A year to forget. That might be Hamburger SV's line to remember for 2016, and perhaps the two years prior also.
Starting the year in 11th and finishing last season as 10th, it looked good for the historic club. Finally a season without relegation battle, many fans thought, but many ups and downs would to be seen. Instead of sacking now former head coach Bruno Labbadia, HSV have made the same mistake they make almost every year - giving the current coach another chance. Despite the problems being clearly visible the club kept faith, only then they realised it was the same as always and sacked him just a few matches in.
Markus Gisdol, formerly of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, got the job in the harbour town. With just one point out of the first five matches and sitting in 16th position, Gisdol faced a difficult challenge. 12 matches later, HSV are still third from bottom but are playing better and more attractive football than before. In the last six matches before the end of the Hinrunde, the Hamburg outfit have only lost once. Overall, they've picked up 10 out of a possible 18 points.
After saving themselves in relegation play-offs against SpVgg Greuther Fürth (2014) and Karlsruher SC (2015), the club will now face another Rückrunde of relegation battle. Will the clock continues ticking? After signing new and notably expensive players in the summer break, the euphoria and expectation was understandably high. Many HSV fans were dreaming of a return to Europe with a top six finish their outside hope.
Hamburg spent over €30m on new players this summer. Bobby Wood and Douglas Santos came in, while Filip Kostic and Alen Halilovic were the most expensive signings of the overall six new faces which joined Hamburg. "The Croatian Messi" - or just Halilovic - was the biggest buy. The 20-year-old youngster, who came from Barcelona and wanted to make the next step in his career, is currently living an absolute nightmare. He has only played 137 minutes in the first half of the season, and was often not even included in the squad while the press started to report negatively about him.
Halilovic can't make the grade
The media already reported that a quick move in the winter break might be the solution. He just couldn’t show his creativity, witty playfulness and magic moments, which many fans expected and hoped to see. Halilovic couldn’t play the HSV way - and that is definitely not his style of football. He needs the space in midfield, to run forward and be quick. Halilovic doesn’t fit in because Hamburg play the same football they’ve played for the last few seasons. Football in Hamburg has stagnated. The players on the pitch didn’t perform, and that starts in defence with Johan Djourou and finishes in attack with Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
It was definitely not a suprise that the coach gave Gotoku Sakai - who absolutely deserved it and is clearly one of the few who were silver linings this year - captain’s armband and removed Djourou from the role. But the bad performances of the defender were evident, and the squad is not competitive.
There are no big impacts from the new faces or supposed leaders. The results were obviously not good enough either, as shocking results against promoted RB Leipzig (0-4 at home) and Borussia Dortmund (2-5 at home) are just two of many losses in the first half of the season. But Markus Gisdol found a way to change that, he found a way to tap into the full potential of his players, especially the attack.
Filip Kostic, Lewis Holtby, Nicolai Müller, Michael Gregoritsch and Bobby Wood have found a flow and started to combine and complement each other. The bundesliga-dino became the third best counter-attacking team of the league. Only FC Bayern München and RB Leipzig have more goals on the break. On the 13th (!) attempt HSV managed to get their first win in this season, which was a 2-0 over SV Darmstadt 98.
That brought the club much needed points and hope. It was obviously the salvation the club needed. That was the turnaround in a very poor Hinrunde. After the win Markus Gisdol said that they are [the team] just at the beginning. "There’s an upward trend", he also said. At that time it was the third unbeaten match in a row.
After beating FC Augsburg 1-0 just one week later and getting their first home win this season, losing 1-3 against 1. FSV Mainz 05 and finishing the first leg of the season with a phenomenal 2-1 win over FC Schalke 04, the team earned 10 out of 18 possible points in the last six matches. Hamburg hadn’t scored a single goal in seven matches in a row before the last six matches of the calendar year. In these most recent six matches, Hamburg always scored. That is clearly an upward trend.
Defensive woe, but promise ahead
But the biggest problem is still not redressed; the defence. Douglas Santos was the single defensive signing in summer. It's showed. Djourou (harmstring injury), Cleber (ongoing knee problems) as well as Emir Spahic (several injuries) missed key matches. There has been permanent rotation in the back four.
Since the 2-2 draw in Sinsheim against Julian Nagelmann’s TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Gisdol found his back four with Douglas Santos, Gideon Jung, Johan Djourou and Dennis Diekmeier starting and has let them play for a while. Again and again the defence has struggled to eradicate danger. They have certainly been the cause of some near heart attacks for the HSV faithful. Diekmeier wants to further forward and, as a result, has sometimes disregarded his defensive tasks. While Douglas Santos, Djourou and Jung seemed to be unaware of their situation at various stages.
Of course, it is important to sign players for this area come January. With 1. FC Köln’s Mergim Mavraj, the HSV are set to make their first winter signing. The 30-year-old Albanian has featured 16 times for the Billy Goats and played the full 90 minutes; he is just one of eight outfield players to have done so. A reliable and unflappable defender, who will certainly help Hamburg to gain more stability in their defence.
Time to turn things around
That will definitely be not the single deal the bundesliga-dino make. Other names are reportedly on the wish list. How far can deals be finalised with these players is not sure yet, but that something will happen; the fans can expect new arrivals. Are reinforcements instantly helpful? They might well be. Some changes are needed and it’s important that the focus is not on young players with lot of potential. Players with experience, which are reliable, are needed.
The signing of Mavraj, which is clearly against the model, is a good sign. The then spin-off with HSVplus - "to establish for Europe" - obviously failed. Not many people of the founding team are still contracted to HSV. After sacking chairman Dietmar Beiersdorfer and deploying Heribert Bruchhagen as the new chairman, the fans expecting a more calm future of the club. Stabilisation is something that the club have been constantly on the hunt for, but the Bundesliga ever-presents are going through change. searched for years now. It’s up to themselves if this will be crowned with success. But it’s finally a good beginning.