Hamburg has 2 games to stave off 1st Bundesliga relegation
ABS-CBN Sports on May 04, 2018 08:23 AM
In this Saturday, April 28, 2018 photo from left Hamburg's Albin Ekdal, Lewis Holtby and Dennis Diekmeier celebrate after the German Bundesliga soccer match between VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV in Wolfsburg, Germany. Hamburg defeated Wolfsburg by 3-1. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)
By Ciaran Fahey, Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — Hamburger SV has two games to stave off its first relegation from the Bundesliga.
Demotion seemed almost certain two weeks ago, but the team has bounced back with wins over relegation rivals Freiburg and Wolfsburg to cut the gap on a relegation playoff place to only two points.
Another win, at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, could see Hamburg move above Wolfsburg before the final round - if Wolfsburg loses at Leipzig, which is fighting to hold onto its qualification position for the Europa League.
Wolfsburg has had the worst attack in the second half of the season and only one win from its last 12 games.
While Wolfsburg is slumping, Hamburg - the only ever-present team in the league since its formation in 1963 - is on the up after three wins in four games, including a victory over second-place Schalke.
"We've gained confidence and are playing with courage. That's the key," said Hamburg midfielder Lewis Holtby, who scored in all three games.
"I believe in the goal," Holtby added of Hamburg's survival hopes. "We have two hugely important games. We have to get the maximum points from them."
Hamburg hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach on the final day of the season next Saturday, while Wolfsburg will host already-relegated Cologne. All the games in the last two rounds are being played at the same time.
Hamburg's turnaround can be credited to the influence of Christian Titz, who previously coached the club's second team. Titz is the club's third head coach this season after taking over from the fired Bernd Hollerbach in a final throw of the dice on March 12.
The club, which has been flirting with relegation in recent seasons, had nothing left to lose after playing its worst season yet. Hamburg won only four of 26 games - and lost 17 - before Titz took over.
Titz has breathed fresh life into the team, leading it to 10 points from a possible 18, despite a rocky start with a 2-1 home loss to Hertha Berlin. Titz faced criticism at the time from Greece defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos, unhappy to be among several experienced players left out.
"That was very uncomfortable. I thought, 'What's he doing there now?' But we want guys who do extraordinary things in extreme situations in front of 50,000 people. So that can also happen off the field," Titz told Kicker magazine of the criticism. "It's not always OK, but the decisive thing is how we get on with it. And in the meantime 'Papa' is supporting the team commendably."
Titz changed Hamburg's style of play and introduced a cup-style mentality for the remaining games after the loss to Berlin.
"After the first impressions against Berlin," Titz said, "it was just a matter of time for me before the knots were untied."