Schalke earned an unspectacular yet important win on the road against Hertha Berlin thanks to goals from the in form Huntelaar and Pukki, bringing them level on points with Bayern München. Ramos’s first half goal was not enough for the hosts as Hertha are now five games without a win. Most of the action happened in an eventful first half which saw all three goals scored before the game fizzled out in the second, Hertha unable to get past a Schalke side content to just defend and see out the game.
Both teams came into this match under different circumstances. Hertha have won only one of their last seven matches while Schalke have already amassed nine wins after 15 matchdays, something they have not managed since the 1970’s. A confidence boost was welcome for Hertha amidst contract extension talks with coach Markus Babbel while Schalke needed to maintain their form to keep up with Bayern, Gladbach and Dortmund.
Line ups and Tactics
Markus Babbel made only two changes to the side that drew in Kaiserslautern. Mijatovic replaced the injured Franz in defense and the eccentric Ebert came in for Rukavytsya in midfield. Hertha lined up with the familiar 4-2-3-1 with Raffael as the central and creative focal point
Stevens welcomed back captain Höwedes after an injury spell as well as Jones and Papadopolous from suspension, all three coming in for Höger, Metzerlder and Moritz respectively. Surprisingly, Stevens set his team out with two strikers, Huntelaar and Pukki both started up front and were supported by Raul who enjoyed a free role. It was a bit of a deviation from Schalke’s usual 4-2-3-1 but one that showed intent and looked to continue their fine goal scoring form.
All the action in the first half
The first half was an exhibition in uncompromised attacking football, not surprising perhaps considering that the match featured two of the leagues’ more porous defenses but also two of the highest scoring sides. The end-to-end action started immediately, both teams excitable and eager to get an early goal but the frenzy did not materialize in clear goal scoring chances. In fact, Schalke’s first clear chance was also their first goal after Hubnik failed to clear a Fuchs cross and instead headed it to the feet of Huntelaar. The Dutch striker was cool and precise with his finish and netted his 14th goal of the season. Schalke nearly doubled their lead four minutes later when Huntelaar played a ball in from the right but Pukki mishit it.
The pace of the game continued and Hertha equalized soon after when a Raffael corner was headed in by Ramos, the Columbian beating two Schalke players in the air to level the score. Hertha soon benefited from another corner after Ebert’s ball in eventually fell to the feet of Hubnik, the Berlin defender just barely missing out putting his team ahead. Papadopolous too had a golden chance off a Fuchs corner on the other end but the Greek center back failed to direct the ball on target. Chances were coming in quick and neither side seemed completely prepared to deal with the pace and erratic nature of the game.
Schalke’s midfield played too narrow and left a lot of room out wide, especially for Ramos, who was Hertha’s most dangerous player in the first half. Ebert too was finding a lot of space on the right as Fuchs was Schalke’s only dedicated and natural wide player. Hertha created most of their chances from their wide players either crossing or cutting inside. The best example of this weakness in Schalke’s game came five minutes before the break when Lell was allowed time and space to advance and send in a cross that was eventually blocked by Jones, none of the Schalke players coming out to challenge or track him. Schalke’s lack of width was apparent throughout the game as they completed just 6 crosses,compared to 16 last week against Augsburg. Nevertheless, it did not deter them from taking the lead at the end of the half as Raul picked out Pukki who took the ball right with his first touch and hammered the ball in.
The second half did not start with the same bang as the first, Hertha cautious not to concede more and Schalke wanting to retain their lead. The pace did pick up around the hour mark, with both Lasogga and Huntelaar coming close but neither side would match the energy and opportunities of the first half. Eventually the match fizzled out with Hertha becoming too hurried and Schalke staying disciplined in defense. Jurado actually missed Schalke’s best chance five minutes from time after he got into space for a cross but failed to place the shot on target. It was a deserved win for Schalke in the end with Hertha paying for their lapses in concentration at the back and lack of creativity up front.
Hertha lacked invention, relied too much on Raffael to create and were shrugged off the ball too easily. The hosts did well in the opening phases of the match and even dominated possession but always lacked that extra bit of creation to beat Schalke’s well-organized backline. When it mattered, Hertha’s attackers simply lost out against Schalke’s defense. And when considering the fact that Hertha completed 221 more passes than Schalke it is a disappointing result.
Schalke’s second half was forgettable. They more or less sat back, gave Hertha the ball and defended deep. Three of their four defenders had the most touches on the ball and the backline together with Jones won a total of 51 challenges. Far from spectacular, it was enough to keep Hertha out and fourth win on the road. You could say it was a classic away performance
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