Season PreviewBy: ryan_s | August 22nd, 2012
The season begins this coming weekend as HSV kick off the beginning of their Bundeslga campaign. As we all remember, it looked questionable as to if HSV would suffer the indignation of kicking off in the 2. Bundesliga this year, but after a tumultuous campaign last season, they begin anew. Things are off to a bad start though, as a very poor showing (especially defensively) against third league side Karlsruhe resulted in an embarrassing 4-2 loss and dropping out of the German cup in the first round. It wasn’t the most embarrassing result of the round (cough Hoffenheim), but it didn’t go a long way towards having everyone be pumped about the new season.
Thorsten Fink is a highly respected coach, and his time with Basel was very impressive. He promised attractive football upon his arrival in Hamburg, but the relegation battle seems to have changed that a bit and HSV have never scored more than 2 goals against a top league side, even in friendlies. He has moved away from the 4-4-2 that he initially employed and is now going with the more Bundesliga friendly 4-2-3-1. He’s also removed the dropping back of one of the DM’s into a pseudo CB role to distribute from (Rincon had that duty, mostly), though still employs the fullbacks relatively high up the pitch when in possession. He has come under pressure since Hamburg aren’t making particularly stark progress, but has deflected that by not having Milan Badelj and a new no. 10 at his disposal, as well as (perhaps more importantly) the fact that the off season was spent mostly practicing defensive tactics and they are now just getting into offensive tactics. HSV are currently incredibly slow in their buildup play, which will need to change. We’ll see…
René Adler has come in and displaced perfectly good Jaroslav Drobny between the posts. Adler, when healthy, is one of the better goalies in the world. He showed some rust in the Karlsruhe game, as he parried a relatively simple save right back into the field of play (Joe Hart disease) but has looked convincing in other preseason games. If he can get back to his form before his injuries, then this move will eventually look very good. If he is no better than Drobny, than his wages could have been spent elsewhere. Either way, he’s a German international and gives HSV a ’star’.
The defense has looked to be coming around, but questions still surround it given how young the back four will be. Paul Scharner was an excellent, bargain deal and he will add quality and experience as well as depth. Michael Mancienne has looked good this preseason, and definitely is quite pacey for a CB, even if he isn’t particularly big. Jeffery Bruma is… continuing to develop, but man does he get caught wildly out of position at times. Not one for thinking quickly when a complicated counter attack is coming at him. Perhaps he gets this from Dennis Aogo, who ranges from being highly rated as a dependable attacking fullback to overrated as he often fails to cover his side of the field on defense. He’s also been connected with a move to Lazio, but I would be surprised if HSV let him leave. Finally there’s the RB battle between Zhi Gin Lam and Dennis Diekmeier – I had initially thought that Diekmeier was a shoe-in, and that the only chance he would not play was if Bruma was slotted out wide. But Lam has quickly impressed Fink at the fullback position, and even started the Pokal game there. I personally like Diekemeier, as he adds pace and a cross that actually finds people in the box (unlike Aogo), but Lam did have a very nice chip pass to Beister that lead to a goal against KSC.
At defensive midfield, Heiko Westermann will be plying his trade rather than at his old position of center back. The HSV captain adds a lot to defensive midfield – he helps to shield the young back line with his fantastic tackle rate, is usually dominant in the air, and covers a lot of ground both on offense and defense. He’s also a very good long-ball passer, and can hit the target from distance with ferocity. What he lacks there is experience at the position, as well as dribbling. In tight situations (high up the field in attack) he usually can’t stop the ball from being intercepted simply because he can’t keep the ball glued to his feet like others can. He needs a partner in crime to make up for this. That will come when Milan Badelj, a deep lying play maker, comes in (which is soon!). Meanwhile, with Kacar and Tomas Rincon both injured, Per Skjelbred has been starting most games and friendlies. He hasn’t done poorly, and has added the occasional good pass in attack. The problem is that he would work much better in a 4-3-3 formation as a CM allowed to roam around, but with him being a DM it’s just not great. Hasn’t been bad, and has specifically requested to stay at HSV rather than be sold.
