Expensive acquisitions could help Hamburg put their recent league struggles permanently behind them, but they will also raise expectations at a club that has consistently struggled in recent seasons despite spending big.
With the help of outside funding, Hamburg have made some ambitious moves this summer. The weight of expectation is normally a burden for the only side to have been in the Bundesliga, wihtout interruption, since its foundation. But this season the club's supporters will demand an improvement on the struggles of recent years.
Transfers: A record-breaking summer
Hamburg's 14-million-euro ($15.8-million) signing of Filip Kostic from relegated Stuttgart looks to have set the tone for the season. The deal is an official club record, beating even the return of Rafael van der Vaart in 2012. Such an investment in one player brings a certain expectation; the 23-year-old will be tasked with firing Hamburg up the table this campaign. Relegation reflects poorly on Kostic, a player with the capabilities to play in the Champions League.
In addition to the quality of Kostic, Hamburg have secured Alen Halilovic's services for five million euros, the young Croat who moved to Barcelona from Dinamo Zagreb three years ago. If the Spanish champions invoke the buy-back clause in years to come, it would mean the 20-year-old has been more than a resounding success in German football.
Both players inject flair and incision to a rather stale set of attacking options. The development of the pair has been impressive at their former clubs, and at 20 and 23, they could be valuable assets for Hamburg in years to come. Labbadia's options are aided by the addition of American international Bobby Wood who joins from Union Berlin in a deal worth about 4 million euros. Also 23, Wood scored 17 in 31 for the Berlin-based club and could prove to be among the better deals that slid under the radar this summer.
Head coach: Bruno Labbadia
This season, Bruno Labaddia will surpass 200 Bundesliga games as a head coach. A proven safe pair of hands in Germany's top flight, the birght spot in Labbadia's career was the sixth place finish with Stuttgart when his side won almost half of their matches. The 50-year-old has successfully steered Hamburg through stage one and two of their development; the third stage is to return the former European Cup winners to continental competition.
After a big summer in the transfer market, Hamburg are hoping Bruno Labbadia remains the man to move them forward
Stability breeds success and Labbadia has a clear backbone to build from this season. Johan Djourou, the club captain, has been a wall at the back, while Rene Adler's form in goal has settled down. In midfield, Lewis Holtby sets the tempo, but attacking prowess has been sorely lacking - until this summer. Now with the required talent at his disposal - especially Kostic and Halilovic - the northern Germans will look for more under their coach.
Key man: Lewis Holtby
The aforementioned Holtby has reenergized his career since joining Hamburg from Tottenham in 2015. It was a risky move for the 24-year-old, who was then agreeing to take responsibility at a club which seemed to be destined for the second division. However, the German midfielder's influence has rubbed off on others. First and foremost, Holtby is a winner, tenacious in nature, comfortable in possession of the football.
More of a attacking player in his teenage years at Schalke, Holtby matured into a more central role at the Royal Blues - where he continues to play today. But that background as a forward player is certainly a reason for his success in a fluid box-to-box position in midfield. He plays with the sharpness of a number ten, with the delicate passing of a playmaker. If Holtby can continue his form from last season, Hamburg's fortunes will almost certainly be positive.
What to expect: Improvement
Given the kind of outlay this summer from Hamburg, the finishes of the previous few seasons simply will not be acceptable. Hamburg have contested the relegation playoff in two of the last three seasons, but managed to break through the 40-point barrier to secure a safe end to the campaign. Others around them have strengthened too, which should make things interesting in the battle for a late Europa League push. That might be a stretch for the Red Shorts, but improvement on 10th place last season will be expected.