Hertha Berlin 3 – 1 Hoffenheim – Hertha clinch relegation playoff on final matchday

Coupled with Köln’s loss to Bayern, Hertha clinched the relegation playoff with their win over Hoffenheim on the last matchday of the season. Following their abysmal performance in Schalke last week, Otto Rehhagel’s team stepped up when it mattered most to earn the chance to stay in the Bundesliga for another season.  Two goals from Ben-Hatira and a last minute goal from Raffael ended an emotional 90 minutes for Hertha supporters who now await tomorrow’s 2. Bundesliga results to find out who they will face in the playoff.  Hoffenheim pulled a goal back five minutes from time but they were always one step behind a more motivated and energized Hertha.

Lineups and Formations

Rehhagel again made several changes, some forced by injury, others by the dreadful result last week.  Lell was out due to foot injury so Janker moved out to right back in his place.  Ronny, Rukavytsya and Ramos were all benched after underperforming last week while Ebert, Kobiaschwili, Lasogga and Holland were all given starts again.  Former Hertha coach Markus Babbel held additional training sessions during the week to prepare for this match and made only one change to last week’s line up.  Kaiser came in for Musoha which mean that Salihovic moved into the hole behind lone striker Schipplock.  4-2-3-1 was the order of the day for both sides.  Fortunately for Hertha, Hoffenheim lack the kind of width that troubled them so much last week which played a big part in their win.

The Match

Last week Hertha started rather conservatively which ended up costing them the match.  Rehhagel did not want to make the same mistake again and ordered his side to play a more proactive attacking game which is probably also why he gave Ebert and Lasogga the start.  Put simply, they needed goals.  Rather than move the ball slowly from the back, Hertha looked to get the ball into Hoffenheim’s half and towards the goal as fast as possible.  Against Schalke their slow build up led to several turnovers and little in terms of chances created.  Looking to rectify that this week, Hertha’s wide players were really active in attack and took a very direct approach.  That in turn helped playmaker Raffael because he had options and players around to support him which is what led to Hertha’s first chance, a shot on goal in the 13th minute but Starke parried it away.

Hertha’s direct wide play would pay off a minute later as a Ben-Hatira free kick was curled into the box from the right and found its way past Starke.  Niemeyer and several Hoffenheim defenders reached for the ball but all missed it, not only slowing Starke’s reaction but also partially blocking his view.  While effective, Hertha’s direct approach was also risky because it meant Hoffenheim had more of the ball and slightly after the half hour mark they nearly equalized.  Salihovic played a clever through ball to Schipplock who rounded the onrushing Kraft and had an open goal but was not quick enough to follow up.  The tension in the Olympiastadion was mounting and would boil over shortly before the break after Ryan Babel was dismissed by referee Kinhöfer for a foul on Niemeyer and then a push on Kobiaschwili.

It was a harsh sending off but one that would ultimately benefit Hertha.  Hertha had their share of misfortune as well as Lasogga was shoved off the ball in the box right before halftime by Compper but Kinhöfer let play continue.  Rehhagel did not want to take any risks having one of his own players sent off and pulled Perdedaj who was already on a yellow and in an increasingly tumultuous match.  In his place came Raffael’s brother, Ronny. The hosts were helped further miles to the west as Bayern took a 1-0 lead against Köln at the break.  With the scores as they were Hertha had leapfrogged Köln into 16th.  All seemed to be going Hertha’s way but could they hold on?

Numerical advantage helped Hertha settle into the game in the second half.  Hoffenheim won most of the duels in midfield and had a majority of possession so Hertha were always susceptible to conceding despite being more threatening in attack.  The introduction of Ronny went a long way in helping Hertha maintain their momentum and to start taking control of the center.  More energetic and willing to get forward than Perdedaj, he had a long distance shot on goal on 58 minutes but Starke was again equal to it.  With news from Köln coming in that they had fallen 3-0 behind to Bayern the tension in the stadium eased up a bit

That mood was hampered on the hour mark as Lasogga had to go off due to what seemed like a serious knee injury.  He had done well to preoccupy Hoffenheim defenders so far and was replaced by Ramos whose impact would be felt right away.  The Columbians’ mobility and tendency to go out wide dragged Hoffenheim’s central midfielders out of position and his pace was ideal for counter attacks.  The good news for Hertha so far was that Hoffenheim had failed to get into the game after the break and the hosts took advantage.  Hertha broke after a Hoffenheim attack, Raffael’s sent a beautiful pass out wide for Ramos who squared it for Ben-Hatira on the left for an easy finish.  It was the cushion they so desperately wanted.

Hoffenheim made it a nervy finish after Compper pulled a goal back after he headed in a Braafheid free kick but Hertha shored up their defense and exploited an advanced Tom Starke on a corner as Raffael broke free on goal in the final minutes to seal their biggest win of the season.

Final Verdict

Rehhagel was brought in with the sole purpose of keeping Hertha up.  His experience in the league and record are second to none and while he might have had a lot of help from a really poor Köln side in the last few weeks he deserves credit for getting it right against Hoffenheim.  Raffael had arguably his best performance this season in their most important match while Ben-Hatira and Ebert stretched the game and provided the kind of goal threat Hertha were so sorely lacking this season.  The attention now turns to the all important playoff, one that will decide the club’s status next year as well as many players futures.

Babbel’s extra preparation midweek might have taken more out of his players than he intended.  A few of them including Kaiser looked very tired and Schipplock was isolated for much of the game. The sending off made things more difficult but by then Hertha had already done well to take advantage of their flanks, Vukcevic and Babel doing very little to help defensively.  

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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