I should have known better than to criticize Bayern just before they hosted Hamburg. I really, really should have known better. Saturday, Carlo Ancelotti would celebrate his 1,000th match as manager in grand fashion. Yet Bayern’s thrashing of them—a scoreline of 8-0—is nothing out of the ordinary recently.
Bayern is always capable of being Bayern, but no side seems to bring out the best of the Bavarian beast quite like Hamburg. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s a selection of recent Bayern-Hamburg showdowns that took place at the Allianz:
- March 3, 2011 Bayern 6-0 Hamburg.
- August 20, 2011 Bayern 5-0 Hamburg.
- March 30, 2013 Bayern 9-2 Hamburg.
- February 14, 2015 Bayern 8-0 Hamburg.
- August 14, 2015 Bayern 5-0 Hamburg.
- February 25, 2017 Bayern 8-0 Hamburg.
In their last seven trips to the Allianz, they’ve been outscored 44-3. The last time they even secured a result there at all? 2008, in a 2-2 draw. The word we’re probably looking for here is trend, but it sure feels like we should be using something far harsher. Tradition, perhaps?
Now in all seriousness, this isn’t just about how they perform against Bayern. While for whatever reason they are undoubtedly at their worst against them, this is about the grimmer picture. This is about the club Hamburg continues to devolve into.
The last time they hoisted a trophy as league champions was 1982-83. Four years later, they were victors of the DFB-Pokal. That might as well be ancient history because since 2010, they have narrowly avoided relegation three times. It appears they will head there once more, but fortunately for them there’s a bit of a wrinkle within the Bundesliga that can save them. A wrinkle they’re becoming all too familiar with.
Ahead of 2008-09, a relegation playoff was implemented where the 16th-placed top-flight side would take on the third-best team from the second league over a two-leg playoff. Hamburg have survived this playoff twice recently—in consecutive campaigns, no less—spanning the 2013-15 seasons. They currently find themselves there again, two points shy of Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen but two ahead of Ingolstadt. 12 matches remain, of course, meaning movement in either direction is still possible.
But should we expect any positive movement from this side for the remainder of this season? Absolutely not. We are fully aware of the side we are seeing right now. This isn’t the side that last season finished 10th but rather, the one drawn to the playoff. The Sunderland of the Bundesliga, if you will, limping aimlessly through 30-plus matches only to turn it on at the very last moment.
You could say Hamburg are making an art out of surviving with their backs against the wall. As we know, it doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work. So when I ask why we can’t just relegate them now, I fully understand the ridiculous nature of the question. Also keep in mind that Hamburg as we know them—established in 1919—has yet to be relegated. That’s a duration of 96 years, and there’s something to be said for that.
Yet, we have to figure that their newfound reliance on the relegation playoff will eventually bite them. Obviously no club intends to consistently put themselves in this position; it’s just what Hamburg has become in recent years. Those lifeless performances will spill over against sides other than Bayern and when they do, not even the playoff will be there to save their season.