A brace from Torsten Oehrl (61., 63.) and another from Ndjeng (90. + 2) in extra time made Otto Rehhagel’s return to the Bundesliga an unforgettable one as Augsburg collected their biggest win of the season and lifted themselves out of the relegation zone. Hertha Berlin meanwhile slip into the relegation zone and have now lost their last six matches and remain without a win since October. 99 seconds was enough for Oehrl to get both goals and pretty much decide this match as Hertha struggled to get a grip on the game or match Augsburg’s intensity and more importantly, their precision in front of goal.
Line-ups and Tactics
Luhukay made several changes after last week’s disastrous loss in Leverkusen. Augsburg supporters were looking to Luhukay for some leadership following last week’s poor performance and he responded. Mölders sat on the bench for the first time this season while Ndjeng and Davids joined him. Oehrl moved into Mölders’ position up top and Sankoh, Baier and Bellinghausen were all given the start. Without the injured Moravek and de Jong, Callsen-Bracker was in the holding role with Koo out on the right in a straightforward 4-2-3-1.
All eyes were on Otto Rehhagel after a 12 year absence from the Bundesliga, his last match in the league coming in September of 2000. This was his 825 match as Bundesliga coach, a record. That experience is what Michael Preetz had in mind when he hired Rehhagel and a sense of optimism surged throughout Berlin during the week as “King Otto” prepared his team for a much needed resurgence. Rehhagel made just one change though, returning Lassogga to a starting position instead of Rukavytsya. Kobiashwili continued in “double six” role alongside Niemeyer and Ramos returned out wide on the left.
An even first half
The visitors started brightly and showed the kind of promise many were hoping for after Rehhagel’s appointment was made official. They did well down the right through Ebert and even created the first good goal scoring chance through him on 10 minutes. His cross fell to the feet of Raffael. The Brazilian’s beat Jentzsch but his shot was cleared off the line by captain Verhaegh. Minutes later Lassogga was taken down in the box by Langkamp but the referee let play continue. It was a good early omen. Augsburg wouldn’t lay down though and focused on Hertha’s slightly weaker right side as both Janker and Ebert were too busy getting forward to mind their defensive duties. Their first opportunity came in the 26th minute after Raffael lost the ball in midfield and Koo pulled into the middle to release a shot, forcing a good save from Kraft. Verhaegh picked up a loose ball soon after and floated in a cross that Oehrl headed just over the bar. Both sides were really going for the win and it made for a pretty action packed first half.
Hertha’s next big chance came at the half hour mark after a combination play from Niemeyer, Raffael and Ramos set up Janker but his volley lacked accuracy and was sent wide left. If Hertha were going to go get the first goal they needed Raffael to be involved. Being their primary creative outlet, much of their positive play this season had gone through him but other than the opening chance he was finding it difficult to have an impact. As such, Hertha’s play became largely predictable and without a clear creative concept. Their nerves also began to show when Bastians mishit a clearance and nearly scored an own goal (37.) Augsburg weren’t much better in the first half but there was a greater degree of assuredness in their play and the front four combined with more purpose and belief. The half ended goalless but enough signs were there to suggest it would not remain so.
Hertha lose the plot in the second half
Whereas Hertha started the match on a brighter note, it was the home side that was more active after the restart. Rehhagel pulled Niemeyer shortly after the break, and following his 5th yellow card of the season, in favor of an attacking player (Rukavytsya) but without the desired effect. Hertha now switched to a 4-4-2 with Ramos alongside Lassogga up front, Rukavytsya out on the left and the languishing Raffael in holding midfield. Without Niemeyer in central midfield, their anchor this season, Hertha were more vulnerable and dispersed, Raffel not known for his defensive prowess or work ethic. And even though Hertha now had more options going forward, space became ample for Augsburg on the break.
Sure enough, 10 minutes after the tactical reshuffling, Augsburg got their first goal. Bellinghausen crossed from the left, and instead of shooting with his first touch Koo cleverly laid the ball off to Oehrl who was behind him and had a free shot on goal. Hertha failed to pick up Oehrl on that play and would make a similar mistake seconds later. A seemingly harmless goal kick from Jentzsch turned into Augsburg’s second goal as neither Bastians or Hubnik managed to clear the ball, allowing Oehrl to pick it up and finish with authority. Hertha’s great hope had been destroyed in a matter of seconds. It was the kind of defensive disorientation and disorganization that one would not normally associate with Rehhagel.
Two goals down, Hertha were completely deflated and neither the introduction of Morales or Torun did much to help them get back into the game. Things went from bad to worse in extra time then when Augsburg got their third (the first time they have scored more than two goals this season) after a long ball from Reinhardt from his own half played the on-running Ndjeng straight on goal for an easy finish. Hertha’s defenders were again caught up the field and turned the ball over far too easily. After a bright start the visitors just could not maintain their momentum and dropped in performance with every passing minute. Augsburg meanwhile took advantage of Hertha’s careless giveaways and sloppy tackling and deservedly won in the end.
Both sides had not won in over a month and were in dire need of the three points, making the end result not only a moral victory for Augsburg but also crucial in their attempt to avoid relegation. Luhukay’s changes all paid off, Oehrl having his best match of the season and more importantly, his team did well to support him in the absence of their top goalscorer, Mölders. Without the individual quality of many of their competitors in theleague Augsburg will need team performances like this if they are to stay in the league. If they can replicate this performance next week against Hannover and onwards they could very well surprise all those who had written them off from the beginning.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and it is unrealistic to expect Rehhagel to save what looked like a sinking ship in just a week. If anything, this game shows that Rehhagel has his work cut out for him and it may take until the end of the season for him to truly win the players over and change their approach. Hertha have scored just 4 goals in their last 9 matches so that work will have to address their anemic form in front of goal as well as the complacency in defense, which has resulted in 14 conceded goals in the Rückrunde. Next up, they host Werder Bremen.
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