Are Hamburg making progress in the Bundesliga under Labbadia this year? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.02.2016
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Are Hamburg making progress in the Bundesliga under Labbadia this year?

Saturday's defeat to Stuttgart means Hamburg haven't won a league game since November. But is there reason to be optimistic at the Volksparkstadion this season?

Bitter disappointment was written all over the faces of Hamburg's squad when they left the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Saturday evening, following a 2-1 defeat to Stuttgart in the Bundesliga.

Although the Swabians were considered favourites for the tie - following a run of form that had seen them go unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions - Bruno Labbadia's side made the trip south with every intention of causing an upset.

“We came here to win,” admitted Hamburg captain Johan Djourou to DW following the defeat. “It's very hard to understand and to accept. But today Stuttgart were the best team.”

“It's very disappointing,” added midfielder Lewis Holtby. “That was too easy for them. We made too many easy mistake and we let them come towards our goal far too easily. It wasn't enough.”

Indeed, Saturday's defeat now means Hamburg haven't won a match in the Bundesliga since late November. Having now slumped to eleventh in the table, with just three points separating them and the bottom three.

Are Hamburg in store for another turn in form as they nose-dive towards relegation, or is this unfortunate spell just a bump in the road as the new coach continues to improve this yo-yo club?

The answer to this question surely lies somewhere in between either extreme but is undoubtedly linked to the man ultimately response for any good or bad that comes from the remainder of Hamburg's season: the manager.

Labbadia, in his second coaching stint at the club, was widely heralded for the manner in which he steered Hamburg from the grips of relegation last season and the bright start the club made to this current season.

After spending much of the previous campaign fighting relegation, the old Dinosaur had hit the ground running with three wins and a draw from their first six games. Hamburg looked like a new team full of belief and it seemed to be down to the effect of their new coach.

The newly found confidence that flows through Labbadia's side is clear to see when we take a look at the team's results this season. Despite bolstering a squad designed for the bottom half of the table Hamburg have beaten Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund, drew with Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen and almost caused an upset against Bayern Munich in their first game back after the winter break.

Hamburg may not be a side quite ready for European football, but they've certainly found the confidence to go toe-to-toe with some of Germany's best teams this season.

“He's brought a new philosophy to the team,” said Djourou when asked about the secrets behind Labbadia's success. “The way he wants us to play. The way he wants us to all work together - it's his philosophy.”

Indeed, it's players like club captain, Djourou, and star midfielder Holtby - arguably Hamburg's best player this season - who have benefitted from Labbadia's man-management at the club. With the midfielder in particular opting to make his loan move to Hamburg permanent in the off-season after buying in to the new coach's ambition for the club.

Lamenting on Saturday's result, Holtby said: “We didn't really show as much heart and character as we usually do. But the manager knows his stuff.”

Yet such tactics can have a negative effect too. Confidence is never too far from stubbornness and if Hamburg have done one thing wrong this season it's their ability to consistently underestimate opponents around and below them in the league table.

For every brave win over Dortmund or Gladbach there has been defeat to Mainz or Köln. For every point earned against Wolfsburg or Leverkusen there has been two dropped to Darmstadt or Eintracht Frankfurt.

It's this unfortunate side-effect to Labbadia's confidence-based coaching that has led to Hamburg overlooking the games they really should be winning. Stuttgart on Saturday was the latest example of this inconsistency in form that has seen Hamburg pick up nine defeats this season - a tally that already matches their total from the last campaign.

“We need consistency and then we can do something,” admitted Djourou when quizzed on his team's rollercoaster season. “It goes so quickly. You win one game and you're up, you lose one game then you're down.”

A welcome sign for fans when the captain can acknowledge such a problem. But until Labbadia's side can start picking up the easy points as well as they claw away at the harder ones such frustration will remain a part of every-day life at Hamburg.