HSV seek to topple leaders Bielefeld in top-of-the-table clash
League leaders Arminia Bielefeld travel to Hamburg on Sunday (kick-off 1:30pm), aiming to defend their seven-point gap at the top and keep second-placed HSV at arm’s length in the battle for promotion.
Few would have predicted before the season started that with eight games to go, Arminia Bielefeld would be seven points clear at the top of the 2. Bundesliga table. That is exactly how Bielefeld coach Uwe Neuhaus will have preferred to have entered the campaign as well; quietly confident in his squad’s ability but happy to fly under the radar. The 60-year-old’s considered and unflappable attitude has served Arminia well, and, when combined with shrewd tactical knowledge, an on-pitch leader in Fabian Klos and a squad hitting its stride just at the right time, it is perhaps no surprise that Bielefeld find themselves atop the summit of the German second tier. Dieter Hecking knows that his charges will have to be at their best if they are to take all three points on Sunday afternoon and throw the title race wide open once again.
Focus on the visitors
Former Rot-Weiss Essen, Union Berlin and Dynamo Dresden manager Neuhaus is one of the more experienced managers on the circuit, with last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with VfL Osnabrück the 60-year-old’s 500th game in charge. And whilst the former Wattenscheid player has never coached in the Bundesliga, he is certainly on the right track, with Bielefeld having only been on an upward trajectory since Neuhaus took over in December 2018. Only promoted Paderborn collected more points during the second half of the 2018/19 season than Arminia and ‘Die Blauen’ (The Blues) carried their good form over into the new campaign, sitting pretty on top of the table at Christmastime, whilst also taking the crown for most 2. Bundesliga points collected in the 2019 calendar year by some distance.
The team was driven forward in the first half of the season by strike duo Fabian Klos and Andreas Voglsammer but when Voglsammer broke his metatarsal in the second game back after the Christmas break, it was once again expected by some that Arminia’s title charge would tail off. The injury seemed to have the opposite effect, with the squad becoming more united and intent on reaching the promised land, with a three-point lead at Christmas having widened to a seven-point gap at the start of Matchday 27. Whilst the inconsistent form of challengers Stuttgart and Hamburg has played its part in the gap growing ever wider, this should take nothing away from Bielefeld, whose last defeat came all the way back in December to St. Pauli and who have only lost two games all season. Neuhaus’ charges seemed to be on track to return with a win after the coronavirus-induced break in the local derby against Osnabrück last Sunday, but for Marcos Alvarez’s 93rd-minute equaliser. Havard Nielsen’s late leveller for Fürth against Hamburg provided at least some comfort for Arminia, meaning their lead at the summit remained at seven points.
Opposition scouting report
A quick look at the table is all that is necessary to see why Bielefeld have been so successful this season. Points aside, the Blues lead the table in goals scored (51, one more than HSV) and goals conceded (25, four better than next-best Heidenheim). Their record has been even better since the Christmas break, with 16 goals scored and only four conceded. Relatively inexperienced centre-back pairing Joakim Nilsson and Amos Pieper have been the base that the defensive solidity has been built upon, backed up by one of the best goalkeepers in the division in Stefan Ortega. Consistency has been key for Arminia, with the back four of Hartherz, Nilsson, Pieper and Brunner having played 20 straight games alongside each other, another reason for why their solidity has improved as the season has gone on.
Neuhaus is also consistent in his choice of formation, lining up in a 4-3-3 to match their hosts on Sunday, with tactical tinkering as to whether one or two central midfielders play a holding role. Marcel Hartel has also had something of a breakout season, able to spread his wings and prove himself after limited minutes at former clubs Union Berlin and 1. FC Köln, and has provided nine assists from attacking midfield whilst also covering the third-most amount of kilometres in the league. And whilst Voglsammer was instrumental up until Christmas, collecting ten goals and five assists, the responsibility fell onto captain Fabian Klos’ shoulders to lead the line in his strike partner’s absence. The 32-year-old more than answered the call, and is head and shoulders above the competition in the 2. Bundesliga both literally and metaphorically, having contributed towards seven more goals than nearest rival Ganvoula, with 17 goals and nine assists to his name. Whilst the 6’4” target man’s aerial ability is certainly one of his strengths, it is his ability to lead and bring his teammates into the game which has impressed so many observers this season. The starting centre-back pairing for Hamburg on Sunday will have their work cut out keeping the Arminia captain quiet.
Dieter Hecking on Bielefeld: “If there’s one manager who deserves promotion it would be Uwe [Neuhaus]. Bielefeld were a surprise for a number of commentators who didn’t predict them playing so well but they’ve been able to bring their quality to every game. They have a great unity amongst their squad, and have individual quality as well, with Klos and Ortega standouts.”
Hamburg look to rely on home comforts to close the gap
There was no new injury news for Dieter Hecking to report at Friday’s press conference, with Gideon Jung (hip), Jan Gyamerah (hip), Julian Pollersbeck (ankle) and Ewerton (knee) still unavailable for selection. That left the coaching staff with a relatively injury-free squad and yet more selection headaches, with a number of options at their disposal, including an ‘unorthodox’ line-up like the one seen last Sunday in Fürth. After a pedestrian opening 25 minutes, Hamburg improved immeasurably after going behind to Havard Nielsen, and should have scored more than the two from Joel Pohjanpalo (three goals in six appearances, all away from home) and Jeremy Dudziak either side of half-time to put the game to bed.
As it was, Nielsen was able to snatch two points out of the Rothosen’s grasp with an injury-time equaliser, meaning the Hamburg side couldn’t capitalise on Stuttgart’s loss and Bielefeld’s draw, but still moving ahead of VfB by virtue of goal difference, sitting on 45 points, seven behind Sunday’s visitors. The Rothosen have fared much better at the Volksparkstadion than on their travels, picking up ten wins of a possible twelve since the 1-1 draw on the opening day of the season against Darmstadt. Despite the lack of the vociferous home support to cheer them on, Hecking will be hoping his side’s home form continues to put a dent into Arminia’s title charge.
HSV have only lost one of their last 12 games against Bielefeld, with seven wins and four draws. The only loss in the run was the 2-0 reverse at the SchücoArena in February 2019.
Arminia have only won one competitive game in 18 attempts at the Volksparkstadion, with 14 losses, three draws and a 2-0 win in the Bundesliga in October 2004 in Hamburg.
Bielefeld’s haul of 28 points from 13 away games is by far and away the best away record in the division. In the history of the 2. Liga, only one team had as many points away from home in the same amount of games, and that was 1. FC Köln in 2018/19 who were eventually crowned champions.
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