bouhaddouz (SV Sandhausen), Christopher Avevor (Fortuna Düsseldorf) and Vegar Eggen Hedenstad (SC Freiburg) among others, indicated in the summer that the season could be a fun one to follow from the stands at the Millerntor-Stadion.
We are yet to experience those days, however. St. Pauli looks lackluster, unimaginative and reluctant to collaborate on the field when they play, and it’s prominent that Linen’s 4-2-3-1 isn’t a formation that fits the current roster. Not that the formation is the big problem: the pace isn’t there, the passing isn’t there and the creativity is definitely not there, especially not on the wings. But pointing out the failing formations is at least a start.
It’s not too clever to change tactics dramatically in an instant, so Linen should stick with the 4-4-2 double-6 formation that he has deployed at five times this season. Sure, St. Pauli has only managed to take four points out of a possible 15 when using it, but that is four out of their five points in total. Furthermore, center forward Bouhaddouz has only been able to score when the 4-4-2 formation has been deployed, and his goal scoring will be vital in St. Pauli’s battle for survival in the second division. Bringing in a player in the January transfer window that can complement Bouhaddouz attributes better than Fafà Picault and Kyoung-Rok Choi in the final third, might just be a first step upwards in the table. The club should be on the lookout for a winger too, but the lack of pace on the flanks might be too big of a problem to solve during the season.
“The coach is not a question.”
But will Linen remains in charge of the club until the January transfer window? There are plenty of fan criticism towards the 62-year-old at the moment, which is in stark contrast to what it looked like not too long ago when the fans printed stickers with Linen’s face on. But the criticism is justified when you’ve only come out victorious one out of a possible nine games at the start of a new season. To answer the question though: some fans say yes, the players and staff, says no.
”This happens in the business of football. But I can say [this] quite clearly: We have a great relationship internally with our coach. It would be completely wrong to pick someone out of the group now,” midfielder Bernd Nehrig tells Mopo.
“We are all in the shit together and can only get out of it again together. The coach is not a question.”
Nehrig’s sentiments about unity is echoed by sporting director Thomas Meggle.
“We need this unity to work our way out. We must not lose our basics”, he is quoted as telling Mopo, before commenting on the many injures that the club has had to make do with throughout the start of the new season.
“It has accompanied us throughout the season. We should put our focus on things we can influence,” he says.
The St. Pauli faithful’s hasn’t only been critical of Linen’s tactical approach, the brown and white supporters have also criticized Meggle for failing to reinvest the money the club made over the last two summer transfer windows when Marcel Halstenberg (RB Leipzig, 3,5 million euros) and Marc Rzatkowski, (RB Salzburg, 2 million euros) were sold. The 41-year-old does not agree with his critics, however.
“Absolutely not! I cannot understand this point. We have invested what was our possible maximum,” he says.
“The club, board and executive, has chosen together to go at a manageable risk.”
A trip to Sandhausen has never been more important
St. Pauli’s away trip to Sandhausen on Saturday will be vital not only for Linen, but for Meggle as well. A win would silence the critics a bit for the time being, and give Meggle and Linen some space and a chance to work on improvements without the direct threat of a sacking hanging over especially Linen’s head.
Ryo Miyaichi is in contention for a place in the starting line-up together with Fafà Picault and Waldemar Sobota after spells on the sidelines. Hedenstad has been out of training due to a cold lately and might miss the game. Sören Gonther, Philipp Ziereis and Aziz Bouhaddouz are all ruled out, and Bernd Nehrig is a doubt.
Both encounters between these two clubs last year ended with a win for the away side. Sandhausen won 3-1 in Hamburg, and St. Pauli clinched a 2-0 win in Baden-Württemberg.
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