Raul got a fitting farewell in his last home match for the club after his side convincingly beat Hertha Berlin 4-0 in the sweltering Ruhr heat. Huntelaar scored two with Raul and Holtby rounding off a very one sided match. The win guarantees Schalke third spot in the standings and automatic qualification to the Champions League group stage while Hertha Berlin will have to wait until the final matchday to to find relegation following Köln’s loss in the other fixtures.
Lineups and Formations
Following last week’s draw in Augsburg, Huub Stevens made two changes to his team. Fuchs returned from suspension to take Metzelder’s place and after Obasi picked up an injury in warm up Jurado came in for him on the left. Usual 4-2-3-1 from Stevens who looked for a win not only for the sake of direct Champions League qualification but also for a proper sending off to club hero Raul.
Rehhagel meanwhile is approaching desperation and after last week’s humiliating loss against Kaiserslautern he made five changes to his team. Hubnik and Janker returned to the squad to replace the suspended Niemeyer and Volland in defense while Ottl, Torun and Lassoga were replaced by Ronny, Perdadejc and Ben-Hatira. It was make or break time for the capital club, a loss and a Köln win elsewhere could well mean a return to the second division. The pressure was well on.
Slow start but cracks begin to show for Hertha
Given the severity of Hertha’s situation one would have expected a bit more urgency but the visitors were surprisingly subdued and lacked the collective ability and determination to overcome a strong home side. It seemed Rehhagel prioritized defense even though his side needed to score if they wanted a win. So the match started with Hertha sitting back and the majority of the ball in Schalke’s hands. Admittedly, Hertha did well to hold off Schalke’s early efforts but their strategy always looked reactive rather than proactive.
Maybe it was the heat and the complacency it can generate or perhaps Schalke were just feeling the effects of a long season but they did not manage to get much going despite being given most of the ball. Instead it was Hertha, who in spite of their cautious approach, found space for the first attempt. Ronny picked up the ball and sent a warning shot Unnerstall’s direction but not enough was on it to trouble the keeper. It was the wake up call Schalke needed and Farfan quickly responded with his own shot. Schalke also appealed for a penalty in the 22nd minute after Hubnik’s robust challenge on Huntelaar but referee Günter Perl kept his whistle down.
The breakthrough came in the 32nd minute. Matip of all people picked up the ball and dribbled his way past three Hertha players before playing Huntelaar through just on the edge of the box, the Dutchman putting his chance away with all the time in the world. It was not the kind of defending Rehhagel hoped for. Huntelaar had another chance before the break but his header hit the post. After a good first half hour Hertha looked as though they were starting to crumble under the pressure so the halftime whistle was a big relief for Rehhagel and company.
Two things in particular troubled Hertha. First, when they won the ball back they had too many players behind it. Because most of the team was defending it its own half there were few options ahead of them to counter or break quickly. This made transitions either very slow or very easy to break up for Schalke. Second, Schalke’s strength out wide forced Rukavytsya and Ben-Hatira to play deeper than they would have liked. It put them in an unfamiliar position of having to make tackles, of which Rukavytsya for example only won 14%, and interceptions that are normally attributed to defenders. Schalke it seems were quite aware of that and cleverly altered their shape to compound that weakness. Jones dropped into a three man backline with Höwedes and Matip and allowed Fuchs and Uchida to act as auxiliary wingers.
Hertha lose grip on the game and Schalke dominate
One would think that Rehhagel’s halftime talk included an emphasis on regaining that early organization, tightening up in midfield and improve their build up. Instead, Hertha’s performance deviated from average to abysmal in the second half. Rehhagel did make a change at the break, bringing on targetman Lassoga for Ramos but without the proper service there was little Lassoga could do. The problems lay elsewhere. The perfect example was Raffael’s careless giveaway shortly after the restart with nearly led to a Jurado goal. The Spaniard nearly made up for his first miss after some great link up with Huntelaar in the 50th minute but his shot just missed the goal.
From then on Schalke just grew stronger. Farfan’s free kick in the 61st minute found Huntelaar who flicked it on to Raul but the Spaniard headed it just wide. Rehhagel reacted again and brought on Ebert, a right winger, for their right back Lell. It was a risky roll of the dice but one he felt he needed to make. Unfortunately it backfired and Hertha became more discombobulated at the back and in the 73rd minute Schalke doubled their lead. Bastians miscleared Unnerstall’s goal kick and Holtby was there to pick up the ball, easily got by Hubnik and finished with his left foot. When it rains it pours and for Hertha the day became more miserable than a November thunderstorm.
Schalke’s next goal came in the 84th minute after a Fuchs corner was not dealt with by Lassoga and instead set up Raul to just tap it in from three meters out. It was a fitting farewell for the striker in his last match in front of the Schalke supporters. The Spaniard’s very last act came in the 88th minute after he flicked on a cross from the right which Huntelaar converted. It was Huntelaar’s 27th goal of the season and is now one ahead of Mario Gomez in the hunt for the torjägerkanone. The goal rounded off a dominant second half performance from Schalke and a fittingly dreadful Hertha display, exemplifying why they are a game away from being dumped back into the 2. Bundesliga again.
Even though much was much on the line for Schalke the day belonged to Raul. Few players have had the kind of immediate impact Raul had after his move from Madrid. In just two season Raul became a cult hero and a local legend for the club and it is no wonder that Schalke will hold on to the #7 jersey for next season in his honor.
Schalke were good but Hertha made the job easy for them. After several warning signs in the first half Rehhagel failed to adjust and was rightfully punished. If Hertha remained defensive all game long they would not have had a shot at winning the match. When they did get forward they were exposed. With players appearing visibly unmotivated and resigned to a loss, one then has to question whether the club has the quality to stay up in the first place. Hertha caught a break this week with Freiburg’s win over Köln, meaning that they still remain two points behind them. A win next week against Hoffenheim in Berlin could well keep them up provided that a Bayern preparing for two major finals beat Köln.
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