- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

BERLIN (AP) - Munich has not been kind to Hamburger SV in recent years.

The northern team has lost on its last seven visits to Bayern Munich by an aggregate score of 37-3. It was 5-0 last time, and 8-0 the time before that.

While Hamburg has been unable to win what the Germans call “Der Klassiker” since a 1-0 victory over a Bayern team coached by Louis van Gaal on Sept. 26, 2009 - three draws and 11 losses followed - there are grounds for optimism ahead of Saturday’s trip.

Previously in last place, Hamburg is unbeaten in four games, including impressive wins over Bayer Leverkusen, Cologne and Leipzig. Second-place Leipzig had been unbeaten at home until Hamburg’s clinical 3-0 win. Only Aaron Hunt’s missed penalty allowed a fourth straight victory slip away against Freiburg last weekend.

“We’ve taken points that we need, and we have to keep getting points. That’s why we’re going fine now but we can’t let up by even a millimeter,” said Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol, who has overseen general progress amid a number of knocks over his 18 games in charge.

The 47-year-old Gisdol, formerly of Hoffenheim and Schalke, took over from Bruno Labbadia, who was fired in September after losses to Leverkusen, Cologne, Leipzig and Bayern in the opening half of the season.

Gisdol’s brief was simple - to save the club from relegation. Hamburg is the only founding member of the Bundesliga never relegated since the league kicked off in 1963. The badge of honor seems more like a millstone around the players’ necks, increasing the pressure of avoiding the drop in several close shaves.

Labbadia’s respectable 10th-place finish last year led to optimism that the dark days of fighting relegation were in the past and that the club could challenge for a European place, but another poor start saw those hopes quickly fade and a familiar apprehension settle in.

Continuing unrest at boardroom level didn’t help. Club chairman Dietmar Beiersdorfer was asked to step down after years of underachievement. The respected Heribert Bruchhagen, formerly of Eintracht Frankfurt, took his place in December.

“We’re not yet at the level that we had envisaged,” supervisory board chairman Karl Gernandt said at the time.

Jens Todt was finally confirmed as sporting director in January, and the arrival of several new additions boosted Gisdol’s side in the winter break.

Mergim Mavraj, who joined from Bundesliga rival Cologne, and Greece defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos have helped tighten the defense, while 20-year-old Brazilian Walace has added much-needed bite in midfield.

The 24-year-old Papadopoulos, familiar to Gisdol from their time at Schalke, brings infectious enthusiasm, while he also chipped in with goals against former sides Leverkusen and Leipzig.

Papadopoulos went off with another shoulder injury in the 2-2 draw at Freiburg last week and he’s a doubt for the game in Munich, though Gisdol downplayed fears it could be a repeat of the injury that kept him out long-term while at Leverkusen and previously at Schalke.

Looking ahead to the game in Munich, Todt said Hamburg needs “an absolute perfect day to take something from there.”

But Bayern, the only other side with a better record since the winter break, has needed late goals to dig itself out of trouble after several near misses since Christmas.

Robert Lewandowski scored the Bundesliga’s latest recorded goal (95 minutes, 57 seconds) to rescue the 1-1 draw at Hertha last weekend. While Thomas Mueller - who is enduring his own difficult season - and coach Carlo Ancelotti point to the side’s undeniable morale in pushing to the end, Bayern used to have these games well wrapped up before the final whistle.

Bayern has dropped points twice in its last three league games and its 5-1 rout of Arsenal only illustrates the discrepancy between its performances in the bright lights of the Champions League compared the day-to-day drudgery of the Bundesliga, where an unprecedented fifth straight title seems a formality.

Bayern’s challengers in the league have been faltering, with Leipzig still five points behind despite two losses in its last three games.

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