Where Has it Gone Wrong for Hamburger SV?

At the end of the 28th round in the German Bundesliga, Hamburg have a narrow 1-0 away victory over Kaiserslautern to thank for lifting them out of the relegation play-off spot and out of harm’s way for now.

It was the club’s 1st win in 7 league games, a much-needed recovery after suffering 5 losses within that stretch of fixtures. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the start of problems for HSV. Indeed, at the beginning of the current league campaign, HSV had to wait 7 games before registering their 1st victory. In between that bad patch of form, manager Michael Oenning was given a pink slip.

In Deep Thought -- Thorsten Fink Has Much Work to Do to Save HSV

Since Thorsten Fink took over in October 2011, progress has been gradual. His record of 12 games won, 8 drawn and 7 lost isn’t bad, but he has much work to do yet if he is to spare this reputable club the humiliation of getting relegated. But what is the extent of HSV’s problems?


Problems at the Back

This is rather predictable. The eye-browing raising part of this issue, however, is the extent of HSV’s defensive woes. For starters, they have the worst home record in the division, picking up a measly 2 wins and losing an incredible 7 times on home soil, picking up a petty 11 points in total. HSV haven’t been that bad at home for quite some time. They’ve also kept just 5 clean sheets all season, including just 2 at home.

In addition, they’ve lost 12 times already this season. Over 28 fixtures, that’s an average of a loss every 2 or so games. At that rate, they would lose 15 games by the end of the season. The last time they lost so many was in the 04/05 season when they finished 8th. Currently, they’re 15th, 10 points off Wolfsburg who occupy that 8th position.

They have conceded 50 goals thus far this season (4th worst in the Bundesliga), a rate of 1.8 goals per game. At that rate, they look set to concede 61 goals. They haven’t conceded that many in a while — evidence that there are indeed dire problems in defense.

They have also conceded more shots (421*, an average of 15 per game) than they’ve attempted (370, an average of 13 per game). They also foul an average of 17 times per game — 6th highest in the league.

Surely, these statistics point to a clear lack of discipline, concentration, and organization at the back. No doubt, they explain to a great extent why HSV are having the worst season they’ve had for a long time. Fink needs to organize his rearguard. They’re already in the midst of a relegation battle. Failure to right the wrongs in defense may see the unthinkable finally happen to this prestigious club. Problems don’t exist just at the back, however.


Poor Quality Finishing

HSV’s tally of 32 goals scored is the 6th worst in the Bundesliga. Averaging just 1.1 goals a game, the club is heading toward a final season tally of 39 goals — their lowest return for many years, adding to the belief that this is truly a season to forget for HSV. These problems shouldn’t exist for Hamburg, however. Why?

Mladen Petric -- Struggling in front of Goal

Hamburg create enough chances for themselves. Indeed, they’ve scored an impressive 11 goals from set-pieces; their overall pass accuray of 79% as well as their average possession per game of 52% aren’t bad; and they complete the 3rd highest amount of dribbles per game in the league (17). Basically, they can play the football and create the chances. However, they have a serious problem when it comes to putting those chances away.

The club’s leading goal tally is 6 goals, shared by Mladen Petric and José Paolo Guerrero. Both have a chance conversion percentage of just over 10%. This is nowhere near the league’s leading finishers like Mario Gomez (23 goals), Claudio Pizarro (16 goals), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (22 goals), and Lukas Podolski (17 goals), for example, who all average more than twice that percentage. So, there is certainly a gulf in class between the strikers at other Bundesliga clubs and those of HSV.

José Paolo Guerrero -- Not Among the League's Best

Another factor to consider is the lack of awareness concerning the offside trap. Hamburg are caught offside an average of 4 times a game — the 3rd most times in the league. Surely, some extra work on the training ground to help time runs would help fix this problem.

Something else Thorsten Fink can rectify is the area of the field most utilised when going forward. 40% of HSV’s attacks come down the left wing, where Dennis Aogo and Marcell Jansen patrol. However, the fact that Gökhan Töre is Europe’s most potent dribbler, averaging 5.7 per game (more than Lionel Messi who averages 4.9), should be enough encouragement to attack down the right wing a bit more.

Gökhan Töre -- HSV & Europe's Dribbling Extraodinaire

Currently, there is a 7% gap between both flanks as far as HSV’s attacking play goes. The preference for the left wing is a bit understandable, though, given the fact that Dennis Aogo is the club’s most successful crosser of the ball, completing an impressive 30.3% of them, compared to Töre’s 26.2%, which isn’t bad either in fairness. Fink must strike a balance given the quality he has at his disposal in this regard. Once he does, the team stands to benefit a great deal, once they put those created chances away.



In football, mistakes are punished more often than not. Hamburg have been made to learn this lesson the hard way. This season must be used as a tough learning experience. To survive the drop, Thorsten Fink has to do all that he can to ensure that his team tighten up at the back and be more productive in the final third.

The signing of René Adler would certainly help the team’s cause defensively. The former Germany No.1 goalkeeper is still highly-regarded despite his terrible injury record to date. More additions are needed if this reputable club is to push on from this nightmare of a season. Such a turnaround isn’t impossible. After all, we’ve seen Borussia Monchengladbach impress hugely this campaign despite struggling in seasons past. Why can’t lightning strike twice?



*- Stats courtesy of whoscored.com

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