Bundesliga preview: Rafael van der Vaart set for second Hamburg debut

 

Rafael van der Vaart has returned to his second homeland with expectations on him to restore some glamor to Hamburger SV and, more importantly, save the Bundesliga club from relegation.

Hamburg is the only club never to have been relegated in 50 years of the Bundesliga, but the former European champion has been struggling in recent years and barely escaped demotion last season. 

Having started the new season with two defeats, Hamburg turned to a wealthy businessman and club supporter who provided the cash required to bring Van der Vaart from Tottenham, estimated at €13 million. 

Van der Vaart will make his debut on Sunday at Eintracht Frankfurt, the promoted team that shares the lead with Bayern Munich. 

The Netherlands midfielder achieved somewhat of a cult status among Hamburg fans during his first three seasons in northern Germany from 2005 to 2008. 

He was the club's top scorer with 29 goals and in his first season Hamburg finished third. The second season was less successful with HSV sliding to seventh. But they bounced back to fourth before Van der Vaart departed for Real Madrid. 

Ever since then, the club often called "the Dinosaur" for its longevity in the Bundesliga has been on the way down, finishing worse every consecutive season, with the last two in 15th place. 

Hamburg chief executive Carl-Edgar Jarchow decided to act after two defeats in the new season and brought back Van der Vaart. 

"He has an incredible influence in Hamburg because of his earlier time here. Rafael van der Vaart can turn around the mood, he can lift the team with his mentality," Jarchow said. 

Hamburg have not lost in seven games against Frankfurt, with five wins and two draws. 

But Frankfurt have surprised with a fresh, attacking style that produced six goals in wins against Leverkusen and Hoffenheim. 

"We have a very good midfield and Van der Vaart won't find it easy against us," said young Frankfurt star Sebastian Rode. 

Bayern, the only team apart from Frankfurt that have two wins in two games, hosts Mainz on Saturday. 

It remains to be seen whether coach Jupp Heynckes will start the match with Javi Martinez, the most expensive signing in Bundesliga history. 

Martinez came off the bench late in the 6-1 win over Stuttgart. 

Bayern are seeking to break Borussia Dortmund's stranglehold on the title over the past two seasons. 

Dortmund started the season with a win and a draw, and will be home to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday. 

The match will have a prominent fan, Chancellor Angela Merkel, as part of a nationwide drive for better integration of foreigners. 

All clubs will wear jerseys without usual sponsors' logos, but with a message supporting integration. 

Wolfsburg, thrashed 4-0 at home by Hannover before the break for World Cup qualifiers, kicks off the third round at Augsburg on Friday. 

Stuttgart, another team with a bad start, host promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf on Saturday. 

Also on Saturday, Borussia Moenchengladbach hosts Nuremburg, Hannover plays Werder Bremen, and Schalke travels to Greuther Fuerth. 

On Sunday, Freiburg hosts Hoffenheim. 

AP

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