All-eyes locked on Ruud van Nistelrooy as Hamburg entertain managerless & struggling Wolfsburg

Hamburg v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, January 29, 2010

Hamburg 5/6; Draw 3/1; Wolfsburg 7/2

“Hamburg are one of the favourites now. They have acquired a world-class striker in Ruud van Nistelrooy who can singlehandedly decide matches when fit.” – Franz Beckenbauer.

Sadly for all Hamburgers, they will likely have to wait at least another week before they see Ruud van Nistelrooy decked out in an HSV shirt. But despite that irritating reality, most of the pre-match hype ahead of the Friday night fixture in Germany centres on the the former Manchester United and Real Madrid forward.

Van Nistelrooy’s move to Hamburg has so far been one of the biggest transfer coups of the winter session, as fifth-placed Hamburg fought off the lures of Tottenham and Stoke to secure the 33-year-old Dutchman’s services. With a serial goal-scorer now lead their line, hype is growing that Hamburg can now go on and win the title (Hamburg are 21/1 to win the league), but those of a slightly more grounded disposition may be quick to point out the RVN has only played 13 minutes of first class football this season.

Without match sharpness, and reportedly hampered by a thigh strain, Hamburg fans should be hoping the sight of Van Nistelrooy on the bench does not become an all-too-regular feature.

On the more positive side though, Van Nistelrooy arrives at a perfect time for Bruno Labbadia’s side. Hamburg, who were top of the table until late October, have had to deal with a string of injuries to several key players, including strikers Mladen Petric and Peruvian Paolo Guerrero, who is recuperating from a cruciate ligament injury. (Hamburg are 4/1 to win both halves.)

RVN is hardly the lone Dutchman at Hamburg. In charge of marshalling the miserly defence which has only conceded 20 goals this season (Hamburg are 85/40 to keep a clean sheet) is Oranje centre-half Joris Mathijsen, while adding attacking flair and creativity down the left hand side of the pitch is arguably the most promising player in Dutch football, Eljero Elia.

Flipping over to Wolfsburg, it’s hard to imagine that just eight months ago the team was celebrating their first-ever Bundesliga championship.

At the start of the week the Wolves fired coach Armen Veh after it was decided something had to change after a winless run of nine matches. Currently 10th in the division, Wolfsburg’s stats make difficult reading, particularly the fact that they have the top division’s second-worst defense, conceding 38 goals in 19 games. (Wolfsburg are 5/1 to keep a clean sheet, 1/6 against.)

With no successor seemingly close to taking over the vacant reins, reserve-team coach Lorenz-Guenther Koestner will be in charge for the trip to Hamburg.

Karim Ziani will miss the match on international duty with Algeria, while Obafemi Martins will also be unavailable due to the African Cup of Nations.

Wolfsburg nevertheless will still have more than enough firepower to cause their hosts problems. In particular, last season’s devastating triumvirate of Edin Dzeko, Grafite and playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic remain intact, while the Wolves have share the goals around their squad this season with midfielder Josue the top scorer with six goals, while defenders Alexander Madlung and Sascha Riether have both chipped in with three goals apiece. (Wolfsburg are 20/1 to win both halves.)

Often, when a club sack their manager results immediately pick up as players band together to pull their team out the mire. Sadly for Wolfsburg though, Hamburg would have been a formidable opponent even before they received their Ruud van Nistelrooy pick-me-up, and punters would be wise to back another Hamburg three points.

101gg predicts: Hamburg 3 – Wolfsburg 1 (16/1)

Hamburg 5/6; Draw 3/1; Wolfsburg 7/2

Full match odds here.