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Two days before the visit of third-placed VfB Stuttgart, director of sport Andreas Rettig and head Coach Ewald Lienen faced the Hamburg media. Rettig focused on the club's transfer activities in his remarks, while Lienen spoke about his selection difficulties and Sunday's opponents.

Rettig began by explaining the thinking behind the recent transfer dealings: "After the first half of the campaign we asked ourselves where we needed to improve if we are to stay up. We ascertained that we had some problems in central midfield and weren't making proper use of our quick wide men. We then went out in search of players."

Three signings were made in striker Lennart Thy and central midfielders Johannes Flum and Mats Møller Dæhli. "We wanted players who know the league, speak German and don't need long to settle in, who are affordable and can help us straightaway," said Rettig, who thanked the managing and supervisory boards for their support and expressed his satisfaction at not having paid any transfer fees. "We did everything within reason to increase our chances of maintaining our second division status while focusing on financial prudence at all times," he added. "We actually finished with a plus, as we were able to agree a transfer fee for one of the three players who left."

It is to be hoped that the opening game of the second half of the season will also end on a positive note, though Lienen will be without several players. "We've been hit by a flu bug," he said. "Jan-Philipp Kalla, Joel Keller and Dennis Rosin have all called in sick this week. Philipp Ziereis, Vegar Hedenstad and Ryo Miyaichi are also unavailable, as is Aziz Bouhaddouz, but we'll still be able to field a decent team nevertheless."

Lienen's charges will have to contend with a strong attacking Stuttgart side on Sunday: "In Carlos Mané, Takuma Asano and Alexandru Maxim they have very quick attack-minded players," he said. "They also have the penalty-box strikers Simon Terodde and Christian Gentner, who's forever sneaking forward and scored in the reverse fixture doing just that." As Lienen correctly noted, these five players account for 24 of the 31 goals Stuttgart have scored in the league so far. The visitors have also been working on their defence, which has not escaped Lienen's attention either. "Stuttgart often defended very deeply and solidly in their warm-up matches," he said. "They closed down the space in their own half and didn't concede a goal in any of those games as a result."

Lienen continued: "We've analysed Stuttgart's strengths and weaknesses and know how we want to operate when they have the ball and how we want to attack." Assistant coach Olaf Janssen, who worked for the visitors until the end of October, played a key role in this analysis. "That can be a factor," said Lienen. "He knows all about a lot of their players and was their coach for two games."

Looking ahead to the game the 63-year-old said: "We've worked very hard in recent weeks and everyone got some playing time in the warm-up matches. It's vital that we go into the game fresh, well prepared and full of confidence. We have to play to our strengths."

Lienen declined to say whether the fit-again Robin Himmelmann will return in goal in place of Philipp Heerwagen, while Rettig had words of praise for the two rivals: "We've always said that the dressing room will be the key to staying up. Those two have taken that on board. The way they treat each other is worthy of mention."

Lienen finished with special praise for the St. Pauli fans. "We owe them a special debt of gratitude," he said. "Their support has been incredible, even though we were pretty crap in the first half of the season." The St. Pauli boss believes that support puts the onus on the players. "Our job is to play in a way that's fitting for the atmosphere," he concluded.


Photos: Witters