Bundesliga commentator Kevin Hatchard has been impressed by industrious Hertha’s rise this season and wouldn’t be surprised if they fulfil their Champions League ambitions.
Football fashions change, with different tactics, styles and types of players quickly jettisoned and then resurrected in search of success. In this dizzying maelstrom of changes, it’s nice to see old-fashioned values like organisation, hard work and discipline having a positive effect. In Germany’s capital, Hertha Berlin are showing that team spirit and clever squad-building can still yield huge success.
Coach Pál Dárdai bleeds the blue and white of Hertha. The Hungarian spent 14 years as a teak-tough midfielder in Hertha colours, making the best part of 300 league appearances. As Hertha coach, he has created a team in his own image: competitive, brave and willing to do what it takes to win. This potent mix of qualities has ensured that Hertha will go into the forthcoming set of midweek Bundesliga fixtures in third place.
To put this achievement into context, Hertha were in serious relegation danger when Dárdai took the reins last season, and they were only promoted back into the top flight in 2013. Hertha haven’t been crowned as German champions since the 1930s, and they have never won the German Cup. Dárdai is trying to break that cup duck, and has led his team to the semi-finals of this season’s competition.
It’s not just Dárdai that deserves credit for this transformation. Sporting director Michael Preetz has had plenty of criticism down the years, but the former Hertha and Germany striker has carefully constructed a strong squad. Norwegian goalkeeper Rune Jarstein has excelled since replacing the injured Thomas Kraft, and is now very much seen as the number one.
Hertha’s full-backs are a vital outlet for a team that doesn’t like to over-commit in attack, and both have been excellent. Left-back Marvin Plattenhardt is a beautiful striker of the ball, whether in crossing positions or from free-kicks. On the other side of the defence, Dárdai’s decision to convert former Bayern Munich winger Mitch Weiser into a full-back has proved a masterstroke.
Centre-backs Sebastian Langkamp and John Anthony Brooks are strong in the air and determined tacklers, while Fabian Lustenberger and Per Ciljan Skjelbred have formed an excellent midfield axis. Vladimír Darida regularly tops the Bundesliga’s “distance covered” charts, and Japanese international Genki Haraguchi always had potential, and is now crucially starting to believe in himself.
The leader in attack is a man who has totally transformed the way he plays. At Chelsea, Salomon Kalou was a speedy wide forward, but now he is a genuine targetman, holding off defenders and playing with his back to goal. He has banged in 17 goals in 48 Bundesliga appearances, and the quality of his finishing has dramatically improved – earlier this season he scored a hat-trick against Hannover, scoring with all three of the goal attempts he had in the match.
Achieving Champions League qualification is still a huge task, and Hertha’s performance level has dipped a bit since the winter break, but their ability to dig in when they aren’t playing well is a big plus. Hertha have only lost six of their 23 league games, and have been beaten just twice in their last 12 outings.
Dárdai has also recognised the value of home advantage, and Hertha have managed to harness the energy of their crowd at the cavernous Olympiastadion. In their last 10 home games, Hertha have won six times and lost just once.
There are a clutch of clubs on Hertha’s coat-tails, waiting to pounce. It is remarkable that Dárdai’s men are ahead of Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach, teams with bigger wage bills and plenty of experience of pushing for a top-four finish.
The Bundesliga does a good line in stunning achievements. Augsburg defied all the odds to finish fifth last season, and this term, Ingolstadt have moved into the top half of the table in their first ever Bundesliga campaign. Given their modest history and resources, Champions League qualification for Hertha would be a feat that would take some beating.
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