VfL Wolfsburg vs Hamburger SV Preview: Light at the end of the tunnel for struggling northerners?
Photo: Hamburger SV

They both struggled in the Bundesliga before the winter break, but as the action resumes things are looking up for both VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV ahead of their meeting.

Despite being lower down the table then they would like, they both ended before Christmas in reasonably positive fashion, and both have made new signings both on and off the pitch.

Nevertheless, both sides recognise this is an important game, which they would both be desperate to get a win from.

Refreshed sides after uplifting end to 2016

Wolfsburg went into the winter break in a lowly thirteenth in the table, but having won just two games beforehand, the victories over Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach just before Christmas were a major boost.

Likewise after their own disastrous start to the season, the run in towards Christmas was a positive one for Hamburg, with three wins in their final four matches, including a 2-1 victory over Schalke 04 in their most recent Bundesliga game.

Over the intervening month, both sides have made additions to their sides. Wolfsburg have focused on their midfield, reinvesting the money made by selling Julian Draxler to Paris Saint-Germain by bringing in Yunus Malli, Riechedly Bazoer and Paul-Georges Ntep.

Meanwhile Hamburg have refreshed their notoriously leaky defence by signing Mergim Mavrah from 1. FC Köln and Kyriakos Papadopoulos on loan from Bayer Leverkusen (which in turn ended another temporary spell with RB Leipzig). Cléber Reis has left to join Santos FC and Emir Spahic was released.

Both sides also have new sporting directors in place. Wolfsburg promoted Olaf Rebbe to replace Klaus Aloffs, whilst have filled their vacancy in that role by appointing Jens Todt.

Ready to perform

Both sides have been to sunnier climes in the last couple of weeks to prepare for the resumption in league. Wolfsburg went to La Manga in Spain. They lost their only full-length match against Dutch side SC Heerenveen 2-1, and they also took part in two 45-minutes games as part of a mini-tournament with Erzgebirge Aue (0-0 draw) and FC Sion (2-1 win).

Hamburg went to Dubai, and their confidence would have been boosted with two wins in two, albeit against less recognised opposition. They won 5-0 against local side Al-Nasr, before beating Chinese Super League team Henan Jianye 2-1.

Both Valérien Ismaël and Markus Gisdol believe that their teams are ready, but the Wolfsburg head coach Ismaël stressed the importance of getting off to a good start, describing it as “extremely important.”

However he said that he felt the team had “undertaken a great deal” as they prepared for the second half of the season. “We are ready and the lads are fired-up,” he said. “Now we must perform on the pitch.”

Gisdol felt his players had “trained well” during their training camp, and believes that overall the team “are able to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”  However he is under no illusions and accepts that “only proper games show how good you really are.”

Recent history heavily in Wolfsburg’s favour

Wolfsburg have a fairly consistent record against Hamburg both home and away. In their 19 Bundesliga encounters at the Volkswagen Arena, Wolfsburg have won eight and lost just four, with seven draws, whilst overall in the league they have won 15 times compared to Hamburg’s nine.

In a reflection of the two clubs’ standing in recent seasons, Hamburg have not beaten Wolfsburg for six years. Mladen Petric scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for Der Dino in February 2011. Wolfsburg’s Diego Benaglio and Marcel Schäfer are the only players from either side still at their club.

The equivalent fixture last season ended in a 1-1 draw, the third such result in four matches in Saxony. Maximilian Arnold equalised after Hamburg had led through Nicolai Müller. The return fixture last May ended in a 1-0 victory for Wolfsburg, with Luiz Gustavo scoring in the 73th minute.

Malli, Ntep and Mavraj debuts likely

The quintet of Arnold, Schäfter, Philipp Wollscheid, Daniel Didavi and Sebastian Jung are all unlikely to be involved on Saturday, and although the latter two have stepped up their training, Ismaël said “it remains to be seen as to when the duo can provide an option again.”

Malli and Ntep are both likely to make their debuts from the start, despite the latter being ill earlier in the week. Bazoer is expected to be on the bench, especially as he had only played a limited amount of football for Ajax earlier in the season.

For Hamburg, first choice goalkeeper René Adler remains side-lined with the abductor injury that had kept him out before the break, meaning Christian Mathenia will continue in goal. Gisdol has also ruled Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Gideon Jung out of the game.

As for their two new signings, Gisdol suggested Mavraj but not Papadopoulos would play, alongside Johan Djourou, saying that they had “played well” at their training camp. He said that Papadopoulos, who saw little game time at Leipzig, would “help us a lot this season”, but he would have to wait his turn.

Predicted line-ups

VfL Wolfsburg: (4-2-3-1) Benaglio; Seguin, Bruma, Rodriguez, Gerhardt; Guilavogui, Gustavo; Caligiuri, Malli, Ntep; Gomez.

Hamburger SV: (4-2-3-1) Mathenia; Diekmeier, Djourou, Mavraj, Santos; Sakai, Ostrzolek; Müller, Gregoritsch, Kostic; Wood.

Quotes via VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV.