Bremen and Hamburg are fierce competitors at the best of times, but in their 100th meeting, their Bundesliga survival is on the line. Unusually, it's now-or-never, do-or-die for both northern German giants.
Saturday's 100th "Northern derby" (Nordderby) hardly brings cause for joint-celebration between Hamburg and Werder Bremen, but there's plenty of tension. As the two traditional Bundesliga giants flirt with the drop zone, a defeat for either team could seriously damage their hopes of survival.
Just the three points stand between the northern pair with 12 games still to play, in what's shaping up to be close battle between at least half a dozen teams at the foot of the table. Hamburg managed to break their losing streak on new coach Mirko Slomka's first game in charge, while Werder Bremen's season has slid steadily downhill since their two consecutive wins to start the campaign.
However, Hamburg's 3-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund last weekend and Bremen's respectable draw in Frankfurt has eased the anxiety somewhat - as off-form VfB Stuttgart enters the limelight as Germany's latest "crisis-club" with a rich history.
"We know what this game means, for us, the club and the whole city," Hamburg goalkeeper Rene Adler said. German international Adler went from shipping 18 goals in five league matches, his confidence at rock bottom, to having a massive influence in the Dortmund victory, pulling off a string of outstanding saves. This is the bounce and feel-good factor the HSV management hoped for following the appointment of Slomka last week, but can he sustain it? And this time around in the derby, Slomka may need to do without Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who has joined an injury list already including Rafael van der Vaart.
Van der Vaart missed last week's match against Dortmund after an injury in the loss at Braunschweig.
The former Schalke and Hannover head coach has intensified Hamburg's training programme, demanding the same energy levels as the opposition - a notable problem during the brief reign of Bert van Marwijk. Also thriving are Petr Jiracek, Slobodan Rajkovic and Tomas Rincon who returned from the cold to play a huge role in beating Dortmund on Slomka's arrival. "He has confidence in us. You can feel it from everyone. He has said to me that he needs my all of my heart," Rincon said last week.
But with only 19 points on the board, relegation is still a realistic possibility for the only Bundesliga founder-member never to have been relegated from the top German division. Saturday's fixture at the Weser-Stadion is one in a line of five crunch matches coming up for Slomka and Hamburg against fellow potential relegation candidates: Eintracht Frankfurt (H), 1.FC Nurnberg (H), VfB Stuttgart (A), SC Freiburg (H).
Werder have a similarly important fixture schedule in the coming weeks with Nurnberg, Stuttgart and Freiburg to follow the Nordderby. The River Islanders are hoping to end a five-match run without a victory, which includes three draws and two defeats. "We must play with controlled aggression," Werder's sporting director Thomas Eichin told Sky Deutschland. "With a three-pointer for Bremen, the world will be in order."
Meanwhile, midfielder Aaron Hunt, who will be available to pick for Dutt along with Clemens Fritz, added: “The Derby has always been explosive. But this time, perhaps, more so.”
Derby reaches unique milestone
No other prominent rivalry in the Bundesliga has seen more top-tier clashes. Apart from the fans' permanent desire for regional bragging rights, these meetings are usually considered part of the battle for European qualification - not the scrap for survival at the bottom of the table.
But both clubs have gone through turbulent patches with Bremen downsizing their squad from a championship win in 2004 and three consecutive Champions League qualifications, leaving bundling resources and a threadbare squad for Thomas Schaaf's successor Dutt.
Meanwhile, former European Cup winners Hamburg are labelled the 'Sleeping dinosaur' after more than three decades without a Bundesliga title. The two Northern port cities possess a strong regional rivalry, not least on the football terraces and pitches.
Werder Bremen narrowly have the historic upper hand with 35 wins to their name, while HSV have won four less. Both sets of supporters have done their bit to gee up their troops with Bremen fans showing a banner calling for a derby win, while Hamburg employees draped their flag out of windows across the country and posting pictures on social media.