Fürth arrive in Hamburg for top-of-the-table clash
Stefan Leitl’s Greuther Fürth are the visitors in Hamburg on Saturday lunchtime (kick-off 1:00pm CET), a game that could prove decisive in the battle for promotion.
First faces fourth at the Volksparkstadion on Saturday, Greuther Fürth facing the possibility of leapfrogging HSV with a win in Hamburg on Matchday 21. When the two sides met at the Sportpark Ronhof in October, 10-man HSV scraping a 1-0 win thanks to Khaled Narey’s first-half strike, few would have foreseen Fürth being right on Hamburg’s coattails, languishing at that point on three points after their first four games. Yet the sporting hierarchy in Franconia didn’t panic, backing Stefan Leitl and reaping the rewards, the Shamrocks finding themselves in a top-four which is starting to separate itself from the rest of the pack.
Focus on the visitors
Apart from a one-season sojourn in the Bundesliga in 2012/13, SpVgg Greuther Fürth have been in the 2. Bundesliga uninterrupted since 1997. After a couple of seasons of fighting relegation, 43-year-old Stefan Leitl took over the reins at the Sportpark Ronhof in February 2019, guiding his side to 13th and 9th-placed finishes, a marked improvement and a discernible style developing in Franconia. Leitl’s possession-based game has won admirers around the league, his charges playing attractive football, tiring their opponents out, but, in contrast to previous seasons, striking when on top and also looking more solid defensively. A 4-1 win over Würzburger Kickers last Sunday at home saw Fürth keep up with the leading trio and also separating themselves from the chasing pack, sitting five points clear of fifth-placed Karlsruhe on 38 points. With Hamburg only three points ahead and with a better goal difference by four, a clear win for the Shamrocks on Saturday could see them leapfrog their opponents and lay down a marker in the race for promotion.
Opposition scouting report
The clash at the Volksparkstadion is the meeting of two goal-hungry teams, only VfL Bochum (38) coming close to the number of goals scored by Fürth (41) and HSV (46) in the rest of the division. Similarly to the Rothosen, Fürth don’t excel in one particular area or score goals one particular way, showing themselves to be flexible in attack throughout the season; goals coming from set-pieces, fast counter-attacking play, tiring the opposition down when in possession, and forcing mistakes high up the pitch from their opponents. The Shamrocks have been particularly effective away from the Sportpark Ronhof, only Holstein Kiel picking up more points on the road than Fürth’s haul of 21, and Leitl’s team have only lost one game on their travels all season.
Whilst the Green and Whites can call on an array of attacking talent, talisman and captain Branimir Hrgota is their standout player. The Swede was never quite able to make the breakthrough at either Borussia Mönchengladbach or Eintracht Frankfurt, but has thrived under Leitl’s tutelage and the responsibility of taking the captain’s armband this season. Nine goals and four assists in 17 appearances have been the result, nominally playing in a striker’s position, but often seen drifting between the lines and looking to link up play where he can. Fürth’s rise up the table has also been boosted by unexpected candidates simply having outstanding seasons; Paul Seguin and Sebastian Ernst both contributing five goals from central midfield, and homegrown talent David Raum breaking through to assist ten goals from left-back in just 20 appearances. Setting up in a 4-3-1-2, Leitl encourages full-backs Raum and Meyerhöfer to bomb forward, creating an overload and too many options for opposition defenders to cover.
HSV need top performance without Dudziak
Whilst the sporting hierarchy perhaps would have taken a draw away at Aue before the game kicked off, last Friday’s 3-3 draw at the Erzgebirgsstadion left the Rothosen feeling disappointed on their trip back from Saxony. After an imperious first half, Daniel Thioune’s men perhaps should have been further ahead than the 3-1 lead they did hold, playing it round their opponents but Aue fighting back in the second half on an increasingly difficult surface to play football on. With all three teams behind the Rothosen winning, the gap at the top was cut to two points, the Rothosen heading into Matchday 21 on 41 points, and still ten games unbeaten. Daniel Thioune is without a number of key players on Saturday, Jeremy Dudziak not recovering from a strained muscle in his left thigh in time to take part, Bobby Wood also missing his second game in a row with thigh problems. Long-term absentees Toni Leistner, Josha Vagnoman and Klaus Gjasula continue their rehabilitation, but are still a way away from being considered for selection.
Daniel Thioune on the mindset heading into the game: "We know that against Fürth we need a certain stability, but also want to be dynamic moving up the pitch. We have a lot of players who would suit such a playing style, but we haven't made any decisions yet.”
Fürth are the only team in the 2. Bundesliga who have won all three of their matches so far in the Rückrunde and have a five-game unbeaten streak of their own. It’s their best points total at this point of the season since 2011/12, when they were promoted to the Bundesliga!
HSV have the best attacking unit in the division with 46 goals from 20 games. The last time HSV had so many goals at this point of the season was in 1982/83, when the Rothosen became German champions.
Greuther Fürth became known for their passing football with the ‘Fürther Flachpass’ almost 100 years ago under English coach William Townley. A century later and the tradition lives on, only HSV (35), having scored more goals in open play than Fürth (34) this season.
Where to watch the game
UK, Ireland: BT Sport 2
Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden: TV3 Sport, Viaplay
Netherlands: ESPN 4
Portugal: Eleven Sports 2
Czech Republic, Slovakia: Digi Sport 1
Hungary: Sport 2
Greece: Cosmote Sport 8HD
Israel: Sport 3
Turkey: S Sport 2
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela: OneFootball