Season Preview – Hertha BSC: We’ve Been Here Before

After a dominant season in the 2. Bundesliga, Hertha is back in the top flight. Hertha fans are much more nervous than they were two years ago, when the club was promoted after a dominant 2010/11 season in the 2. Bundesliga under Markus Babbel. There are still eternal optimists predicting a top-third finish, while reality-based fans are thinking more like 14th place. As long as it isn’t direct relegation or the relegation playoff, fans will be happy.

Transfers

Hertha bid farewell to youth league alumni Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Marvin Knoll (Sandhausen), and Shervin Radjabali-Fardi (Rostock). Felix Bastians, signed last season, is out on loan to Bochum. Marco Djuricin was transferred to Sturm Graz after spending the second half of last season at Jahn Regensburg.

Coming into the team are Hajime Hosogai (defensive midfielder), Sebastian Langkamp (center back), Johannes van den Bergh (left back), and Alexander Baumjohann (attacking midfielder).

Injuries

Pierre-Michel Lasogga strained his ankle in training and will be out four to six weeks. The talented player found it hard to get onto the field last season after returning from a long recovery period after tearing his ACL in 2012, and this will unfortunately only increase the difficulty of getting onto Coach Luhukay’s radar. However, Lasogga is ambitious, and he doesn’t like sitting on the bench. He could start looking for a new team if he doesn’t get regular playing time.

Ronny

Fan favorite and cult hero Ronny returned from vacation out of shape. This has happened before, too. He returned unfit after the 2010/11 promotion. In training camps, he didn’t impress Luhukay, despite being the team’s top scorer in the previous season. He needs to get back into top shape if he wants to run out on the pitch. He’s a good player, and he knows how to place a free kick.

The team

Thomas Kraft is still the top choice goalkeeper. Sascha Burchert and Philip Sprint, both from Hertha’s youth division, are second and third choice. Luhukay dismissed the GK-trainer and replaced him with Richard Golz.

Defense has long been a weak point for Hertha. It has been a position in which there were too few players to fill in for injured or banned players. Two new players strengthened the defense: van den Bergh (M) and Langkamp (D). Peter Pekarik (RB), Levan Kobiashvili (LB), Roman Hubnik (CB), Maik Franz (CB), Christoph Janker (D), and John Anthony Brooks (CB) make up the rest. Luhukay has been known to put midfielder Marcel Ndjeng in as right back on occasion. There are eight defenders, so hopefully injuries and one-match bans won’t be a problem.

Whether the defense will close up the holes and be less porous remains to be seen.

Baumjohann and Hosogai join Ndjeng, Änis Ben-Hatira, Ronny, Peter Niemeyer, Peer Kluge, Nico Schulz, newly named captain Fabian Lustenberger, Fabian Holland, and Hany Mukhtar in the midfield. Once again, each position is filled with two people, so competition among the players will be stiff. Luhukay gave Lusti the captain’s armband because he wanted to give it to a player who would play most of the time, which strongly implies that he won’t be playing last season’s captain Niemeyer regularly. He’s expressed doubts over Niemeyer’s fitness and capabilities in the Bundesliga.

It could be that Luhukay likes to use “you’re not performing to your best potential” as a motivator. For a player like Niemeyer, it could work well. For a player like Ronny, it could very well backfire.

No new strikers have joined the team. For once, the sporting directors have decided to focus on Hertha’s typical weak point, the defense, and build it up, rather than get more offense. Sami Allagui, Ben Sahar, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, Adrian Ramos, and Sandro Wagner will compete for one or two striking positions on the pitch.

Training camps

Hertha won all their pre-season friendlies, some by impressive margins, like 12:0 over 6th-leaguers Altglienicke. They drew 1:1 against the Serbian first leaguers FK Rad Belgrade and won against Polish first leaguers Wisla Krakow 2:0.

Luhukay didn’t seem to favor any players over any others in the friendlies. He gave most players chances, using the opportunity to gage  how they worked together. From a tactical standpoint, he used both 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations in the friendlies, though he didn’t seem to prefer one over the other there either.

DFB Pokal Round 1

In their first competitive outing of the season Hertha took on fourth division side VfR Neumünster. After conceding an early goal on a free kick, it didn’t look like Hertha had improved any over the summer. However, they equalized, then went ahead, but a poorly cleared drive from Neumünster led to another equalizer.

Hertha played without passion, and they seemed to be unable to maintain possession. There were a few good efforts, which Neumünster’s defense put an end to. A penalty that was luckily awarded in the closing minutes of extra time put Hertha into the second round. That it went in was lucky, too: Allagui’s shot hit the keeper’s glove, then bounced just inside the line.

The Season

Hertha’s first match is Saturday August 10 against Eintracht Frankfurt. Starting the season with a home win (or at least a draw) will be very important for the team’s morale. A lot of these players were here in 2011, and a lot of the same thoughts about deja vu have to be going through their minds too.

It’s going to be a long, hard season.

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Conni is a writer, football fan, and beer nerd. Her latest short story "Something There Is" is available in the anthology Substitution Cipher. You can follow her on twitter at @strafraum (football) or @exaggerated (writing and general life).

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