Bundesliga: Hamburg hopeful ahead of derby
BERLIN, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Hamburg SV are back in form and relishing the chance to put a dent in the title hopes of northern rivals Werder Bremen when they meet at the Weserstadion on Saturday.
Hamburg played like a side destined for relegation for most of the first half of the season. But a recent change of coach was followed by a change of luck and there is now a real sense of hope about their survival chances.
Last weekend's 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, in the second game under new coach Huub Stevens, was not enough to take them off the bottom of the table although it reduced the gap to two points on Alemannia Aachen in the safety of 15th place.
Another victory on Saturday could lift Hamburg out of the bottom three and there will be added incentive with the thought of dealing what could be a fatal blow to Werder's title chances.
'Bremen against Hamburg is always a stormy game,' Dutchman Stevens told the Hamburg website. 'The aim now is to build on our good performance against Dortmund and I'm convinced we can play another good game.'
Bremen, top of the Bundesliga at the halfway stage, are now six points behind leaders Schalke 04 after losing their last two league games.
They at least are still in with a good chance of landing a European title, after seeing off Ajax Amsterdam 3-0 in the opening leg of their UEFA Cup first knockout round tie on Wednesday.
A third successive league defeat would give Schalke the chance to move nine points ahead, and the efficient way Mirko Slomka's side are playing suggests they would not let the opportunity slide.
Schalke have won 10 of their last 11 league games and should be too strong for VfL Wolfsburg.
Kevin Kuranyi missed training this week because of a cold but Slomka expects to have the Germany striker back on Saturday.
Kuranyi's presence will be important as Schalke learned this week that Gustavo Varela would miss the rest of the season due to knee surgery.
VfB Stuttgart's victory over Bremen last weekend means they trail Werder by one point.
Stuttgart can take over in second place, briefly at least, when they visit Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday.
Bayern Munich, struggling in fourth spot 11 points behind the leaders, travel to Aachen on Saturday.
Bayern grabbed their first win during Ottmar Hitzfeld's second spell in charge when they beat Arminia Bielefeld 1-0 last weekend.
Martin Demichelis, Lucio and Owen Hargreaves missed training this week and may struggle to be fit.