Preview: Hamburg vs. Fulham
Hamburg's only chance of salvaging a season that began with much promise before slipping into mediocrity is to reach the final of the Europa League in its own stadium.
The northern German side has compensated for its decline in the Bundesliga by progressing in the Europa League and meets Fulham in the home leg of the semifinals Thursday.
"We want to help our coach and ourselves to come out of this situation," captain David Jarolim said.
First-year coach Bruno Labbadia began ambitiously and Hamburg for a while was involved in the Bundesliga title chase. But last weekend's 1-0 loss at home to promoted Mainz dropped Hamburg to seventh place, five points away from securing a place in next season's Europa League.
German media already have been speculating that Labbadia is on the way out, the latest coach to fail to bring Hamburg a title after 23 years.
"The situation is really not very good," board chairman Horst Becker said. "We'll have to look very critically at the season after the last game."
Hamburg hopes that game will be the Europa League final on May 12 in its own stadium.
The atmosphere in the team worsened after the loss against Mainz, culminating in a loud dispute in the dressing room between Labbadia and his most experienced player, 36-year-old goalkeeper Frank Rost.
Labbadia chided Rost for taking a group of players to a movie on the eve of the match against Mainz. The team traditionally spends evenings before home matches in a Hamburg hotel. The German media compared Labbadia to a schoolmaster disciplining his pupils.
Rost says the movie visit was "a mistake" and that personal differences have to be put aside.
"What really unites us is that we all want success. We have to turn back personal pride," said Rost, adding that having four coaches in four seasons has not really helped the club.
"Every year comes a new coach with new ideas, a different philosophy. It's incredibly difficult. It's a drag on the players and the club."
Striker Ruud van Nistelrooy said "tension and dissatisfaction" in the team could serve as "extra motivation for Thursday."
Van Nistelrooy will be without forward partner Mladen Petric, who is injured.
If Fulham can recover from the long bus journey, it could win another big game, having already ousted UEFA Cup winner Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian powerhouse Juventus and defending Bundesliga champion Wolfsburg.
"For me, it is the big one. I have not been involved in a game like this before," Fulham midfielder Zoltan Gera said. "It's the biggest that I have ever been part of, and hopefully I will be involved. But it's not just an important one for me, but for everyone at the club. It's another step on what has been a fantastic journey.
"Hamburg are a good side. We know that. But so were Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg. We know that on our day we are more than a match for any side. So we'll go there with the belief that we can do well. We have to."