Hamburg 1-0 Hannover

Hamburg took a huge step towards securing their Bundesliga status after defeating a disappointing Hannover side 1-0. To be fair to the seventh-placed visitors, who still look good for a place in next season’s Europa League because Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen all dropped points this weekend, they were missing a number of key strikers, but it was a lack of creativity and urgency in midfield that really hampered them. Hamburg, on the other hand, had the talismanic Son Heung-Min leading the line, and it was fitting that he nabbed the game’s only goal because he was by far the best player on the pitch. The home side were good value for their win, as they created the most chances, worked harder and were tactically smarter. Thorsten Fink’s side now move five points above the relegation zone with three games of the 2011/12 season left to play, although that gap will be reduced to two points if Cologne beat Borussia Mönchengladbach tomorrow afternoon.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Hamburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Jaroslav Drobný; Jeffrey Bruma, Michael Mancienne, Heiko Westermann, Dennis Aogo;  Ivo Iličević, Tomás Rincón, David Jarolím, Marcell Jansen; Marcus Berg, Son Heung-Min

Hannover (4-4-2 from right to left): Ron-Robert Zieler; Steve Cherundolo, Karim Haggui, Emmanuel Pogatetz, Christian Pander; Manuel Schmiedebach, Sérgio Pinto, Christian Schulz, Konstantin Rausch; Jan Schlaudraff, Didier Ya Konan

Schulz instantly put the visitors in trouble, hauling back Son on the edge of the box after a quickfire Hamburg attack. Luckily for the former Werder Bremen defender, despite four HSV players standing over the ball, Son himself spurned the chance by blasting the ball wide from the set-piece. For the next two or three minutes, it was all the home side, who kept their guests pushed back deep in a compact 4-4-2. However, Hannover thrive in such situations, and after failing to get anywhere near the box, HSV eventually lost possession by committing a foul.

As we approached the tenth minute, Hamburg were enacting a great deal of patience whenever they had the ball, presumably in a bid to lure Hannover out and onto them (it failed). Mirko Slomka’s side, meanwhile, looked far more assured with the ball at their feet, regularly splicing their hosts’ midfield with some neat, first-time triangles. However, there was no real urgency to their football at this stage, and as a result, we went past the ten-minute mark with neither goalkeeper having had anything to do. Hannover were also hampered by the generally defensive mindset of their midfield. For instance, when Schlaudraff – as is his wont – peeled out to the wing in the seventh minute to work a neat move that resulted in a through-ball being sent towards the D, Ya Konan was isolated, with his strike partner on the chalk, admiring his pass, and none of Schmiedebach, Schulz, Pinto and Rausch – who would have had to have veered infield quite significantly – having made a ghost-run towards the box.

In the 12th minute, somewhat out of the blue, Son opened the scoring! The young South Korean looked like he was stuck in a cul-de-sac after taking the ball down to the byline, only to find Cherundolo blocking his path. Undeterred, the 19-year-old headed back up the pitch, making a diagonal dribble towards the D, before shooting first-time on the spin back across goal and into the bottom left-hand corner for 1-0! With no player on the pitch to thank for an assist, the attacker sprinted all the way back to the technical area to celebrate his goal with substitute Gökhan Töre, before the rest of his colleagues mobbed both youngsters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hamburg were now in the ascendancy after opening the scoring. There was urgency and swagger to their play, with Rincón in particular looking to make things happen. However, Hannover soon regained their composure and got back on the ball. They won a decently-placed free-kick in the 19th minute following Jansen’s needlesly rash challenge on the sideways-passing Cherundolo. Pander subsequently swung the effort exactly where Drobný wanted it, and all of a sudden, it was the home side who were attacking. The Croatian goalkeeper’s overarm bowl-throw fed Iličević in Zieler’s half, with the former Kaiserslautern attacker then releasing Son, who had diagonally darted towards the D. Unfortunately for those HSV fans watching on with bated breath and bums of seats, the youngster dragged his right-footed shot wide. The moment encapsulated the difference between the two sides at this stage – HSV had the quickness of feet and thought to capitalise on a fleeting chink in the opposition’s armour, whereas Hannover just looked flat.

As we neared the half-hour mark, the game had effectively descended into a HSV training exercise, whereby the hosts were pressed at three-quarter pace by their guests, and therefore just opted to play simple, possession-retaining passes. The two defensive-midfielders saw more of the ball than anyone, with Aogo and Bruma standing not too far away from their colleagues to show for the pass (rather than trying to stretch the away side, who did occasionally look narrow in midfield because Schlaudraff was playing something of a free-role – part-time right-winger, part-time support-striker, and part-time right-sided forward alongside Ya Konan).

Chance-wise, there was nothing of note until about 12 minutes after Son’s counter-attacking attempt (and even then, despite rising well to meet a left-footed Aogo inswinging corner from the right, Mancienne headed a few yards over). Hamburg, 1-0 up, weren’t really trying too hard to break down a well-drilled Hannover side, who, in turn, were hamstrung by the fact that their opponents weren’t doing much attacking (and therefore leaving gaps). Added to that, Fink’s side were also working extremely hard on the rare occasions when they did lose possession. Rausch, Hannover’s sole winger, constantly found himself surrounded by two or three players whenever he got on the ball, for example.

Hamburg went close again to extending their lead in the 36th minute, when Westermann met Aogo’s superb looping left-footed outswinging corner from the left. However, Zieler got his fingertips to the powerful header, and then confidently collected Aogo’s next delivery. A quick chuck-out from the former Manchester United trainee three minutes later saw Hannover get a very rare sight of goal, with Rausch eventually dragging his left-footed shot wide. The one-time left-back did well to engineer the chance, though – he ran with the ball through the centre of the pitch, and running one-on-one at Mancienne, dropped a shoulder left, then right, and then left again, twisting the Englishman’s blood, before wasting the space with the weak effort.

