Hamburg adopt knock-out mentality for survival fight

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BERLIN, May 4, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Midfielder Lewis Holtby says Hamburg must treat Saturday’s match at Eintracht Frankfurt as “a cup semi-final” if they want to avoid a historic first relegation from the Bundesliga.

Second-bottom Hamburg are five points from safety with two league games left — at Eintracht Frankfurt and then at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach — as they bid to avoid slipping out of the top flight for the first time.

But they sit just two points behind Wolfsburg, who occupy 16th place, which provides the solace of a relegation play-off against the team who finish third in the second tier.

Holtby says, from a Hamburg perspective, those remaining games against clubs fighting for European places next season are effectively knock-out matches.

“This is our ‘semi-final’,” said Holtby, who has scored four goals in Hamburg’s last five games to breathe life into their survival hopes.

“We aren’t dead yet. I believe 100 percent that we can rescue things.”

Hamburg are the only club to have played in every season since the Bundesliga was established in 1963 — when even mighty Bayern Munich were still a second-division club.

A seven-point gap at the start of April has been slashed by wins over fellow strugglers Freiburg, 1-0 at home a fortnight ago, and Wolfsburg, 3-1 away last Saturday.

Three wins in their last four games have given belief to Hamburg’s players and fans alike, but they need Wolfsburg to drop more points.

Moreover, they are facing a Frankfurt side eager to bounce back from a 4-1 mauling at champions Bayern Munich, which followed a 3-0 home defeat by Hertha Berlin.

“We have not achieved anything yet, if we want to get over the line, then we need further victories,” said Christian Titz, Hamburg’s third coach since January.

Hamburg have fallen on hard times in recent seasons, needing to win the relegation play-off in both 2013/14 and 2014/15 to stay up.

This season has been a disaster.

Hamburg were second from bottom with 15 points from 19 games when Markus Gisdol was sacked as head coach in late January.

Former player Bernd Hollerbach took over, but was soon dismissed after failing to win any of his seven games, admitting “we need a miracle”.

Titz was promoted from the reserves and the 47-year-old has coaxed three wins from his six games to turn the corner.

“We are playing a totally different style of football, the coach has his own ideas and sticks to them,” enthused midfielder Aaron Hunt.

Hamburg need Wolfsburg to slip up either this Saturday at RB Leipzig, who are winless in their last five games and fighting to keep a Europa League place, or at home to Cologne, who are already relegated.

Having already had their relegation confirmed last weekend, bottom side Cologne host champions Bayern Munich, who are licking their wounds after their agonising Champions League exit in midweek.

Bayern, who sealed a sixth straight league title last month, hold a massive 24-point lead in the table.

Coach Jupp Heynckes is sure to rotate after they drew 2-2 at Real Madrid on Wednesday to lose their Champions League semi-final 4-3 on aggregate.

Saturday’s fixtures (all 1330 GMT)

Borussia Dortmund v Mainz, RB Leipzig v Wolfsburg, Cologne v Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Freiburg, Eintracht Frankfurt v Hamburg, Augsburg v Schalke, Hanover 96 v Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart v Hoffenheim

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