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With one day to go before the home game against Karlsruhe, head coach Ewald Lienen spoke to the assembled Hamburg media. The 63-year-old stressed that the battle for places and sense of togetherness in the squad were key factors for a successful outcome.

"The squad situation is very important for us," he said. "The competition for places has ensured standards are very high in training. We have lots of decent options. Joel Keller is the only player out at the moment. Mats Møller Dæhli and Kyoungrok Choi have reported back and Lasse Sobiech is back in training again after illness. Someone has to miss out every weekend but the players are conducting themselves superbly. Whether you're in the team or not, whether you're in the squad or not, we'll only make it if we stick together."

Monday's crucial clash against one of our immediate rivals will unfold on a brand new pitch. Asked whether he had asked for the turf to be replaced, Lienen joked: "We have very different wishes and they have something to do with the points we want to pick up." The new pitch should help to keep the recent run of form going, however.  "For all the fight and application we've been showing we want to play football as well," said Lienen. "A decent pitch is key in that respect. It's a factor that should help. But when all's said and done, we can only help ourselves."

The game against Karlsruhe - like all the remaining games this season - is like a final for Lienen. The visitors named Mirko Slomka as their new head coach during the winter break and Lienen knows they will provide tough opposition as always. "They've played good football for years," he said. "It started under Markus Kauczinski and Mirko has carried it on. In Erwin Hoffer, Dimitris Diamantakos and Stefan Mugosa they have three established strikers in their ranks and in Stoppelkamp an attacking wide player who has outstanding pace. Under Slomka they've been using a 4-4-2 formation. They switch the play incredibly quickly so we'll have to be careful."

When it comes to his own side's counterattacking play, Lienen feels there is still room for improvement. "We have to do better," he said. "At Bielefeld only the four attacking players got involved. That's not enough to break through the opposition rearguard. What we expect of our attacking players defensively, we expect of defensive players in attack." That means more support from the back to ensure better use is made of the opportunities on the break, something the players have been working on in training to make sure it goes even better against Karlsruhe.

Photo: Witters

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