By the time SpVgg Greuther Fürth and Hamburger SV take the field on Sunday, we will already have a sense of the impact on the ‘ghost games’ behind closed doors in the 2. Bundesliga, returning after a two-month break due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, this will be a strange experience for the two teams. As well as contending with not having their supporters behind their backs, Stefan Leitl’s Fürth will have to face up against a fully-refreshed Hamburg side pushing for promotion.
On the other hand though, Dieter Hecking’s men have nine games to deal with the pressure on them to take the Red Shorts back to Bundesliga. Last year’s team cracked, but this year’s collective appear confident going into the resumption.
Breaks helps clear Fürth hospital
Confidence is also high in the Fürth camp though after a good season so far. They come into the matchday fifth in the table, eight points behind Hamburg and the top three but far enough from trouble at the other end for the time being.
They have played good football this season, with Havard Nielsen and Branimir Hrgota starring. Leitl, a controversial appointment due to his 1. FC Nürnberg past, has won the fans over and has got his team playing in a settled system, one which varies between 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 diamond.
This is a tough task though. A DFB-Pokal victory in 1964 is their only victory over HSV in ten attempts, and they have lost the last two meetings, although both of those were in Hamburg. Like the rest of the league, they also have to adapt to limited training time and an empty stadium as well.
“It is difficult to prepare the team for the upcoming intense schedule in just ten days,” admitted Leitl earlier in the week, although he struck a more positive tone in his press conference on Friday. “I am convinced that we will adapt to the circumstances,” he explained.
The former Ingolstadt coach would have been missing almost an entire XI for the originally-scheduled game in March, but the two-month break has allowed the majority of those players to recover, with the exception of Mergim Mavraj, who has not fully recovered from his adductor tear, whilst Sebastian Ernst still has a one-game suspension to serve.
“We are facing some very, very difficult and exhausting weeks. We need every one of them,” said the 42-year-old. Marco Caligiuri should captain the side, despite the club announcing last week they would not extend his expiring contract.
Selection headaches for Hecking
Promotion remains the only goal for Hamburg, who ended a three-game winless run against Jahn Regensburg before the break. They sit third, a point behind VfB Stuttgart and seven off leaders Arminia Bielefeld, coming into the game, and looming large is their meetings with both of those sides, with the former visiting the Volkspartstadion next Sunday.
Nevertheless, confidence remains high, and captain Aaron Hunt, who is currently free of the niggling injuries that have blighted his season, insists the players are fully motivated and that they have “the best team and the best squad in the second division.”
Rather than going into quarantine camp close to home, they choose to head to Bavaria at the start of the week, basing themselves in Herzogenaurach, just north of Fürth. Hunt told the Hamburger Morgenpost that “the mood is still good” in the camp and “you can feel the anticipation that we can play again at the weekend.”
Hecking has a few headaches coming into the game. Jan Gyamerah has recovered from his fibua fracture but did not travel due to a hip flexor problem, whilst Julian Pollersbeck, Ewerton and Gideon left the camp on Friday due to injuries.
With doubts over whether Timo Letschert is fully fit after muscular problems, Jordan Beyer could move into the central of defence. However, further forward Hecking’s problems are luxury ones, with everyone fit and available, including Josha Vangoman and Jeremy Dudziak, who are the main benefices of the two-month break following their lengthy lay-offs.
The match on Sunday kicks off 13:30 CEST (12:30 BST, 7:30 EST). The game is live on Sky Sport in Germany and on BT Sport 2 in the UK and Republic of Ireland.