The wings are where HSV have the most quality, and where they let Ghökan Töre leave. Even without him, they have veteran Marcel Jansen, quality all around player Ivo Ilicevic, rising star Maximilian Beister and Heung Min Son, who is constantly tipped to start breaking out and scoring goals for fun but hasn’t yet. Jansen will most likely get a lot of starts over Ilicevic, which is fine really as Ivo is pretty good at coming off the bench and making a difference, and Jansen adds defensive help as well as power on the wing. Beister looks to be the real deal – scored a nice goal against Karlsruhe and recently scored twice for Germany’s U-21 against Argentina. Can’t wait to see how he does this year. Son continues to get plenty of playing time, and was clearly favored over Töre (as well as slowly being a bigger part of HSV’s marketing strategy), but continues to make poor decisions on the ball and simply be too slow with his decision making. He can do it all when he has his thinking cap on though – dribble, shoot with power and curve, head, and even help decently on defense (much more so than Beister). Lacks a footballing brain, still. I want to start seeing some results from him this year, even if he is still very young. Jacopo Sala is also decent player who can fill in multiple spots on the field, all of which he will not be first in line for. Decent but somewhat unexciting, his volley against Bayern last year notwithstanding.
(I’m also including the CF spot here) Right now the big question if who will fill the no. 10 spot for HSV this season. There have been many rumors (including renewed talks with a certain Dutch Tottenham player), but nobody has come in yet. This leaves HSV with Tolgay Arslan, who isn’t bad but still is learning at the highest level, and then a host of people slightly out of position. Jansen started there against Karlsuhe and did decently, and Robert Tesche has even played there in friendlies (no thank you). This all goes on behind the two strikers HSV have in their squad – flop til’ now Marcus Berg, and new comer Latvian Artjoms Rudnevs. Rudnevs had a nervy preseason, and will need plenty of time to adjust to life in a stronger league than the Polish one. Berg is a halfway decent player, but most of that comes from his intelligence. He’s not fast, isn’t spectacular in the air, and isn’t particularly good at dribbling. In other words, the striker area is a problem (we miss you already, Mladen Petric of FC Fulham). Hamburg have struggled to score goals in the past year, and if they start scoring goals now, it will most likely be through Beister and Jansen rather than Berg.
SO – what does this all add up to? A pretty young and mediocre team. The team has neither stuck to it’s youth only initiative nor to it’s old ways of paying lots of money for experienced players. This leaves the team to be somewhat odd feeling, even though it’s still more of a youth project than anything else. The continuing practice of offensive tactics under Fink should help, as his Basel team was an attacking side, as should the addition of Badelj and a no.10. If it’s VdV, then HSV move up a notch in quality. If it’s a lesser caliber player who’s more of a youngster, then the immediate results will be little and the attack will continue to struggle. One would think that this team is indeed slightly better suited for the season than last year’s, and that another relegation battle will not be a season long affair (though there could be some problems with the tough schedule from matchday 4-6 in the year). The first three games are against Nürnberg, new look Werder Bremen (who also were knocked out of the cup) and freshly promoted Eintracht Frankfurt. Some positives out of those games will make the coming Borussia games easier to handle, as well as make the season much more positive in general.
The team shouldn’t ship as many goals as last year, but the attack isn’t going to light anybody up with any consistency. HSV are miles away from Bayern and Dortmund, and not really close to the quality of squads like Schalke, Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Gladbach, Hannover, Stuttgart or Hoffenheim (though all but Schalke are filled with tons of new players). That being said, Bremen could either be quite good or quite bad, Freiburg, Augsburg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Nürnberg, Mainz and Greuther Fürth are no better on paper than Hamburg. So what do I say? I say a 10th place finish, though things could get hairy at times. What are your thoughts?
Hamburg take on FC Nürnberg on Saturday to kick off their year of celebrations. Let’s hope it continues with the tradition that is HSV – consistency in the top flight. Don’t kill Dino Hermann!