/Most important derby in years

Most important derby in years

Berlin (dpa) – SV Hamburg’s proud record of being the only ever-present team in the Bundesliga will be threatened like never before if they lose the northern derby at Werder Bremen on Saturday.

The 1983 European champions have been down at the bottom for several seasons but fans have almost becoming blasé about their struggles, safe in the knowledge they somehow always extricate themselves from danger.

Even two extremely tight relegation play-off ties have been navigated with a sense of inevitability about their escape. But lose on Saturday at their arch rivals and the second-bottom side could find themselves nine points from safety with just 10 games left.

New coach Bernd Hollerbach looked to have steadied the ship after Markus Gisdol’s sacking with battling draws against RB Leipzig and Hanover but subsequent defeats by Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen have them very much in the mire.

But Hamburg’s former Bremen midfielder Aaron Hunt believes the derby could kick-start their survival bid. “I think the game is coming at the right time for us. We see the derby as an opportunity to sort things out,” he said.

Mainz, in the relegation play-off spot six points above Hamburg, can really pile on the pressure if they win their home game with VfL Wolfsburg on Friday.

The game will be former Hamburg coach Bruno Labbadia’s first in charge of Wolfsburg, who are also not clear of danger. Bremen are level on points with Mainz and also battling for survival, making Saturday’s derby one of the most pivotal in recent memory.

“It is a special game. I am hoping for a good game with many positive emotions. I am already looking forward to leaving our hotel and soaking up the atmosphere,” said Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt. “We will try to find solutions and go out there convinced that we will leave the field as winners.”

Bottom side Cologne, who travel to fifth-placed Leipzig on Sunday, have seen their mini-revival peter out and already sit nine points from possible safety.

At the other end of the table, runaway leaders Bayern Munich host Hertha Berlin on Saturday looking to extend their 19-point lead at the top and take another big step towards the title.

Below them the battle for the remaining three Champions League berths is increasingly tight, with three points separating second from sixth. Fourth-placed Leverkusen welcome sixth-placed Schalke on Sunday in what could be a crucial game in the battle for the top four. Leverkusen’s Brazilian defender Wendell is a doubt with a foot sprain while Jonathan Tah is fighting off a virus.

Eintracht Frankfurt, who find themselves in the heady heights of third, travel to VfB Stuttgart on Saturday, when fading Hoffenheim and Borussia Moenchengladbach play Freiburg and Hanover respectively. Second-placed Dortmund face Augsburg on Monday.