Hertha’s glorious Bundesliga 2016 Hinrunde is deja vu from last season. After 19 matches, Die Alte Dame sits in 6th place on 33 points and has all but taken care of the minimum preseason requirement: avoiding relegation.
Hertha BSC might be a Europe contender this year, but the club was a second tier club not that long ago (2012/13). Therefore five consecutive seasons in the 1.Bundesliga (2013-2018) are an important milestone for a volatile club like Hertha.
So no matter what happens over the final seventeen games, sporting director Michael Preetz and coach Pal Dardai have accomplished something truly amazing: they’ve reestablished Berlin as a Bundesliga mainstay. That being said, if Hertha wants to push for a European spot this year, the team must shake the habit of sucking when it matters most.
Dardai’s “Late Season Curse”
Pal Dardai is without a doubt, the best Hertha coach since Lucien Favre was let go. The Hungarians body of work in Berlin should have actually landed him the 2016 Coach of the Year award. But obviously awards are handed out at the end of the season and Dardai’s 2015 and 2016 Hertha teams both ran out of gas in spring.
In 2015, Dardai guided Hertha out of the relegation zone into safety, only to go on a winless streak from matchday 28 through 34, that almost got Berlin relegated after all. Last season Hertha went winless in their final seven games again. Which cost the club a guaranteed Champions League spot and sent Berlin into the Europa League Qualifiers (where Hertha couldn’t get past Bröndby). Fizzling out late in back to back seasons might be bad look for Dardai as a coach, but none of this is his fault whatsoever.
Dardai’s 2015/16 team simply overachieved during the Hinrunde. Hertha got extremely lucky in close games and converted scoring chances at a world class clip. Once the luck ran out, Hertha started to lose ground.
It breaks my heart to admit it, but Berlin’s 9W-3D-5L Hinrunde record was achieved with a meager +6 goal difference. Four of Hertha’s nine wins came by one goal. Moreover Berlin lacks “quality wins,” which would indicate Hertha can’t keep it up. Other than a 2:1 home win over 1.FC Köln, Hertha hasn’t beaten any of the top ranked Bundesliga clubs. A quick look at Hertha’s stats and ratings also indicate that Berlin might not be able to sustain the level of 2016 performance going forward.
- Goals scored: 7th
- Goals allowed: 6th
- Whoscored.com rating: 11th
- Kicker.de grade point average: 7th
If you dig a little deeper, Hertha’s otherworldly shot conversion rate is another reason for concern. Because we’ve seen that before.
- Shots per game: 17th
- Shots on target per game: 11th
- Goals inside six yard box: 17th
At Christmas, Hertha had the second fewest amount of shots of all Bundesliga clubs, yet came away with the sixth highest goal total (!). This resut is unsustainable, unless Hertha was creating “tiki taka style” tap-in goals all year. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Hertha actually scored the second fewest goals from close range. Moreover Hertha has yet to score from a counter attack. Berlin’s crazy level of scoring efficiency will go down for sure, since eight of Hertha’s 24 goals before Christmas came off set pieces (5 goals; 4th overall) and penalties (3; tied 2nd).
Individually, none of Hertha’s starters shows up on Whoscored’s team of the season. In fact, Mitchell Weiser at 26th is the highest rated Hertha player of the 2017 campaign so far.
The reliance on Vedad Ibisevic, who had a hand in 11 of Hertha’s 24 goals so far, is another red flag. “Vedo” is on the wrong side of thirty and if he goes down, Berlin’s ability to score will take a hit. All in all, Hertha supporters should “brace for impact” again this year. On the bright side, there are a couple of factors that can make all numbers and metrics meaningless.
Reasons why Hertha will not collapse again
To be fair, while Hertha enjoyed good luck on the pitch this year, they had terrible luck everywhere else. Marquee summer signing Ondrej Duda received the #10 jersey and was expected to contribute right away. Sadly, Duda hasn’t played in a meaningful game this season but could become an X factor once healthy. Solomon Kalou’s father died at the start of the season, so he was unavailable for quite some time. Hertha’s best defender John Anthony Brooks was out for seven games because of nagging injuries, while Mitchell Weiser missed four. Irreplaceable midfield engine Vladimir Darida had to sit out eight matches.
Fortunately, Hertha’s squad was able to somehow get away with backups. Michael Preetz has (again) done a great job, even though he had just 1.7 million Euros in net spending to work with. Compared to 2015/16, the Hertha bench features valid alternatives instead of liabilities. Backup forward Julian Schieber (2 goals, 1 assist in 373 minutes) performed well whenever he was called upon. Niklas Stark has evolved and is already getting looks from Premier League teams. Valentin Stocker successfully “resurrected” his career and feels like an all new signing. Winger Alexander Esswein (2 goals, 1 assist in 618 minutes) has so far outperformed his 2.5 million Euro price tag. Alan, the young Brazilian loanee from Anfield also looks more competent than expected.
Not only is Hertha’s roster deeper, some of last year’s standouts have taken a huge step forward. Mitchell Weiser has played so well that it’s mind boggling how Jogi Löw has not called him up yet. Marvin Plattenhardt’s set pieces rival the ones of Hakan Calhanoglu these days, while Rune Jarstein has become one of the Bundesliga’s premier goalkeepers. Most importantly, all of the key players who experienced Hertha’s 15/16 late season collapse are still with the club. There’s hope that guys like Darida, Weiser and Brooks have learned a valuable lesson last season and can fix whatever went wrong last year.
Prediction: 50-55 points and a guaranteed Europa League berth
I guess Hertha fans have to accept that Bayern, Leipzig and “Bad Luck Dortmund” are out of Berlin’s league in terms of personnel and performance level. On the other hand, Hertha doesn’t need to be scared of fellow surprise teams Hoffenheim (3rd), Frankfurt (6th) and Cologne (7th). However Bayer Leverkusen (trails Hertha by 6 points), Schalke 04 (9 points), Wolfsburg (11 points) and Gladbach (13 points) are teams that could close the distance to Hertha. Those four clubs are ranked 3rd through 6th on transfermarkt’s total squad value ranking and simply have better rosters than Hertha.
But let’s also keep in mind, that Berlin was just six points shy of a fourth place finish last year, despite performing like a relegation candidate during the Rückrunde (18 points). This time around, Hertha has a deeper and more experienced squad, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a higher point total. Despite a seemingly inevitable change of luck, Hertha should get more games out cornerstone players Weiser, Darida and Brooks for the remainder of the season. Compared to some upper table rivals, Hertha has no UEFA matches to worry about and it looks like Berlin will exit the DFB Pokal soon. After Hertha took care of lower class teams Regensburg and St.Pauli, Berlin drew Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion. Since Real Madrid and Bayern have both failed to beat the BVB at home this year, Hertha’s odds to advance aren’t great to say the least. Hertha will either achieve a small miracle and one of the biggest wins in recent club history or they’ll have more time to focus on making it into Europe. So that draw might not be so unlucky after all.
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