City of Manchester, Manchester
Thursday 16 April 2009 – 20.45CET (19.45 local time)
Matchday 11 – Quarter-finals, second leg
While Mark Hughes works hard to manage expectations and a certain Brazilian superstar at Manchester City FC, a potential trophy-winning team could emerge at the City of Manchester Stadium on Thursday should Hamburger SV coach Martin Jol get his wish.
Work to do
The feeling among German observers is that Jol’s side should end Hamburg’s 22-year wait for a trophy this season, but whether they can overcome the latest test to their defensive and mental strength – presented by Hughes’s men – remains a moot point. Hamburg, three points off the Bundesliga summit and facing a German Cup semi-final next week, arguably have one foot in the last four of the UEFA Cup already. However, the first-minute goal scored by City’s Stephen Ireland in last week’s quarter-final first leg makes the two-goal cushion they eventually secured less than comfortable.
“We have a two-goal advantage but three would be better,” said Jol, who had a good record against City as Tottenham Hotspur FC manager. “My experience of playing English teams is that it is good [for Hamburg] to score tomorrow. If City score early, that changes the whole dynamic.” Hughes said this week that City’s own attempts to win silverware – something they have not done since 1976 – could take “another couple of seasons”. Hamburg’s emphatic response to Ireland’s strike – goals from Joris Mathijsen, Piotr Trochowski and José Paolo Guerrero – supported that view, yet Jol accepts that City could be a different proposition in front of 47,000 fans in north-west England.
Going for broke
“At home they are very strong, away from home less strong, and we took advantage of that,” he said. “It is a big task to win here, but it will be unbelievably good for us if we get through.” Hamburg triumphed at Galatasaray A? in the last round, their fifth successive away victory of this UEFA Cup run, but will anticipate less than accommodating hosts here. Ignore City’s 3-1 defeat by visitors Fulham FC on Sunday, because since coming through UEFA Cup qualifying they have registered four home victories and a draw in this competition. The likelihood is they will go for broke against HSV, with Hughes expected to risk the “doubtful” Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Bridge, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta. The last two should provide defensive cover in midfield, allowing Robinho – rested from the starting lineup against Fulham – Wright-Phillips and Ireland creative freedom.
“There is a strong possibility Robinho will start,” Hughes said of the player who dominated much of his pre-match news conference. Upping the ante, Hughes described the game as “the biggest so far of our season – an opportunity to get into the semi-final of a major European competition. We’d love to be part of a team that brought a trophy to Man City who, over the years, have struggled to put trophies on the sideboard.” Jol hopes Hamburg “have the resources” to do likewise. The side rated by Hughes as “one of the best in Germany” fell 1-0 at VfB Stuttgart on Sunday and are without defender Collin Benjamin and anchorman Guy Demel for this encounter. Yet City may have to match them physically and mentally if they are to prosper.
Onuoha backing City to last the pace
Manchester City FC defender Nedum Onuoha is confident his team have the legs to outlast Hamburger SV in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, even though their European adventure began fully nine months ago.
City kicked off their campaign, as beneficiaries of the UEFA Fair Play competition, in the first qualifying round on 17 July, yet according to centre-back Onuoha they are far from running out of steam. The 22-year-old believes the Premier League side can summon the necessary energy to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Bundesliga heavyweights Hamburger SV and reach the semi-finals.
“Some of our lads have played since the second week in July, but with the conditioning team we have at the club, we are ready to play the next game and give everything we have,” said City academy product Onuoha. Indeed, with the blue side of Manchester having come through five knockout ties so far, in addition to winning their section in the group stage, Onuoha is determined to drag out this continental journey until the not-so-bitter end – the final in Istanbul on 20 May.
“I am just enjoying every game,” said the Nigerian-born England Under-21 international, who has played 78 top-flight matches for City. “With the squad we have, we are very ambitious and also very confident people as well. At home, all the players fancy themselves and believe that they will get a result, whatever the opposition.”
Mark Hughes’s men found out to their cost last Thursday the strength of opponents Hamburg, with the German title challengers providing an arguably sterner test than City’s previous knockout rivals – Danish clubs Aalborg BK, FC København and FC Midtjylland, Cyprus’s AC Omonia and EB/Streymur of the Faroe Islands. However, Onuoha expects a much improved second-leg performance from a home side still with a foothold in the contest thanks to Stephen Ireland’s away goal.
“They are quite a big team and this time we have to match them both physically and in one-on-one situations. We have to concentrate,” he said. Sunday’s 3-1 home defeat by Fulham FC in the league gave mid-table City further cause to refocus on a tie which, if won, will give new meaning to their season. “The weekend result came down to personal mistakes from some of our players and you can’t really legislate for that. But there is so much potential here it is incredible.”