Hamburger SV have been a Bundesliga institution for 50 straight years. But in mid-November, their time in the top flight ran out. Literally. The "eternal clock" that has been counting the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds in the Nordkurve of the Volksparkstadion gave up the ghost. Since then, the proud numbers have been replaced by blanks. A couple of months later, local radio station NDR 90,3 revealed equally depressing figures. Hamburg, they reported, were on course for record losses in the current business year and staring at "a minimum deficit of €13m".
The chairman, Carl-Edgar Jarchow, insisted that the results would be better ("I can't confirm these numbers, they will be lower") but admitted that the situation was "serious". Getting the books so wrong is quite an achievement in this league, in a negative sense. Fourteen out of 18 Bundesliga clubs are run profitably. But the loss of face for the northerners, who have always prided themselves on "Hanseatic prudence" isn't the biggest problem. The sporting director, Frank Arnesen, who had to opt for bigger-money transfers after relying on Chelsea youth products did not have the desired effect the season before, might be forced to sell important players like the attacking midfielder Son Heung-min in the summer. "Hamburg could lose so much quality that they'll be set-back for years to come," warned the tabloid MoPo.
A disappointing 1-1 draw at Nürnberg in the opening game of the calendar year had not really improved the mood, so the stage was set for another big crisis when arch-rivals Werder Bremen ambled into town on Sunday. But Thorsten Fink's team showed that there is life in the "Dino" (HSV's nickname) yet. In front of an ecstatic 54,000 crowd, they overcame the visitors for a thrilling and totally deserved 3-2 win. "We are No1 in the north," was booming from the speakers, while the broadsheet Hamburger Abendblatt felt "pure goose bumps after a victory of the will". Fink, 45, departed the press conference with his right fist raised triumphantly.
The former Bayern Munich midfielder has not always convinced with his tactical approach (or lack thereof) since taking over in 2011. As a disciple of Ottmar Hitzfeld, Fink prefers the psychological approach. Hamburg's three derby defeats in a row saw him employ a hat-trick of measures that seemed gimmicky but worked out in the end. He showed his players video highlights from previous wins against the Green & Whites, produced a humorous graphic of an HSV supporter and his pit bull ("go get them") and read them a passage from the Paulo Coelho book Like the Flowing River. This novel approach – pardon the pun – risked blank stares in the changing room and heaps of ridicule from the press. But the Brazilian's words had the desired effect.
Hamburg played without inhibition to overcome their derby hoodoo. "The coach really motivated us," said Son, scorer of the hosts' first goal (1-1, 23') with a fine drive into the top corner. Assani Lukimya had given Bremen the lead (9') but their dominance proved short-lived. Hamburg steamrollered them after the break when Dennis Aogo (46') and Artjoms Rudnevs (52') took advantage of some characteristically awful defending from Thomas Schaaf's XI. To be fair to Werder, however, there were some mitigating circumstances for the second. Aogo handled the ball before his shot ("I didn't realise it at the time, but you can blow the whistle there, I don't care though) and could not have realistically been expected to hit the target. In his previous 116 Bundesliga outings, his scoring efforts were best summed up with "not even on the Reeperbahn" but for the first time in his career, the German international hit the target here.
A René Adler clanger at the other end gifted Bremen a second (Sokratis, 54'), but Schaaf's men were never able to force the issue. "We didn't play well throughout the game but I never got the feeling we could lose here," said Rafael van der Vaart. "We really got our teeth into this game," added Marcell Jansen, who was obviously more taken with the pitbull poster than with Coelho's prose.
Two silly dismissals for Clemens Fritz and Marko Arnautovic completed a miserable afternoon for 12th-placed Werder, who need to start worrying about slipping into the danger zone. Their neighbours, by contrast, can suddenly afford to glance at the stars. After a disastrous start, Hamburg find themselves only five points off fourth-placed Frankfurt and can reduce that gap next Saturday, when Eintracht are in town. A genuine European perspective would do much to ease their financial concerns. Either way, earlier fears about the end of their evergreen status in the league will not transpire, instead it is now officially confirmed that Hamburg's "time will come", just as it says in Like the Flowing River: a new eternal clock will be installed in 10 days' time.
• For the second week running, Bayern were not nearly as impressive as the champions Dortmund, 3-0 winners over Nürnberg. But the league leaders still managed to increase the gap to Leverkusen (0-0 at Freiburg) with a composed, uneventful 2-0 win over Bruno Labbadia's VfB Stuttgart. Bayern were nothing more than solid and had to rely on a horrendous back-pass from Cristian Molinaro to break the deadlock. Thomas Müller made it two after Mario Mandzukic's opportunistic opener. Matthias Sammer, who has been repeating his "we haven't won anything yet" mantra so often that Bild advised Pep Guardiola to invest in a pair of ear plugs, found a new angle following this regulation win. He warned against "egotisms" from prominent bench-warmers like Arjen Robben and Mario Gómez. "I don't want to hear anything, nothing at all. We don't want egotisms to bring new debates," he said, ensuring a big media debate about the very same subject.
• "95% [of Germans] are happy when I or Hoffenheim concede goals, Germany is a country of envy," TSG keeper Tim Wiese suspected recently. There is an element of truth in that but why only 95% and why envy? Good old Schadenfreude is the more pertinent reaction to the travails of the Bundesliga's least-loved billionaire play-thing and their loveable shot-non-stopper with his iconic Winnetou barnet. Another defeat, 2-1 against the surprisingly solid high-flyers from Frankfurt, sucked 1899 deeper into relegation worries. To be fair to Wiese, he was only at fault for the second goal on Saturday though. And the coach, Marco Kurz, might still turn things around with the help of an interestingly diverse gang of new recruits. David Abraham (Getafe), Afriyie Acquah (Palermo) and Luis Advincula (Sporting Cristal Lima) were signed at considerable expense. Suspicions that the transfer strategy of the sporting director, Andreas Müller, consisted of signing the first three available players in alphabetical order are wide of the mark, though: Eugen Polanski was also bought from Mainz. The captain Marvin Compper was at the same time punished for his self-declared lack of motivation with a transfer to Fiorentina.
• Hoffenheim must certainly hope their dabble in the January window will be more successful than Hannover's. The Lower-Saxons were shocked to find that new arrival Franca from Criciuma came in six centimetres smaller than the advertised 1.88m. The transfer mishap brought back memories of Gerhard Polt's brilliantly cynical Mai Ling sketch about a Bavarian man who buys a Thai wife from a catalogue and also embarrassed Hans-Jörg Schmadtke. He had only seen the midfielder on a DVD. To make matters worse for the 96 sporting director, new Belgian defender Sebastien Pocognoli only lasted 34 minutes on his debut against Wolfsburg. The 25-year-old took out opponent Fagner with a completely needless, kungfutastic kick to the underbelly. His team-mates spared Pocognoli's blushes: they held out for a 2-1 win with 10 men, despite new boy Johan Djourou's best attempts to the contrary.
Results: Dortmund 3-0 Nürnberg, Freiburg 0-0 Leverkusen, Frankfurt 2-1 Hoffenheim, Hannover 2-1 Wolfsburg, Greuther Fürth 0-3 Mainz, Augsburg 0-0 Schalke, Hamburger SV 3-2 Bremen, Gladbach 2-1 Düsseldorf, Stuttgart 0-2 Bayern.