On a snowy November Sunday in Germany’s capital, Hertha Berlin hosted a Hoffenheim side desperate for points, but it was the Berliners who came away with all three points, winning 1-0. The win was more ugly than an artistic triumph, as Berlin could only manage one shot through the entire ninety minutes, but yet another victory leaves Coach Pál Dárdai’s Berliners in the final Champions League spot in the BuLi table with a 7-2-4 record, one point behind 3rd place VfL Wolfsburg and one ahead of streaking Borussia Mönchengladbach. Hoffenheim occupies the league’s cellar on eight points, and have yet to score a goal under fireman coach Huub Stevens in his three games in charge.
It’s rare that a club wins when creating one shot. That shot, a 17th minute attempt by last matchday’s hat trick hero, Salomon Kalou, was well wide left as he appeared to slide on the snowy surface as he took his shot on a pass from the right flank by Genki Haraguchi.
That was it for Die Alte Dame. As the snow grew heavier and the usual Torfabrik had to be replaced by an orange version, Hertha’s winning goal came courtesy of the visitor’s Polish international Eugen Polanski. At the half hour mark. Hertha earned their second (and last) corner kick of the match. Marvin Plattenhardt delivered an inswinging left-footed kick from the corner that flew through the heavy snow, skipping off of skipper Polanski’s head and back into the Hoffenheim goal despite goalkeeper Oliver Baumann clawing to get the ball out. The new goal-line technology confirmed that the goal had crossed the line and was legitimate. It was also the first own goal in Polanski’s career — one that has seen him feature in over 160 Bundesliga contests.
Despite a good job of snow removal being performed during intermission, the match yielded no more goals, with chances from Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland and Eduardo Vargas going for naught. Hoffenheim, who had won both fixtures with Hertha last season, had a 7-1 edge in shots taken with 52% of possession, but the Berliners had the points.
Hertha Berlin: Winning Ugly and Just Plain Winning
Dárdai’s club was no doubt lucky to win a game with only one shot taken in less than ideal weather conditions, but the club and its coach has deserved credit all season long for its consistent quality of play. Their fourth place berth in the table is deserved, as only four teams have exceeded the 18 goals scored by Hertha while only two clubs have been stingier in allowing less than the 15 goals surrendered by Dárdai’s players. The Fanatic’s Power Rankings from last week had them rated as fourth best in the Bundesliga.
Hertha are hardly a juggernaut, as they’ve lost all their fixtures with the Bundesliga’s upper echelon clubs this season — Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Schalke, with matchups against Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen in the next two matchdays (and away at Darmstadt and at home to Mainz to finish the Hinrunde. But they’ve taken care of business against all their other opponents. Having lost to the upper echelon clubs by an aggregate 11-3 margin, Dárdai’s men have been better than the rest of their opponents by a 15-4 edge, meaning they’ve basically been the dominant side against the average Bundesliga club. And this from a club that avoided last year’s playoff relegation by mere goal differential as they were tied with 16th place Hamburg on 35 points, and were playing in Germany’s second division in the 2012/2013 campaign.
Usually, when a club with little ‘star power’ and few high-profile players does well, a corresponding injury-free period is part of the club’s success. But this has hardly been the case this season for the Berlin overachievers. Number one goalkeeper Thomas Kraft, who has featured in 131 league matches for the Berliners since joining the club in July, 2011, has been out since the Wolfsburg match. Vice-captain Peter Pekarik, a fixture at right back, has been limited to 270 minutes by injury, while fellow defender John Anthony Brooks was injured during the beginning of the campaign. The injury bug has visited former Bayern man Mitchell Weiser and Alexander Baumjohann, while veteran Bundesliga attackers Sami Allagui and Julian Schieber have yet to be healthy enough to play a minute. And newcomer Vedad Ibišević who was the club’s leading scorer, has been absent since his red card suspension against Schalke.
That Hertha has thrived despite adversity is credit to Dárdai and Sporting Director Michael Preetz. Both men are former significant players in Hertha history and old friends…. Dárdai holds the mark for most player appearances in Hertha, while Preetz was named to the Berliner’s ‘All Century Team’ selected by fans. Preetz, was appointed Sporting Director in 2009 but was villified for the chaos surrounding the club in his first years in charge, as coaches came and went as if in a parade and the team was relegated following the 2011/2012 season. Preetz, however, found a semblance of stability for the club as they immediately bounced back from relegation and Jos Luhukay was hired to guide the club from the sidelines. When things went south under Luhukay last February after 71 games in charge, the longest coaching tenure at Berlin since Lucien Favre was fired in 2009, Dárda saved the club’s season and now, with a summer training camp under the former Hungarian national team coach, Hertha appear to know how to win.
It’s helped, too, that Preetz has made some astute bargain signings in the last few years, specializing in picking the bones of demoted clubs and signing undervalued players from lesser profile leagues. Preetz inked workhorse midfielder Pavel Darida from Freiburg for €.5m, left back Marvin Plattenhardt from Nurnberg for €.5m, Salomon Kalou from Lille for €1.8m, Per Skjelbred from HSV for €1.3m and Haraguchi from Urawa Red Diamonds for €.5m. Current starting keeper Rune Jarstein and the reliable Sebastian Langkamp came on free transfers, while Ibišević, out of favor at Stuttgart, has scored four times for Hertha after a 25 match goalless drought. Youngsters Brooks and Yanni Regäsel are products of the BSC youth system. The roster is devoid of stars, but is stocked with solid, experienced players.
One should expect Hertha to continue to thrive. Although getting a result against Bayern is highly unlikely, Hertha have scored a goal more this season than their high-profile, Chicharito-led Leverkusen matchday 15 opponents, and at this point it’s reasonable to expect results in the Berliner’s final two matches of the Hinrunde, Darmstadt and the maddeningly inconsistent Mainz squad. Moreover, Dárdai and his players have proven that they are the best of the Bundesliga clubs not playing in Europe this season. Hertha’s wins may not always be of great artistic merit, but they do win, and their are more than a dozen topflight German clubs who’d like to be in their place right now.
Hertha: Jarstein – Regäsel, Langkamp, Brook, Plattenhardt – Lustenberger (c.) (Hegeler 77’) – Skjelbred – Darida – Haraguchi, Cigerci (van den Bergh 74’) – Kalou (Baumjohann 90′)
Hoffenheim: Baumann – Strobl, Süle, Bicakcic, Kim – Rudy (Kuranyi 83’), Polanski (c.) – Volland, Amiri, Schmid (Zuber 63’) – Uth (Vargas 63’)
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