March 22, 2017

It’s Groundhog Day…Again…in Berlin

The humble but celebrated groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, is the star of an annual ritual that occurs every February 2 in Pennsylvania.  The pampered whistle pig ceremoniously is brought out, and whether or not he casts a show is supposedly predictive of the severity of the remaining winter weather.  The tradition was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants who transferred their similar Candlemas predictive tradition to America, starring the European hedgehog, to the American groundhog.

It’s ironic that Groundhog Dayhas Germanic roots, for the Bundesliga club in Germany’s capital, Hertha Berlin, appear to be starting their own Groundhog tradition.  In 2015/16 Hertha were the Bundesliga’s early surprise package. Halfway through the campaign the consistent bottom dwellers of the past several years found themselves in 3rd place and with a solid shot to gain a spot in the 2016/17 Champion’s League.  After winter break, though, Die Alte Dame slid downward during last season’s second half to seventh in the table.After such high hopes established by the club’s bright performance in the season’s first half, the capital city club only earned a play-in spot in the Europa League.

Again, this season, Hertha came storming out of the gates and were perched firmly at the top of the table. However, the recent BSC form shows signs that they may wilt in the 2nd half of the season for the 2nd year running.

The poster boy for the two-faced nature of Hertha BSC over the past two seasons has been Vedad Ibisevic. The only difference between the Bosnian’s season this year and last seems to be that now he is wearing the captain’s armband and is on a permanent contract with Berlin.

In 2015/16 Ibišević netted 10 goals, but only three came in the Ruckrunde, as Hertha struggled to score as a team with a sputtering striker. In the Hinrunde of 2016/17 Ibišević once again started off strongly. He was among the league’s top scorers when he scored both of Hertha tallies in a mid November win over Mainz. Since then, the veteran Bosnian international has not found the back of the net in league play. In those eight games, Hertha has only managed three wins.

Ibišević’ability to score goals is essential to Hertha’s success and he is clearly showing signs of frustration. In three of his last four Bundesliga games the team’s captain has gone into the referee’s note pad after receiving a yellow card.

However, this past weekend’s game illustrates that Ibišević is far from the only problem in the Berlin attack. All three attacking players around the centre forward were subbed off for ineffectiveness in the 2-0 loss to Schalke. Amongst that group, only Genki Haraguchi showed any signs of life in Gelsenkirchen. Meanwhile, Salomon Kalou and Valentin Stocker were fairly anonymous during their time on the field.

You’d think with wholesale changes in the attack things would have improved, but you would be wrong. The trio of Vladimir Darida, Alexander Esswein and Julian Schieber could not influence the game in any real way either. In fact, Schalke continued to look more likely to score, even after they doubled their lead in the 62nd minute. All in all, Hertha managed just two shots on goal and only took two corner kicks in the shutout loss.

This should be worrisome for fans in the German capital because it shows that there is no Plan B for Pal Dardai’s men. They need goals to come from Ibišević or a moment of brilliance from Kalou on the left wing to put the ball in the net consistently and few others have the ability to drastically improve their club’s chance of winning.

Dardai’s men have been known for their organization in defense during his time in Berlin. Hertha still have that to a point, but his current team lacks the pace and, it seems, the imagination to be a consistent threat to their opponents’ goal.

Dardai made the decision to not bring any attackers in this winter and hasn’t, as of yet, made significant changes to his lineup or tactics to reignite his attack –this despite the fact that his team’s goal record only eclipses that of SC Freiburg among clubs in the top half of the league table.

The players Dardai has on his roster and his own tactics will need to prove that Hertha Berlin have learned from last season. Otherwise, they may be resigned to the same Groundhog fate.

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A tight knit family from the small Bavarian village of Kirchzell sparked an interest in the Bundesliga and German culture, even though Chris was born half a world away in New Jersey. A video producer and editor by profession, I talk soccer all day and decided to write it down. @ChrisBrase22

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