Hamburg-Hoffenheim preview

Holger Stanislawski and his right-hand man André Trulsen return to the city of Hamburg for the first time since leaving St Pauli in the summer. They go back to take on HSV with a Hoffenheim side who are falling into mid-table obscurity a little earlier than normal. Professionalism aside, Stanislawski will not only be desperate to win in a bid to ensure his side keep up with the early-season European-spot pace-setters, but also because he has the chance to keep St Pauli’s arch-rivals mired in relegation trouble. Hamburg, who are now off the bottom of the table after a several-month stint, could feasibly end the weekend as high as 12th if they beat Hoffenheim. However, despite a decent 2-2 draw away at Bayer Leverkusen in the fixture played before the disruptive two-week international break, Hamburg, Augsburg and 2. Bundesliga side FSV Frankfurt are the only teams in Germany’s top three divisions yet to win a home game so far this season.

Thirteen HSV players were called up by their countries to play during the two-week international break which preceded this Bundesliga clash, although three of those were Mickaël Tavares (Senegal), Muhamed Bešić (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Sören Bertram (Poland U20s) – none of whom are likely to even be involved in the squad for the visit of Hoffenheim.Despite José Paolo Guerrero being involved in a car crash in Peru a few days ago, the 27-year-old is fit to play, and will start alongside Marcus Berg in Fink’s favoured 4-4-2. The Swede is getting his chance because Mladen Petrić is out injured and Heung-Min Son is out of form. However, the versatile Korean is likely to be the first attacking substitute called upon, with Dutch winner Romeo Castelen ruled out through injury (he and Petrić will be joined on the sidelines by suspended centre-back Slobodan Rajković – who, Anglophiles will be disappointed to hear, won’t be replaced by the unfancied Michael Mancienne). However,  both Gökhan Töre and Marcell Jansen are on hot-streaks at present, and 17-year-old Zhi Gin Lam – who has just signed a new contract until 2015 – is just as handy an option from the bench.

As for the visitors, although Vedad Ibišević and Sejad Salihović  were in the matchday squad on Tuesday, neither featured for Bosnia and Herzegovina against Portugal (although the former did take part in the Friday night game, missing two on-a-plate chances). On the same night, Ryan Babel and Edson Braafheid’s partnership down the left for Holland against Germany failed miserably, but Fabian Johnson and Daniel Williams both had a bit more luck playing for the USA against Slovenia – as did Chinedu Obasi for Nigeria against Zambia, Isaac Vorsah for Ghana against Gabon, and, perhaps, most notably, Knowledge Musona, who got both goals for Zimbabwe in their win over South Africa.

As that list indicates, several important Hoffenheim players have clocked up the air miles this week. However, both squads come into this game with the luxury of an extra day off (and no European ties in the coming week), so fatigue shouldn’t be an issue. Nevertheless, since Bosnian duo Ibišević – perennially linked with a January move to Blackburn Rovers – and Salihović returned from injuries, Hoffe’s form has actually dipped, and mistakes have become all too frequent. Added to that, key Brazilian Roberto Firmino seems to have lost his playmaking spark, and his place in the first-team.

Before losing their momentum, Stanislawski – who despite his two-decade association with St Pauli, used to play for HSV Amateurs – and his side were keep pacing with the teams at the top in an exciting, fluid, hard-working and hard-to-break-down striker-less 4-3-3 system. Nevertheless, the only reason the visitors’ current form –  three wins, three wins, and one draw against Bayern Munich from their last seven games – looks a bit off is because they started the season so well. Sides like Wolfsburg would have given several limbs in exchanging for starting the season as well as Hoffenheim have done.

Hamburg, meanwhile, have won three of their last seven games by a 2-1 scoreline; yet, as noted in this preview’s intro, they’ve not tasted victory at home all season. Also, they might be unbeaten in the three league games they’ve played under new coach Fink, but each time HSV have taken just a single point. Nevertheless, the first match played after Michael Oenning’s departure brought victory, emphasising just what a lift both tactically and mentally the squad has had since the out-of-his-depth coach departed. Although, superficially, Fink’s 4-4-2 – with two defensive-midfielders in the centre of the pitch – looks extremely negative, there is generally a good degree of urgency to Hamburg’s play, with attacks predominantly coming from the wings, or starting from some tidy Guerrero hold-up play. The Peruvian will have to be on top-form to beat Hoffenheim’s rejuvenated goalkeeper Tom Starke, who actually played twice for Hamburg in 2004 – the only player in either squad to have represented both clubs.

Last season, Hoffenheim – for whom the only person of note missing tomorrow will be squad-player Andreas Ibertsberger – and Hamburg shared a 0-0 draw (April 2011), with Mladen Petrić securing a 2-1 win in the Imtech Arena encounter (November 2010).  Despite the former game occurring just a few months ago, expect to see just four Hamburg players who started that day playing from the off in the sides’ latest battle. Hoffenheim, on the other hand, remain largely unchanged from the 2010/11 squad which finished in 11th – three spots behind Hamburg.

The visitors’ left-back, Braafheid, has been impressed by what he’s seen of tomorrow’s hosts in the last few games:  “HSV are improving a lot – in their last game away at Leverkusen, they played really well and rescued a two-goal deficit to come away with a point,” he said. “Under Thorsten Fink, I think they’ve arrested that slump they were in at the start of the season and they have a lot of potential, no doubt. They play an offensive style of football, but we have to focus on our own game. It will be an interesting game, but, I’m convinced we’ll get something from it.”

Hamburg against Hoffenheim kicks off at 4.30pm in the UK tomorrow, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. The referee will be Marco Fritz, a 34-year-old banker from Korb, near Stuttgart. He took charge of Hoffenheim’s 3-1 win over Wolfsburg back in September.

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