BERLIN (Reuters) - It was only five years ago that Hamburg SV and Werder Bremen were locked in battle in three competitions in Germany and Europe with scintillating football on display in a fierce northern rivalry.
Fast forward to 2014 and both teams are non-factors in the Bundesliga, instead battling just to avoid relegation and their clash in Hamburg on Sunday could have major implications for their top-flight survival.
Hamburg needed a relegation playoff to stay in the league last season and protect their record as the only team not to have played in the second tier since the creation of the Bundesliga in 1963.
Despite spending more than 20 million euros ($25 million) in the close season to strengthen their squad with players such as Lewis Holtby and U.S. international Julian Green, they have failed to have a serious impact.
On nine points from 11 games, former European champions Hamburg are in 17th place, above last-placed VfB Stuttgart on goal difference despite scoring just four times so far.
“We have the chance to improve our attacking game further in training,” said Hamburg coach Joe Zinnbauer, who took over from the sacked Mirko Slomka in September and helped them to their first away win in a year when they beat Borussia Dortmund in October.
“We now have the chances to move above Werder with a victory. So we will mobilise all our strengths,” said Zinnbauer, who could be without injured defender Marcell Jansen.
For Bremen, the situation is not that different from Hamburg‘s, except the 2004 Bundesliga champions, who also reached the 2009 UEFA Cup final after beating Hamburg in the semi-final, have very little cash to spend.
They sacked coach Robin Dutt last month and his successor, Viktor Skripnik, looks to be on the right track after he helped them got off bottom spot with two consecutive wins in his two league matches in charge.
Bremen, now in 16th place and a point above Hamburg, are desperate for points as the league breaks next month for the winter.
“It is clear that there a lot of emotions ahead of this game and it will get really fiery,” said Bremen midfielder Fin Bartels. “But we cannot allow ourselves to go crazy. We have to keep a cool head.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford