HSV return to action in Fürth with first of three crunch fixtures
The Sportpark Ronhof is the venue for HSV’s first league fixture in over two months, as the Rothosen do battle with fifth-placed Greuther Fürth on Sunday (kick-off 1:30pm CET).
After a two-month hiatus, the 2. Bundesliga returns this weekend, albeit not in the manner many will have been expecting or hoping. Dieter Hecking will have to prepare his charges for HSV’s first-ever competitive game behind closed doors, in what will certainly be a mental challenge for players and staff alike. Having only been able to train as a whole squad since receiving a special exemption from the authorities in Hamburg last Wednesday, there will also be a physical challenge for the Hamburg side, who will be hoping that the work they have put in during their quarantine training camp in Herzogenaurach for the past week will bear fruit on Sunday. It is imperative that the Rothosen’s work over the past month to keep match fit despite the ever-changing circumstances pays off with a fast start, with Fürth a difficult team to break down and momentum important with upcoming fixtures against first and second-placed Bielefeld and Stuttgart respectively.
Focus on the hosts
SpVgg Greuther Fürth take their name from the town of Fürth, which lies 10km away from the centre of the larger Bavarian city of Nuremberg, with the town and its neighbouring city having more or less merged geographically due to urban expansion over the past century. Naturally, the two clubs that represent the two cities (1. FC Nürnberg in Nuremberg and SpVgg Greuther Fürth in Fürth) have been fierce rivals since their inception due to their proximity and the fact that both were the dominant forces in German football in the 1920s, with the two clubs winning 6 of the available 10 German championships between them during the decade. The Shamrocks have spent the majority of their existence in the second tier, and in fact lead the 2. Liga all-time points table ahead of Alemannia Aachen.
Former Ingolstadt coach Stefan Leitl took over the helm at the Sportpark Ronhof in February 2019, inheriting a relatively precarious situation, but managed to steer the Green and Whites away from trouble and continue the good form into the 2019/20 season. After a slight wobble with back-to-back home losses against Arminia Bielefeld and Hannover 96, Leitl’s charges were unbeaten in their last three before the shutdown, most notably beating fellow promotion challengers VfB Stuttgart last time out at the Sportpark Ronhof. Lots has changed since then, but one thing remains the same, with Fürth a stubborn and well-organised team who are not to be underestimated, particularly at home. The Shamrocks lead the chasing pack in the packed midfield area of the 2. Bundesliga table, sitting in 5th on 36 points, tied with Darmstadt and eight points behind Sunday’s guests.
Opposition scouting report
Whilst Leitl will have been disappointed his side’s momentum was halted by the break in league action, the 70-day gap in proceedings certainly gave his squad the recuperation time it needed to return from injury. Had the two sides met as planned on the 13th March, Leitl would have had to have made do without 11 members of his first-team squad. Albanian centre-back Mergim Mavraj has not quite fully recovered from his pulled adductor injury to take part on Sunday, whilst midfield cog Sebastian Ernst will have to sit out after picking up his fifth caution of the season against Holstein Kiel last time out, but all other members of the squad are fit and raring to go.
The Shamrocks are certainly one of the surprise stories of the 2. Bundesliga campaign so far, with their fifth-placed ranking based on a balanced side that doesn’t concede too many (33 goals conceded, 7th best in the league) and is also dangerous going forward (37 scored, 6th best in the division). Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, former player Leitl relies on a solid spine to his team, with two tough centre-backs, and strength in defensive midfield in Paul Seguin and up top with Havard Nielsen, both experienced campaigners. The real danger comes from the wide positions, with Swedish winger Branimir Hrgota having something of a break-out season having never really burst into life during spells at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Eintracht Frankfurt. However the 27-year-old has contributed nine goals and four assists out of the 37 goals scored by Fürth in the league since signing on a free last summer in Franconia. 19-year-old academy graduate Jamie Leweling has also impressed, especially since the winter break, scoring three and assisting one in his last seven games. The Hamburg full-backs will have to be on top of their game to deal with the pace and trickery of Hrgota and Leweling on Sunday.
Quartet miss out as Rothosen prepare for final push
Perhaps the only positive of the coronavirus outbreak has been the time it has given injured players to recover, with Jeremy Dudziak in particular recovering quicker than expected by the medical staff and having been involved in full training for the past three weeks. Josha Vagnoman has also recovered from the broken tarsal bone in his foot which he sustained all the way back in October and will be available for selection come Sunday lunchtime, whilst Jordan Beyer has long recovered from the nasty concussion he suffered in HSV’s last game, a 2-1 win over Regensburg at the Volksparkstadion, meaning the HSV squad is almost at full strength. Julian Pollersbeck (ankle), Gideon Jung (hip flexor) and Ewerton (knee) have all flown home from the Rothosen’s training camp in Herzogenaurach and will be treated in Hamburg, whilst Jan Gyamerah also continues to recover from his hip flexor injury which will likely keep him out of action for another two weeks.
A three-match winless run was ended with the victory over Regensburg in the last matchday before the cessation of league football, halting a poor run of form which had seen the Rothosen slip to third position in the league on 44 points, one behind VfB Stuttgart and seven behind runaway leaders Arminia Bielefeld. With the two sides above them next on HSV’s fixture list, it is imperative for Dieter Hecking’s men to start positively, with momentum important for the remaining nine games.
Fürth was the scene of HSV’s first relegation play-off escape act, with a 1-1 draw at the Sporthof Ronhof seeing the Rothosen stay in the Bundesliga by virtue of away goals in May 2014.
Since the foundation of the Bundesliga in 1963, Fürth have only been able to win one competitive match against the Rothosen, which happened to be in 1963 as well. 5 draws and 4 losses have followed.
Fürth have scored in each of their past ten games, the longest goalscoring series in the second division, and the Shamrocks’ longest since February to April 2016.
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