With the break imminent, it was as if all 20 outfield players were doing their best to empty their tanks before refilling them at half-time. In the 41st minute, a delicious one-two-three first-time move between Berg, Son and Aogo in the box saw Hannover’s defence sent this way and that, before the latter’s square was cut out before it skidded across Zieler’s six-yard box by Pogatetz. Two minutes later, Hamburg were trying to do a ‘Hannover’ on the break once again (that is, getting a shot off no more than ten seconds after the counter-attack commences). After breaking their visitors down in the first-third of the pitch, Rincón was fed on the right strip of chalk, and played one of his now customary crossfield passes over to the left-hand side. With Hannover’s defence light in numbers, Berg collected the ball, and headed towards the box. The Swede then tried to play the ball back across to the right-hand side, only for Son to squander the opportunity with a bad touch. That was that for the first-half, with the HSV players walking off the pitch to that rare sound – cheers.

The formations that started the second-half

Hamburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Drobný; Bruma, Mancienne, Westermann, Aogo;  Iličević, Rincón, Jarolím, Jansen; Berg, Son

Hannover (4-3-1-2 from right to left): Zieler; Cherundolo, Haggui, Pogatetz, Pander; Schmiedebach, Pinto, Rausch; Schlaudraff; Artur Sobiech, Ya Konan

Slomka was the only coach who elected to bring on a sub for the second-half, taking off a defender-cum-midfielder in Schulz and replacing him with a striker, Sobiech (a physical presence if we’re being kind, a battering-ram if we’re not). The switch initiated a change in Hannover’s formation, as shown above, and Fink adjusted his tactics in response. Hamburg, who started the second half brightly, Son in particular, were now making a concerted effort to attack in or from the channels, trying to stretch their guests. Meanwhile, with Schlaudraff sitting behind the strikers in something of a trequartista role, Rincón and Jarolím were more restrained in their forays forward, always ensuring that at least one of them was guarding the former Bayern Munich man’s zone. Meanwhile, with players such as Schmiedebach more mobile and involved than they were in the first-half, Fink instructed Jansen and Iličević to sit deep, further diminishing the size of the corridors in which Schlaudraff and his colleagues wanted to work in.

Chance-wise, both sides had had their moments as we neared the hour mark. In the 55th minute, Berg had Zieler scrambling as he curled an effort towards the top right-hand corner. And, down the other end four minutes later, Pander’s free-kick hit the post behind the post – a miss so close, some Hannover fans celebrated thinking they had scored. Three minutes later, Hannover nearly performed a perfect rendition of their party piece, catching HSV out after they left two players back during an Aogo corner. The left-back’s effort was weak, the Hannover break swift, ending in Rausch squaring across the box about seven seconds later. Unfortunately for the visitors, Drobný demonstrated that his wits and reflexes were in full working order.

For the next eight or nine minutes, however, the tempo dropped, the movement stopped, and the game seemed to be going nowhere – both teams guilty of indulging in seemingly aimless melina. But then, Haggui shaved the bar with a header from a corner – an athletic effort from the former Bayer Leverusen defender, especially given the fact that Mancienne was climbing on his back (despite the Tunisian’s look of indignation at referee Günter Perl, a spot kick wasn’t forthcoming). In the 68th minute, Slomka amended things again, replacing the anonymous Schlaudraff with Moritz Stoppelkamp. Two minutes later, Fink opted to make his first change, looking to freshen things up on the right-wing – where both the wingers, and now the full-backs, were flying forward at will whenever the hosts had possession – by replacing Iličević with Jacopo Sala. Both sides’ changes were like-for-like moves, with Sala going out onto the right of Hamburg’s midfield, and Stoppelkamp – aided by the now more box-to-box than ever Schmiedebach – flanking Sobiech and Ya Konan.

It was HSV who threatened in the several-minute spell after the substitutions, however, as first Berg was bundled over in the box by Pogatetz (no penalty, no nothing), and then Son did well to round the ‘keeper, before stopping after taking the ball too far, coming back round, and sending a ball across the six-yard box that Jansen couldn’t get to in time. In the 79th minute, Hamburg had a three-on-two counter-attack, but Son delayed the pass to Berg and Sala, who not only got in each other’s way, but had also both strayed offside. The game was now far more open than at any other point, with the three minutes that followed the aforementioned offside call involving some nigh-on end-to-end swashbuckling, scintillating football.

The closing stages were frantic and foul-laden – Haggui and Pinto the worst two culprits on the latter front, with both of them being rightly cautioned for flying in. Fink made two late changes to wind the clock down, replacing Son and Berg with Robert Tesche and Tolgay-Ali Arslan. Although the switches were technically like-for-like, both players were positioned and working far deeper than either Son or Berg had been, as Hamburg sought to hold onto their precious lead. That they did, and with Nuremberg up next (a team that has nothing to play for after securing their place in next season’s Bundesliga by beating Kaiserslautern this afternoon), Fink’s side can finish the job. Hannover, meanwhile, host Freiburg on April 22, knowing that a win should be good enough to secure their place in the 2012/13 Europa League.

The formations that finished the match

Hamburg (4-4-2, from right to left): Drobný; Bruma, Mancienne, Westermann, Aogo;  Sala, Rincón, Jarolím, Jansen; Tesche, Arslan

Hannover (4-3-1-2 from right to left): Zieler; Cherundolo, Haggui, Pogatetz, Pander; Schmiedebach, Pinto, Rausch; Stoppelkamp; Sobiech, Ya Konan

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