The Nordderby is always a fiercely contested affair. However, with the added threat of relegation looming over both Hamburg and Werder Bremen, the stakes will be even higher than usual when they clash on Matchday 24.When the final whistle blows in the Weserstadion in Bremen on Saturday night, two of the Bundesliga’s traditional stalwarts will have a clearer idea of what could await them at the end of the season.
At present, both Bremen and Hamburg are shrouded in uncertainty and a loss for either side could spell the catalyst for a drop to the second division, which would be particularly dramatic for Hamburg, the only team never to habe been relegated from the Bundesliga.
Bremen sit in 15th place with just 23 points, and Hamburg are further down in 17th with a meagre points total of 17. Relegation is on the cards for the two proud clubs.
But momentum is a powerful tool in football. And nothing can build momentum better than a morale-boosting win over a fierce rival.
The stakes are particularly high for Hamburg leading into this clash – lose and they could wake up on Sunday morning nine points from safety.
On the flip side, victory could give them impetus to push on and secure their standing as the Bundesliga’s only ever-present club.
“I think the game is coming at the right time for us,” midfielder Aaron Hunt said.
“We see the derby as an opportunity to sort things out.”
The last Nordderby, in Hamburg at the end of September, highlighted a big reason both Bremen and Hamburg are in the middle of a relegation battle – neither side managed to find the net in a drab stalemate.
Goalscoring chances were at a premium in that woeful contest and the trend has continued throughout the rest of the season – Bremen and Hamburg boast two of the Bundesliga’s worst attacks.
So ahead of Saturday’s derby, the biggest question is where the goals are going to come from?
Hamburg put most of their goalscoring eggs into the Bobby Wood basket, who is beginning to look like he will never be a consistent Bundesliga performer. Their other hope, Nicolai Müller, has been out of action since he did himself an injury will celebrating scoring a goal on Matchday 1.
Relying on the promising but inexperienced Jann-Fiete Arp for goals may be putting too much pressure on the 18-year-old. So it’s no big surprise that HSV have only managed 18 goals, the worst record in the league.
Bremen aren’t too far behind, either. Max Kruse’s goals were crucial to Bremen pulling away from relegation last season, but he’s failed to fire on all cylinders during this campaign. That Kruse is Bremen’s top goalscorer with five strikes – three scored in one game – says it all.
Riding on passion
The winner of the Nordderby could well come down to which team is more willing to fight and scrap their way to a result.
Both sets of supporters have become accustomed to watching insipid displays, but the least they can expect on Saturday is a bit of passion.
The last derby was a hot-tempered affair, with no less than 40 fouls committed. Despite indicating a lack of quality and control, it also suggests a presence of desire and committment – both necessary traits in a relegation dogfight.
Given the lack of quality in front of goal, those attributes could be vital in the battle to find a scrappy winner. One goal should be enough to settle this tie, one goal could help shape both clubs’ Bundesliga future.
Elsewhere on Matchday 24
Leverkusen vs. Schalke – The visitors grabbed a huge win over Champions League qualification rivals Hoffenheim last week and will look to repeat the trick against Leverkusen. Consistency has been Schalke’s biggest problem this season, a win here would spur on their push for a top-four finish.
Hannover vs. Gladbach – Gladbach are in a rut, four losses on the trot and their European ambitions have taken a huge blow. Hannover, on the other hand, have lost just one of their last seven and will prove a difficult opponent.
Stuttgart vs. Frankfurt – Frankfurt are flying in third place and continue to impress under head coach Nico Kovac. Champions League qualification is well and truly on the cards. Stuttgart, however, under newly appointed coach Tayfun Korkmut, have won two consecutive games for the first time this season and will be aiming to distance themselves from the relegation zone.
Matchday 22 fixtures
Mainz vs. Wolfsburg (Friday, 8:30 p.m. CET)
Hannover vs Borussia Mönchengladbach (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
Hoffenheim vs. Freiburg
Stuttgart vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Bayern Munich vs. Hertha Berlin
Werder Bremen vs. Hamburg (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.)
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Schalke (Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
RB Leipzig vs. Cologne (Sunday, 6:00 p.m.)