Hamburger SV’s defeat against 1.FC Heidenheim last weekend felt like a knockout blow, and for a group of fans that have known nothing but tragic farce for the past few years, there’s little cause for optimism ahead of a final game against SV Sandhausen that they must get something out of to snatch the play-off place.
Who can blame them?. The defensive aptitude and mental strength of this team has been lacking for weeks, maybe even months. They seem incapable of seeing out a game without crashing in a heap, mentally and physically. Dieter Hecking, for all his experience, has often been slow or ineffective in resolving in-game and form-related issues.
In truth, the HSV meltdown, which has its origins as far back as November, means they don’t deserve to go up. Then again, the same could be said of VfB Stuttgart, who will be promoted despite very inconsistent season.
The obituaries for their latest promotion challenge have already been written. But there is still hope going into the final matchday, despite the many arguments against them.
Heidenheim still in reach
Hope is not as lost as it seems though. Sat fourth, they are only one point behind Heidenheim in the play-off place, with a superior goal difference. Their final game is against Sandhausen, who despite superb form since the restart seem to have switched off since reaching the 40-point mark, with a hammering from Stuttgart and late defeat to Dresden.
Given the importance of this game, there may be extra motivation though, and as former HSV man Dennis Diekmeier has pointed out, Heidenheim had done his side a favour last season by beating Ingolstadt on the final day. They want to repay the debt.
Heidenheim meanwhile have a tough test against Arminia Bielefeld, who might have nothing left to play for but will want to finish a superb season on a high. The champions have also only lost two games all season (and none at all in 2020), although there have been – admittedly absurd – suggestions they may not try as hard given a Heidenheim promotion would benefit them financially in the Bundesliga.
And as good as Heidenheim have been in comparison to the competition, they don’t have the quality to be certain of taking anything away from the Alm and they have to win to be certain of taking third place. They are a team that tick though, Frank Schmidt has had a decade to refine his troops, and if last week’s game is anything to go by, they have the mentality not to let it slip at the last second.
A strong squad, riddled with issues
Coming back round to Hamburg themselves, at least they are at home. Their form hasn’t been any better at the Volksparkstadion than anywhere else recently, but the record of ten wins, four draws and two defeats over the season is better than their away record, with just four wins, eight draws and five defeats. And two of those wins came in August. The last home defeat was in February, and a draw could be enough depending on events in Bielefeld.
Hamburg came into the season with one of the strongest squads in the league, but team selection has been an issue for Hecking recently, with most of his key players all losing form at a key time, with one notable exception.
Joel Pohjanpalo has scored seven goals since the restart, including against Heidenheim, and with his future at Bayer Leverkusen unclear, he will also have personal motivation to (potentially) sign-off with Hamburg on a high. One issue – he hasn’t trained the past couple of days due to a thigh problem.
There is still enough quality elsewhere in this team, even if it hasn’t shown for a while. Jeremy Dudziak and Daivd Kinsombi provide great impulses on their day. The likes of Aaron Hunt and Martin Harnik ooze experience, whilst Sonny Kittel and Bakary Jatta have been superb at times, even if far less so recently.
Tim Leibold had been superb going forward this season, and has kept up this form in recent times as well. However he has defensive shortcomings, as was shown up again in Heidenheim’s winner last Sunday, and it’s possible his head may have already been turned by Stuttgart.
Clutching at straws?
Squeezing out one last, desperate display is vital, but if Hecking can get his troops together and events in Bielefeld go their way, then they could just set up third place finish. The odds are against them though, and even the silver linings surround ominous, dark building clouds.
In the end, each optimistic point can be be easily countered, and the arguments in favour of them feel like clutching at straws, perhaps asking too much of a team that hasn’t quite cut it.