August 23, 2017

2017-18 Season Preview: Hamburger SV — Burn It All Down Already

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

2016-17 attendance: 898,979 (52,341 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)

2016-17 Finishes

Bundesliga: 14th place with 38 points (33 goals scored, 61 allowed, -28 GD)

DFB Pokal: Quarter-Finals (1-2 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals:  2 (!)
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 8
Number of Matches drawn:  8
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 3
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals:  11 (!)
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:  4
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw:  2
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory:  2

Already, these numbers tell the season’s story. HSV struggled mightily for goals; notice that only two matches (!) were won by more than 2 goals. And what weird results these were: a 0-2 road win at Darmstadt and oddly a 0-3 road demolition of the mighty RB Leipzig. Sometimes, playing away must be chicken soup for the overhyped souls of HSV, it seems.

On the flip side, HSV developed a little problem with getting clobbered, losing by 2+ goals on 11 occasions, such as the 8-0 “Bayern Treatment” schellacking at Allianz, the puzzling 4-0 blanking at Augsburg, or the losing cumulatively 2-8 to BVB over two matches. Embarrassing times for the der Dino‘s fans.

Top 2016-17 Scorers

  • Bobby Wood, Nicolai Müller, Michael Gregoritsch: all tied with 5 goals.
  • Aaron Hunt, Filip Kostic: tied with 4 goals.

Summer Results

  • Record: 1-1-2
  • Goals Scored: 8
  • Goals Allowed: 8

TSV Bucholz 0-4 HSV

Holstein Kiel 5-3 HSV

HSV 0-2 Antalyaspor

HSV 1-1 Espanyol

 

Notable Transfers

Out:

  • Michael Gregoritsch (FC Augsburg, forward).
  • Nabil Bahoui (Grasshoppers, attacking midfield).
  • Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor, centerback).
  • Matthias Ostrzolek (Hannover 96, leftback).
  • René Adler (Mainz 05, keeper).
  • Arianit Ferati (Erzgebirge Aue, attacking midfielder).

In:

  • Kyriakos Papadopoulos (loan deal from Levekusen made permanent, centerback).
  • André Hahn (Gladbach, forward).
  • Julian Pollersbeck (1.FC Kaiserslautern, keeper).
  • Rick van Drongelen (Sparta Rotterdam, centerback).
  • Bjarne Thoelke (Karlsruhe SC, centerback).
  • Sven Schipplock (end of Darmstadt loan, forward).

When last we saw them

Last season’s 14th place finish was a big disappointment after the 2015-16 season’s 10th place finish and the bevvy attacking-minded offseason signings — Filip Kostic, Bobby Wood, Alen Halilovic, etc. HSV was supposed to finally have an upgraded attack to couple with a decently stringy defense. However, nothing of the sort happened. The attack totally bombed, as HSV only scored 33 goals (2nd fewest in the Bundesliga) with Kostic and Halilovic especially looking like disastrous signings. Additionally, a third of HSV’s goals were scored during the final 15 minutes, which were sometimes the result of desperation during a loss. Meanwhile, the defense was also worse, conceding 61 goals last season compared with only 46 from 2015-16. In all, HSV scored fewer goals and conceded more goals. No wonder der Dino slipped from 10th place to 14th place over the course of two seasons.

However, 14th place actually flattered HSV, who were bonifide relegation candidates and material for awhile:

A season around the bottom — again — for HSV. Source: Fussballdaten.de.

Of course, the 14th place finish means that HSV survived for yet another Bundesliga season. However, if any club was in need of a “mercy killing” via relegation, it’s this one. Will somebody please take this club out of its half decade of misery?

HSV’s failure wasn’t just about goals though. Overall, HSV struggled mightily to create many chances; indeed, the club created 2nd fewest last season (only Darmstadt was worse). For example, HSV didn’t have a guy average more than 1.7 shots per match all season, while Filip Kostic and Aaron Hunt barely averaged over 1 Key Pass per match. These numbers equated to not enough chances for HSV. And it wasn’t even that HSV had an unlucky (high) number of shots hit the post and get blocked by opponents. Nope. The club was below average.

Taking a step deeper, it appears that Lewis Holtby’s passing work in the midfield is simply not enough nor of the type needed to spark danger in the final 3rd. For example, HSV only possessed the ball around 10 seconds (one of the league’s shortest tallies) during sequences leading to chances — a duration correlated with the league’s lower scoring sides. Oh, and in classic “Reep ratio” fashion, HSV only averaged 3.2 passes during these sequences. It also didn’t help that HSV led the league in ball losses (93 instances per match). Finally, in general, HSV had the league’s 2nd fewest actions on the ball and the league’s lowest action success rate (69%).

Typically, these are numbers associated with relegated clubs.

