A Bright Start for Hertha Berlin Could Well Continue

Hertha Berlin’s bright start to this season – once again – dispels the notion that a newly-promoted club in the Bundesliga must struggle.  Jos Luhukay and his players seek to end the narrative of clubs returning back to the lower division immediately after a promotion. With their performance thus far, Hertha fans can hope for a duplication of Eintracht Frankfurt’s feat last season, when the Eagles qualified for the Europa League during their return season to Bundesliga. Admittedly, a more realistic goal for Hertha is simply survival in the Bundesliga though.

Up and Down Years

The chance of lifting the Bundesliga salad bowl for the first time in Hertha’s history was pretty much alive until the penultimate weekend of the 2008-09 season. By the end, Lucien Favre guided Hertha Berlin to a top four finish in his second season in charge of the capital side. But that was then. Following five straight defeats – including a heavy ones against lowly Freiburg and newcomers Hoffenheim – at the start of the following season, the Swiss tactician was shown the exit door.  Successor Friedhelm Funkel couldn’t stop the slide as Hertha returned to the 2.Bundesliga. What makes that relegation season stranger was Hertha’s progress in the group stage of the Europa League, where the club beat Bundesliga champs Wolfsburg by astounding 5-1 scoreline, despite occupying the league cellar all season.

Former Germany International Marcus Babbel took the charge of Hertha in 2010 and didn’t waste time returning Hertha to the top flight after they finished second behind FC Augsburg, a club managed by current Hertha coach Jos Luhukay, in the Bundesliga 2. The start of the 2011-12 season wouldn’t be much better for the exciting Berlin side, however, as they flirted with the middle of the Bundesliga table by defeating defending champions Dortmund, then a sensational first half against Köln which saw them score three times, and a brave comeback draw versus Bayer Leverkusen.

It was not going to be all smooth for the Old Lady from this point on, though, as Markus Babbel’s conflict with manager Michael Preetz saw the former relieved of duty in the middle of the season. It turned out, however, to be a wrong move at the end of the season as Rainer Widmayer, Michael Skibbe and René Tretschok failed to stabilize to the once-steady club. Club legend Otto Rehhagel returned to coach, snatching the relegation play-off spot from the Billy Goats on the final matchday. But in a controversial promotion/relegation play-off tie, Fortuna Dusseldorf ruined the party for the capital side and Hertha Berlin returned to familiar territory: Bundesliga 2.

As expected, some star players from Hertha Berlin signed for other clubs following this relegation.  Regular starters Christian Lell, Brazilian Raffael, and winger Patrick Ebert all opted for moves outside Bundesliga. Manger Michael Preetz took advantage of a managerial dispute by hiring Luhukay as Hertha Berlin’s coach after his discontent with the Augsburg board left Luhukay with no choice but depart from the Bundesliga club. With some good signings in the summer transfer window, Hertha’s target yet again was another immediate comeback to Bundesliga.

They returned in style.

Berlin were in the driver’s seat for much of last season and eventually lifted the 2. Bundesliga trophy for the third time in the club’s history, triggering another return to top flight football.

Dazzling Start to the Season

Hertha Berlin sat atop of the table after MatchDay One following a dream start.  To everyone’s surprise, by a 6-1 scoreline the Old Lady thrashed Eintracht Frankfurt, ironically the side who enjoyed a bright start of their own after getting promoted last season. A last gasp equalizer from Hiroshi Kiyotake denied the Berliners two points at Nürnberg a week later, but the Blue-Whites maintained their 100% home record on MatchDay 3 as an Adrian Ramos’ tap-in from the overlapping Nico Schulz’s delightful ball was the difference against Hamburg in a hard-fought encounter. Seven points for the new boys in the first three matches – one could hardly imagine a better start to the 2013/2014 campaign.

In the transfer market, Jos Luhukay opted for players he knew from his old days in Gladbach and FC Augsburg: Sebastian Langkamp, Johannes van den Bergh, Hajime Hosogai, and Alexander Baumjohann were all reunited with their old boss. The new players wasted no time adjusting with the club, playing vital roles in the strong start. Former Augsburg center-back Sebastian Langkamp put his injury worries aside and is one of only four players to play every single minute in the club’s first three league outings. Japanese midfielder Hosogai struggled with playing out of his preferred position at Leverkusen, but has somehow discovered his Augsburg form from two seasons ago, orchestrating Hertha’s attacking flow from the center of the pitch. Alexander Baumjohann’s time at Bayern and Schalke may be remembered as basically unproductive, yet he’s produced three assists in three matches, proving that his career is far from reaching a dead-end with his new-found inspired form.

Among the holdovers from Hertha’s 2. Bundesliga champion side, Adrian Ramos and Sami Allagui continue to be the main providers of goals, as they lead the club with three goals apiece – one behind league top scorer Nicolai Muller. Meanwhile, Änis Ben-Hatira has proved time and time again that his dribbling skills and acceleration still can be a fullback’s worst nightmare. Finally, skipper Fabian Lustenberger remains sturdy in front of the defense line which includes German-American youngster John Anthony Brooks – who has played very well in his debut Bundesliga season so far – alongside the likes of Langkamp, Schulz, and Peter Pekarik.

Ronny = Super Sub?

Ronny, the younger brother of Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder Raffael, had a standout season in 2. Bundesliga last year, participating directly in 32 Hertha goals in 33 appearances (18 goals and 14 assists). Despite such an achievement,  the technically gifted attacking midfielder has come off the bench in all of this season’s league matches thus far, yet has already grabbed a couple of goals, as he recovers his full match fitness.

Additionally, veterans Peer Kluge and Peter Niemeyer also are seeing more time on the substitute bench this season, while youngster Pierre-Michel Lassoga still has to fight his way back to the form that had some mentioning him for a role on the National Team, following a severe injury.

Further Point for Optimism: the Fixture List 

Hertha Berlin won’t face any of the Bundesliga’s Champions League clubs until Matchday 10, which will help the team first settle down as it finds its place in the league. Then, three of four matches have them facing three of the top four sides from last season. For now, however, the attention of Jos Luhukay is on this weekend’s trip to Wolfsburg. Hertha Berlin returned home with a 3-2 win in their last trip to Wolves a couple of season ago.

With the goals coming, the team playing attractive football and options aplenty in the squad – the table is set for a spectacular season in the nation’s capital. But we will have to wait and see where it all goes before rushing to conclusion, because everything is possible in Hertha Berlin.

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Eskender born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite the geographical differences, he's interested in every detail of German football, if not any kind of football. Wolfsburg's industrious away win at Hamburg started his Bundesliga obsession back in 2005. You can also follow him on Twitter @eskeBMG

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