Hertha Berlin Cling to Europa League Hopes

Despite the fact that Hertha Berlin’s Bundeliga season has been a rollercoaster with two very contrasting halves of the season, die Hauptstadt club is still in a Europa League qualification spot.

The Berliners started the season promisingly with only two defeats in their opening 13 matches. Indeed, the club was in pole position for the Champions League spot at die Winterpause (30 points in 17 matches with 9 wins, 3 draws, and 5 losses), but the new year brought a dark chapter in for Hertha, who’ve struggled during the Rückrunde (10 points in 10 matches with 3 wins, 1 draw, and 6 losses). During just the Rückrunde, Hertha have only been enough for 15th place in the Bundesliga. Remarkable, thanks for other early Europa League contenders struggling (like Eintracht) mightily during the Rückrunde, Hertha are still in 7th place.

Regardless, it’s been a long winter and spring for the Old Lady, who have lost 9 of their last 14 Bundesliga fixtures, meanwhile other teams are breathing heavily down their necks in the race for Europa League football. Overall, the main struggle for Hertha has been the contrast between their home and away form.

Hertha have only been beaten on two occasions at home, whereas away from home they’ve suffered 9 defeats. In fact, they boast the 5th strongest home record, but embarrassingly hold the 3rd worst away record in the Bundesliga this season.

Stylistic Problems

Current manager Pal Dardai spent 14 years during his playing career with Hertha BSC between 1997-2011. The former Hungarian international made 297 Bundesliga appearances for the Old Lady and was appointed as permanent manager in May 2015. He’s since applied a counter-attacking style for scoring goals, but also which requires slow build up from the back when his side earns possession without any counters.

This latter approach is a problem when the build up play lacks an obvious target up front. The most vital player involved in Hertha’s build up system has been Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic, who has also struggled for form since November. Ibisevic enjoyed a successful start to the season, in which he netted 8 goals in 12 Bundesliga appearances. Unfortunately, the 32-year-old has only scored three league goals in his last 15 matches. To an extent, it seems that Hertha’s fortunes are linked to the verteran striker.

Injury Problems

Hertha have various key players missing, as the season reaches its most important stage. They have seven games to avoid surrendering their European spot and the injuries make this task ever harder. Eight players are absent because of injury, again sparking the debate about whether Hertha has adequate squad depth: Julian Schieber, Ondrej Duda, Marvin Plattenhardt, Mitchell Weiser, Sinan Kurt, Fabian Lustenberger, Andre Maier and John Anthony Brooks are all currently sidelined with injuries.

This phenomenon has forced Dardai to rely on attacking players such as Alexander Esswein and Genki Haraguchi, while Valentin Stocker has been an outcast under Dardai”s manager. The season is seven match days away from concluding and the race for Europa League football is set to reach its climax.

United States international John Anthony Brooks has been a warrior in central defence this season. His absence is likely to make Hertha’s defence much more vulnerable because they tend to play with two attacking full-backs.

Moreover, fullback Marvin Plattenhardt is also absent due to injury. He’s both a defence and attacking force for Hertha, as he’s made various important interceptions and made important contributions to offensive moves.

The Old Lady also have four players in risk of being suspended because of an accumulation of five yellow cards. Defender Sebastien Langkamp, midfielders Genki Haraguchi and Vladimir Darida and striker Vedad Ibisevic are all currently on four bookings this season.

The Race for the Europa League Tightens

Hertha are in 7th place and level on points with 6th place 1.FC Köln, who have a superior goal difference. The Champions League is out of their reach because Borussia Dortmund are ten points ahead of them in 4th place. Furthermore, Eintracht Frankfurt are only two points behind Hertha and a Europa League spot.

Meanwhile, SC Freiburg have seized 5th place, following back-to-back wins against Wolfsburg and Mainz. Hertha’s midweek defeat to Mönchengladbach also helped SCF, making room for another club to jump into the top 7 spots. Fortunately, the Old Lady have four home games remaining and only three away fixtures left. So Hertha will surely be relying on its excellent home form to earn that Europa League qualification.

Hertha Berlin face three consecutive games against teams outside the race for European football. After their fixtures against Augsburg, Mainz and Wolfsburg, Hertha has an important clash at red hot Werder Bremen. Speaking of Werder, Hertha’s drastic drop in form started with a 1-0 home defeat against Werder Bremen in December.

In the remaining fixtures, tough clashes against RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen follow for Hertha.

It’ll be an exciting, nail biting and frightening conclusion to the Bundesliga season, with several clubs vying for the Europa League spots. Could it be Hertha in one of those spots? On current form, it seems very unlikely. However, a late surge is possible in one of the most surprising leagues in European football.

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George Bennett

George Bennett is a young writer from Calne, Wiltshire in the UK. He's an aspiring sports journalist and recently studied sport at Swindon New College. His love for the Bundesliga stems from Saturday morning a highlight packages on ITV4. He cemented his love by attending a Hertha match at the Olympiastadion. You can read more of his work on his blog: http://www.gbarticles.co.uk/ and following on Twitter: @g_bennett1997.

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