Defensively, HSV conceded a league-high 48 goals from open play (85% of its goal conceded). Tellingly, HSV committed the league’s highest number of fouls — both in its own half and in the opponent’s — pointing to a helter-skelter defensive set up, and/or strange coaching advice. Interestingly, HSV gave up 12.9 shots to opponents, 7th most in the Bundesliga, a seemingly low tally for a club who conceded the 3rd most goals last season. Moreover, now-gone keeper Rene Adler underperformed, letting in 2 goals per match when the ExG number was 1.61. (Only Werder’s Felix Wiedwald conceded more goals.) Of course, Adler isn’t solely blame-worthy, given the defensive breakdowns happening in front of him. Regardless of scapegoats, HSV struggled defensively, although arguably not as bad as it struggled offensively.

Aspiration

Survive! Forget the crushing demands of HSV’s histronic fanbase, survival will be the only goal on everyone’s mind in Germany’s second largest city. It’s that bad. Yes, survival is aspirational in Hamburg these days. Here’s why: HSV didn’t really add anyone helpful during the offseason, at least in terms of dramatically changing the club’s dynamic. Yes, Julian Pollerbeck in an upgrade at keeper, but he’s youngish, especially in terms of top flight experience, and because of his height struggles to cover ground shots on goal. Rick van Drongelen is probably the most interesting offseason signing (Djourou’s replacement), but he’s only 18, a tough age for elite defending. While Andre Hahn and Sven Schipplock hardly upgrade the attack significantly. Oh, Michael Gregoritsch is gone, one’s the club’s top goal scores these last couple seasons; however, 3 of 5 goals were headers, so at least it’s not like HSV is really losing a quality goal scorer. However, an even bigger loss was Matthias Ostrzolek, who reliably locked down the left flank last season. His replacement appears to be either offensively-challenged Douglas dos Santos or the uninspiring Gotoku Sakai.

Right now, Aaron Hunt is the best player on the roster — and the club’s only quasi-decent playmaker and scorer at that. Ideally, Hunt could play off a Holtby and Nicolai Müller tag team, but these two midfielders seemingly constantly confound my expectations for them. And we just don’t know what to expect from Bobby Wood as the feature man, especially if he can’t receive the ball in less perilous circumstances. (The Hawaiian’s turnover rate is super high, … like league high.) Grim. And for those asking, yes: Dennis Diekmeier and Pierre-Michel Lassoga are still on the roster. Cross your fingers and pray we see little of them.

Is it too much to ask Gideon Jung to become Hunt’s playmaking partner? Some potential lurks there. That, or maybe Kostic will actually turn into a more well-rounded player.

But there’s hope in the form of head coach Markus Gisdol, arguably an underrated coaching mind, and especially his pressing scheme, which HSV will hope frustrates enough opponents to help the club steal those extra points. Last season, Gisdol began instituting a high pressing system for HSV, which implementing effectively the club’s only ticket for survival this season. Moreover, the likes of Holtby, Hahn, Santos, Albin Ekdal, Walace, and even Jung all excel at pressing, which equates to an effective first line of defense. In other words, HSV will probably live and die on its ability to implement Gisdol’s pressing scheme successfully. And then there’s Kyriakos Papadopoulos. In some ways, the 25 year old Greek defender is quite underrated. He’s very strong in the air and anchoring his space in front of the goal. HSV was smart to buy him permanently.

Reality

Relegation. See above and consider that, given the other 17 clubs in the league, it’s hard to imagine other Bundesliga clubs in greater danger this season. Last season, Ingolstadt and Darmstadt provided cover for some truly poor sides (cough, cough — HSV, Mainz 05, and VfL Wolfsburg). Not this season. With the retooled sides VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 rejoining the top flight and unlikely to slip back into the relegation zone, HSV has nowhere to hide this season. I mean, who else is a better relegation candidate right now? SC Freiburg? Hardly. Unfortunately for HSV, Christian Streich’s depleted roster bounced out of Europe already, meaning SCF can focus solely on staying in the Bundesliga. Mainz 05? Nah. They’ll make it; M05 has a system and coherent operating philosophy to always fall back on. FC Augsburg? Eh, maybe, but they’ve proved remarkably resilient in surviving on only the fumes of talent. Hell, even if FCA gets relegated, there’s still another automatic relegation spot left … which leaves us with, well, HSV.

Folks, the infamous “never been relegated” Volkparkstadion clock has never been in greater danger of ceasing to exist.

HSV’s infamous “never been relegated” clock.

Let’s get frank: despite that damn clock, this is a club in need of a mercy killing. HSV badly needs the kind of relegation reboot that, in recent years, has immensely benefited the likes of Hertha Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt, 1.FC Köln, as well as seemingly VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96. HSV’s roster still needs pruning and, more broadly speaking, the club desperately needs a coherent philosophy for development and identity. Otherwise, start trolling eBay in May for deal of a super big digital clock.

