With Paulo Guerrero and Mladen Petric sustaining long term injuries, Hamburg are facing a forward crisis of epic proportion. The weight of a team that is tied on points for the league falls on the shoulders on young Swede Marcus Berg. No matter who Labbadia might sign, bring up from the reserves or shift, Berg is still the only proven striker the Dinosaurs have. He no longer gets to be vetted slowly through the Europa League. He’s now the first guy on the lineup card. He beats any player for any team to that lineup card. Bayern would rather not be without Ribery, but they can survive. Hamburg can’t do this without the Euro U21 golden boot winner. By virtue of these injuries, he’s the best signing by any club this year. How he adapts to being the main striker is going to make or break the Dinosaurs this campaign as they compete on two fronts.
Is he up to the task? I think he is. He’s already scored five goals between the Bundesliga and Europa League during limited time. He has a good nose for goal and knows how to move. What he lacks is a foil, so he may have to take a massive detour in career development to learn the art of holding the ball. In all fairness, if he embraces the challenge, this could be the best thing to ever happen for the kid.
So what can Labbadia do to offset the loss of his two main strikers? There are a few possibilities. Let’s look at them.
He can change tactics and play a five man midfield. This would be the best option if Berg was a back-to-goal forward. But he isn’t. It’s not that he hasn’t show an ability to interchange with other players, but so far he has done so within the box. A lone target man, need to be able to hold the ball outside the area and wait for the midfield to catch up with him. I don’t see this at Berg’s natural role. It’s not saying that he can’t do it, but even at the U21’s this past summer, it was Ola Toivonen or PSV who was the link man in their setup with Berg playing front-to-goal. It may be too much to ask for both a quick adaption along with the transition to a new league. The best hope here is that Labbadia can start to teach the young Swede how to hold up the ball.
How is this different than a 4-5-1, you ask? Well it’s obvious. You utilize two wide men like Elia and Torun to play as a forward line rather than holding them back to pack the midfield. If they provide good service, Berg is well suited to finishing and can play in the air. This would seem to be Labbadia’s best choice as he has the likes of Ze Roberto, Jarolim, Benjamin, Pitroipa, Trochowski and Castelan to form a solid unit behind the front line to protect the back four and also link play to the three man front line. A few of these guys can even play in this new 3 man forward corps.
- Elia – Berg
He can move Eljero Elia into a forward role, as has been suggested. It has been claimed that the young Dutchman play as an out-and-out forward. I don’t have access to the Dutch Eredivisie, so I’ve never seen Elia play the role. What I do know from watching him is that he is the last person a defense wants running at them with the ball. Moving him into the forward position would neutralize one of Hamburg’s opponents’ biggest fears.
- Pitroipa – Berg
He can play Jonothan Pitroipa as a link man. He’s more of an attacking midfielder, but unlike Elia, whose pace is too important to neutralize by pushing him off the wing, Pitroipa could slot in as a deep forward to link the midfield to Berg. This could be, if not the main answer, a solid option to keep opposing teams honest in their approach to any upcoming matches with HSV.
- Raid HSV II
There are four other kids that could join Berg in the forward line: Tunay Torun, Maximilian Beister, Tolgay Arslan and Andre Hahn. Torun we saw this past weekend, although he was a RW in the game. Arslan is another M/F. Hahn and Beister are both forwards, but are very young. Regardless of age, one or more of them are going to be needed as Berg can’t play every minute of every game henceforth.
Finally, there are talks of picking up Polish international Ebi Smolarek, whose contract wasn’t renewed by Racing Sandanter in the summer. Regardless of how much he can fit into the system, it seems absolutely necessary that they do this for depth and experience. Plus Ebi has played in the Bundesliga before at Dortmund and could also play as part of a 4-3-3 as he can play wide.