A raft of injuries to key players and a tough final fortnight has put Hamburg's perfect Bundesliga record under serious threat.
Hamburg are the only club to have played in all 51 seasons of the Bundesliga but after last week's 3-1 loss at Augsburg, the north German club have slipped five points from safety ahead of a clash with champions Bayern Munich on Saturday.
The northerners will complete their league campaign with a trip to Mainz, who could still be chasing UEFA Europa League qualification on the final day.
The injury list at Imtech Arena includes four regular first XI players, while Tolgay Arslan, who has made the most Bundesliga appearances this season, is suspended.
In a boost for Hamburg coach Mirko Slomka, captain Rafael van der Vaart (calf) and veteran Heiko Westermann (illness) will be available for selection against Bayern but the 46-year-old tactician knows it will be incredibly tough to get anything from the Bavarian giants.
"The lay of the land's pretty obvious when you're up against FC Bayern," Slomka said on Friday.
"But obviously we're going to go out there and give it everything we've got.
"We want to try to get right on top of them, make it as uncomfortable as possible and look to create the odd chance of our own."
Hamburg is expected to be without leading goal-scorer Pierre-Michel Lasogga (calf), his understudy Jacques Zoua (thigh), and key defenders Johan Djourou (hamstring) and Lasse Sobiech (ankle) against Bayern.
With Italian striker Mattia Maggio having struggled against Augsburg in a rare start, Slomka is likely to rotate Van der Vaart and Hakan Calhanoglu up front on Saturday, as Hamburg aim for a miraculous victory.
Stuttgart (32 points) sit ahead of Hamburg (27) in the last safe spot in the Bundesliga with Nuremberg (26) and last-placed Eintracht Braunschweig (25) able to overhaul Slomka's men if they lose to Bayern.
Hamburg need Stuttgart to lose their last two matches if they are to rise from 16th - which would force them into a two-legged relegation play-off with the third-placed club in 2.Bundesliga - and secure their safety.
Fortunately for Hamburg, Stuttgart also have a tough run home with games against fifth-placed Wolfsburg and Bayern.
But Slomka conceded his team are far behind Pep Guardiola's champions.
"Bayern absolutely dominate the Bundesliga," Slomka said.
"A point from the game would be a huge surprise and a win a sensation against them.
"If we want to cause a sensation, we're going to have go to the very limit."
If Hamburg defeat Bayern, and Nuremburg and Braunschweig lose to Hannover and Augsburg respectively in the penultimate round, Slomka's side will avoid automatic relegation but may still have to compete in the play-off.
|23||R. van der Vaart|
|Coach: M. Slomka|
for D. Diekmeier 60'
for R. van der Vaart 68'
for H. Westermann 76'
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