The Boss

Sad, sad Markus Gisdol. I’m no Calvinist, but he deserves better. Look, we all know that he won’t be coach anymore by season’s end. Of course, he should be. He’s a talented coach in this writer’s estimation. Remember, HSV has cycled through 15 coaching moves these past 10 seasons, or 9 in the past 5 seasons (!). So Gisdol is statistically toast, and unfairly so. Although the 47 year old extended his contract through 2019, in Hamburg land this “assurance” means nothing. Thus far, Gisdol’s biggest coaching accomplishment was saving Hoffenheim from relegation in 2013. Moreover, Gisdol has a reputation for tactical savvy, youth development, and studying the game.

In a sane world, Gisdol could stay at HSV for 2-3 seasons, fully implement his pressing scheme, integrate young players, and help HSV hit the identity reset button. Even if HSV gets relegated this season, it would be super smart to keep him around for a season or two in the 2.Bundesliga, where he’d have even more leeway in implementing his strategy without the top flight and “never been relegated” clock pressure. Moreover, keeping Gisdol and growing the youngsters fits the club’s stated future strategy, according to sport director Jens Todt, of cutting costs, bringing the wage bill down and “wollen gern bescheiden sein” (being modest). However, the trigger-happy atmosphere of HSV makes this Gisdol staying scenario unlikely, even if Gisdol assures us about his amicable relationship with Todt interviews.

If all the talk about Gidsdol and Todt is actually true, then getting relegated would probably help HSV by giving the club a chance — outside top flight pressures — to really prune away salary dead weight and let Gisdol become the sort of “auteur” coach allowed to have his way with a club in building a coherent vision. In other words, Gisdol is a great guy to have around for burning it all down, which should have happened, like, five seasons ago.

Philosophy

Press, press, press. Gisdol will hope uses the press to create turnovers, leading to quick and short counters built on the legs of Jung, Holtby, Hunt, Hahn, and especially Müller. Another variant of this plan could see HSV channel the ball up the wings to either Müller or Hunt and pepper the box area with crosses and long balls.

For HSV, the goal will be to avoid slow plodding half-pitch matches when the club either is sitting deep defensively or possessing the ball for long stretches. So look for action to feature prominently in the opponent’s half of the pitch during Gisdol’s tenure.

Plan B

Well, the going will tough when a side simply refuses to possess the ball against HSV, a la Mainz 05 or FC Augsburg. This scenario will be unpleasant for HSV, increasing the risk of costly turnovers the longer the club sits on the ball. In these situations, Hunt should be on the ball at all times! Let’s just make this a rule.

Defensively, especially against the likes of Bayern or Dortmund, HSV will need to create a deep shell built around Papadopoulos’s rooted presence in the box, then look for Hahn and Holtby to pester the opponent’s ball-carrier in central midfield.

Strengths

Aggressive pressing. If nothing else, HSV has a roster full of aggressive (wreckless?) ball-challengers, tacklers, and aerialists. Hence Gisdol’s pressing scheme is a great fit for this side. Aside from aggressiveness, HSV is also a fast side, especially the attacking five, who are expected to run their hamstrings out each match. Hopefully, after the Rückrunde and summer camp, HSV will have mastered Gisdol’s pressing scheme. If so, der Dino could hang in there.

Weaknesses

Still goal scoring, even with the signing of Hahn. Aside from one successful season with FC Augsburg, Hahn hasn’t demonstrated that he can consistently score goals in the way expected from a feature man. However, the hope is that Hahn, combined with Hunt, especially, can help create defensive mismatches and overloads. But will this be enough to create the odd chance for Wood or Müller?

Moreover, defensive midfield is soft, given Jung’s unproveness and Ekdal’s injury problems, plus there’s no depth behind these guys — or behind the fullbacks and centerbacks. In other words, injuries could have an outsized effect on HSV, and might be the deciding factor in whether or not this club survives for another Bundesliga season. Oh, and let’s not simply assume that Pollerbeck is matchday ready for the top flight as a young keeper coming from Kaiserslautern.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

Between Matchdays 3-6. Here’s why: let’s say that Matchdays 1-2 are pretty much “throwaway” bedding into the new season matches, which means that real results start counting on MD 3 for a side like HSV. On this MD, HSV hosts RB Leipzig, followed by a trip to Hannover 96, hosting BVB, and trip to Leverkusen. If Gisdol can pull off one upset at home, and get one road result, I could imagine HSV growing confidently into the season. If not, that panic button will start looking attractive for HSV brass.

Verdict

Relegation. Despite the hope in Gisdol grounding this club, it’s likely he’ll get sacked during a bad stretch freak out, prompting HSV into an even deeper bad stretch, thus digging that relegation hole. Remember, this season’s promoted sides — VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 — are not automatic relegation candidates. And even if, say, FCA goes down, there’s one other automatic relegation spot, which in this case, is reserved for HSV.

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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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