In just over 30 weeks from now, two Bundesliga sides will drop directly in to the second division with another facing a gut-wrenching play-off against the third-place team from Bundesliga.2.
Hamburg - the only team to compete in the Bundesliga every year since 1963 - are one of four sides locked in a relegation dogfight with Rothosen’s draw at home to Wolfsburg on Saturday lifting them off the bottom of the table. After a horrible start to the season, Michael Oenning was eventually sacked after six games in charge with HSV picking up one point from a possible 18.
It was caretaker coach Rodolfo Cardoso who masterminded Hamburg’s first win of the campaign in Stuttgart but the Argentinian failed to meet DFL requirements and it was Sporting director Frank Arnesen who took control of first-team duties. Arnesen added the club’s second win of the season against relegation rivals Freiburg with Ivo Illicevic scoring his first in Hamburg colours since joining from Kaiserslutern at the end of the transfer window.
But after a long, drawn-out saga, Hamburg finally confirmed their new first team coach as Thorsten Fink who has signed a three-year deal at the Imtech Arena.
The 43-year-old spent six years with FC Bayern as a player and made over 150 league appearances in Munich but his career on the park was cut short due to a knee ligament injury. Fink’s coaching career has largely developed in Austria where he was given a chance as assistant head coach at Red Bull Salzburg following Lothar Matthäus’ departure. After a short spell with Ingolstadt, Fink returned to Austria to take charge of FC Basel in 2009.
The former Bayern man’s two league championships in consecutive seasons, as well as, another two domestic cups attracted the interest of Frank Arnesen who has handed him the responsibility of steering Hamburg to safety. Fink was quick to promise attacking football but stressed at his first press conference that successful football is more important than attacking football that continues to lose matches.
Speaking about the type of tactics Fink will implement to the Hamburg official website, he said:
I will play a 4-4-2 system, although the team must be capable of switching systems if necessary. I believe I know what the team needs to a certain extent - that is one of my qualities. I will be playing with a flat midfield.
Over the past year or so, the growing trend in European football has been to adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation and that system is increasingly popular in the Bundesliga. But the 4-4-2 brings up many interesting questions about how Hamburg will line-up with so many attacking midfielders who are accustomed to the 4-2-3-1 which Oenning deployed.
From Hamburg’s last match, the 2-1 win in Freiburg, Fink made three changes to the starting eleven with Tomas Rincon replacing Robert Tesche in midfield, Marcell Jansen coming in at left-midfield and Jose Guerrero starting in attack ahead of Son Heung-Min. The back-four still looked suspect at times with Jeffrey Bruma committing a few rash challenges but the crucial changes were in midfield with Gojko Kacar and Tomas Rincon working well in the middle of the park.
The Serbian midfielder has made five league appearances this season and has played in a number of positions but the defensive-midfield role is where the 24-year-old is most comfortable. He is positionally very good and makes some important interceptions, as well as, having a decent passing ability, hitting an 86% successful ratio on Saturday.
His midfield partner, Tomas Rincon, has had an inconsistent Hamburg career to date but his performances at the Copa America with Venezuela highlighted the ability he possesses. Rincon is a more ‘all-action’ midfielder with plenty of energy to break up the play but the only downfall is a lack of cutting edge in the final third.
With Jansen and Tore in the wide areas, HSV have plenty of width, supported by two attacking full-backs in Dennis Aogo and the stand-in Heiko Westermann. Fink has plenty of options in wide positions with Zhi Gin Lam, Son and Per Skjelbred capable of coming in for Hamburg.
Mladen Petric has been up front on his own for Hamburg this season but it was a welcome sight for the Croatian to see the Peruvian Jose Guerrero up alongside him. Petric has been ineffective in a large number of Rothosen’s matches with only one goal from open play this term.
The new-look Hamburg side has plenty of energy and the 4-4-2 system provides a bit more of an attacking threat for Fink’s men. Frank Arnesen told the HSV website what he thought of the new system:
I was impressed by the mentality of our players. They never gave up and battled hard for every ball. Thorsten Fink's style was very visible. We want to try to dominate our matches. During build-up play, our players tried to find a man in space. I liked that.
In comparison to the teams around them in the table, it looks as though Hamburg are picking up momentum and the new appointment could galvanise a very talented, but under-performing, squad. With matches against Kaiserslutern, Mainz and Augsburg still to come in the first half of the season, you would fancy Hamburg to get themselves out of trouble, sooner rather than later.