Goal.com previews Saturday's encounter between Armin Veh's Hamburg and Jupp Heynckes' Bayer Leverkusen...
Like so many of the Bundesliga's bigger clubs, Hamburg have endured a disappointing first half of the league campaign. Armin Veh's men currently sit in 9th position and will be desperate to go into the winter break on a high.
To do this their first task will be to defeat a Leverkusen team who still harbour realistic hopes of the Bundesliga title in the last game at the Imtech Arena in 2010. What is for sure is that Rothosen will need a better performance than the one that saw them slip to a sixth Bundesliga defeat of the season last weekend at Freiburg.
Someone who will feel he has a point to prove is club captain David Jarolim. The experienced Czech midfielder was dropped to the bench in last week's 1-0 defeat but is expected to regain his place in the starting eleven.
"Of course I was disappointed and quite surprsied about being dropped but that is over now. The only thing on my mind is winning against Leverkusen. If we perform the way we know we can then we can beat anyone," Jarolim told Hamburg's official website.
Jupp Heynckes' men are in impressive form of late, undefeated in eight games but Hamburg will be able to take confidence from the fact that they are unbeaten against their Rhine counterparts in the last five meetings.
However what will concern the home side is the fact that this weekend's opponents are unbeaten away this season, winning five and drawing two which gives them the second best away record in the league. HSV certainly have a tough task on their hands but nothing that their talented squad can't overcome.
Room For Improvement for High Flyers Leverkusen
From the outside it would appear that Leverkusen are having a rather successful spell of late. Eight games undefeated including last week's 3-2 derby victory over Koeln see the club from North Rhine-Westphalia sitting in third position, with a considerable lead over their so-called bigger rivals such as Bayern, Hamburg and Werder Bremen.
However despite the unbeaten run, it could be argued that Jupp Heynckes' side are not playing to their potential. Bayer's revolving injury list has certainly played a part in the club failing to hit top gear with captain Simon Rolfes being a big miss until now.
The midfielder is now back to full match fitness and looking forward to helping die Werkself build on what they have already achieved this season.
"Other results have gone our way thankfully. We've got a nice cushion ahead of the teams behind us now but we want to remain at the top and win our last two games before Christmas," Rolfes told the Bundesliga official website.
"It doesn't really matter if we climb another place in the standings at this point. The important thing is to give ourselves the platform."
The club's impressive away form this season is a clear indication that Leverkusen can beat an under-performing Hamburg side who slipped to an uninspiring 1-0 defeat to Freiburg last weekend. Another victory will be only the club's second against HSV in nine years, a record that Rolfes and co will be keen to improve on.
The home side are still missing several key players despite both David Jarolim and Eljero Elia pushing for returns to the starting line-up. Mladen Petric will be out until the new year with a hamstring injury while Joris Mathijsen (ankle) and Gojko Kacar (torn ligament) are also ruled out. Other notable absentees for Armin Veh's men include Marcell Jansen (broken tooth), Miroslav Stepanek (thigh), Dennis Diekmeier (heel) and Romeo Castelen (knee).
Probable Starting XI: Rost - Benjamin, Demel, Westermann, Aogo - Pitroipa, Jarolim, Ze Roberto, Trochowski - Guerrero, van Nistlerooy
Die Werkself are close to having a full squad to choose from. Michael Ballack will miss the game versus Hamburg with the same shin injury that has seen him ruled out since September. A January return is on the horizon. Stefan Kiessling is the only other notable injury concern with the German international suffering with a thigh strain. In other team news, Simon Rolfes is expected to come into midfield for Stefan Reinartz while Eren Derdiyok will start upfront instead of Patrick Helmes.
Probably Starting XI: Adler - Castro, Friedrich, Hyypia, Kadlec - Rolfes, Vidal - Sam, Renato Augusto, Barnetta - Derdiyok