Hamburger SV Struggles: How to Fix Their Shambolic Season

HAMBURG, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 05: Albin Ekdal (L) of Hamburg looks dejected during the Bundesliga match between Hamburger SV and Borussia Dortmund at Volksparkstadion on November 5, 2016 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Hamburger SV finished the 2015-16 Bundesliga season comfortably in midtable. They were bound to be happy with the finish, but dared to dream of more. Aiming for a European finish in this campaign, with a couple of transfers fans seemed very optimistic. Their optimism has been shattered: the team is in a state of shambles.

The Summer and its Early Days

The summer for Hamburger was a busy one, as they brought in many reinforcements. Alen Halilović came in from Barcelona for about £4 million; Filip Kostic and Bobby Wood were brought in from Stuttgart and Union Berlin to spice up an attack which only registered 40 goals in 34 league games last season; Douglas Santos was brought in from Atlético Mineiro to bolster the defence.

The start of the season was a must-win home game against Ingolstadt. New forward, Bobby Wood, scored his first goal for the club within 30 minutes of his debut, capitalising on a great ball from goalkeeper René Adler. In the 80th minute, however, the defence gave away a cheap goal and the game ended 1-1. It was a disappointing result, as it did not reflect the way the team played.

The next league game was against Bayer Leverkusen. Wood did the business again, scoring a great goal in the 58th minute. Again Hamburger seemed to have control of the situation, but once again they crumbled. The Finnish substitute Joel Pohjanpalo equalised within seven minutes of coming on, then scored twice in injury time to secure all three points for his side.

After that 3-1 defeat, HSV went seven league matches without scoring. They broke their duck recently against Borussia Dortmund, but that was not before they had been put to the sword by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a crushing 5-2 defeat.

What’s Going On?

The squad is severely lacking in fitness and depth—a potentially fatal combination. Too many late goals are being conceded, which is down to both a lack of fitness and concentration and to make matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be enough quality players in the squad to be able to rotate properly, meaning that many in the starting XI are being overworked.

New coach, Markus Gisdol, was brought in during the season, which is never good for a club’s stability. He has looked very shaky, juggling with personnel and tactics too often. Right after a bad result or two playing a 4-2-3-1, Gisdol changed his formation to a 4-4-2, and has not earned point in league play. The players should be able to adapt, but that’s not the point. The coach should believe in his players enough to keep playing the same way and look to deal with what truly needs changing to improve the results. Changing the whole system as soon as something goes wrong shows mental weakness on the part of the coach.

Another mind-boggling thing that’s happening, is that the new signings aren’t getting enough playing time; specifically Halilović and Douglas. They were brought in for a reason, so they should be used. Halilović has the ability to create chances and be deadly in front of goal, so it’s a no-brainer that he should be played.

Gisdol has the players to build a winning system but insists on playing people out of position. For example, Sakai, a left-back, is played as a central midfielder while Halilović sits on the bench. It is very difficult for players to adapt to a new position, but it must be even harder for the players on the bench to watch them.

Keys to Success

The fulcrum of a team is the goalkeeper and Rene Adler needs either to improve or be replaced. At the age of 31, he is coming to the end of his prime and should be phased out of the team accordingly. A replacement ‘keeper would bring a new sense of leadership to a struggling team. Andreas Hirzel, the current back-up ‘keeper, should certainly stay at the club and deserves a few more chances in the starting XI.

Gisdol must go back to the 4-2-3-1 system and hope that he can get enough results together to survive until January. Then, he must take a gamble in the transfer market. A healthy mix of youth and experience would be very useful for this side. More players like Filip Kostić, who has a long career still ahead of him at the age of 24 but has achieved enough at this level to help drive the team forward, are desperately needed.

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