Our Hertha Berlin preview comes to you from Conni, a devoted BSC fan in North Carolina.
Fresh off their first-place finish in the second tier of German football, and the first immediate repromotion in club history, Hertha BSC is taking a modest outlook for this season. The talk isn’t of the Champions League, or even Europe, but of remaining in the top flight. The official club target is 42 points and two rounds of the DFB Cup, but, of course, they’ll be pleased with more.
There were very few transfers out. Valeri Domovchiyski and Stefan Beichler are playing with the Zebras in Duisburg this season, and Marvin Knoll is on loan to Dynamo Dresden.
There were four transfers in — Thomas Kraft (GK, Bayern), Andreas Ottl (M, Bayern), Tunay Torun (M, HSV), and Maik Franz (D, Eintracht Frankfurt) — and two youth team players brought to the A team — Abu Bakarr Kargbo (S) and John Anthony Brooks (D).
Team top-scorers Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Adrian Ramos are staying on, and they’ve both extended their contracts for 2-3 years. Rob Friend and Nikita Rukavytsya are substitutes. Friend was Babbel’s original starting striker, but Lasogga took his place. Lasogga has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to poach the ball and score, and he combines with both Ramos and Raffael nicely. Friend’s style of play is more straightforward, and it’s harder for him to work with the midfield that’s there. Hopefully his goal in the 2:2 against Sigma Olmütz signals an end to his goal drought, and he is a factor with his back to the goal.
The midfield players are Peter Niemeyer, Patrick Ebert, Fabian Lustenberger, Ronny, and Raffael, all of whom played regularly last season, as well as Fanol Perdedaj and Marco Djuricin, who were often substituted in. Add in Ottl and Torun, and Babbel has a surplus of quality midfielders to choose from. The competition in midfield is fierce. Ronny and Raffael, brothers from Brazil, combine well, and Ronny has a dangerous free kick. He’s also flexible enough to play left back, which he did last season when Kobiashvili was out with a cold. Raffael doesn’t like being started on the bench, and when he wasn’t in the starting XI, the game often lacked his creativity, and his substitution in the second half often made a difference. Niemeyer was voted by fans the player of the first half of the season, and Ebert is the fans’ darling (second only to Lasogga). The combination of Niemeyer as the holding mid and Ebert as the winger is dangerous. Lustenberger (holding mid) has good game sense, and he has a talent for finding an opening and exploiting the loose ball.
The back line are Christian Lell, captain Andre Mijatovic, Roman Hubnik, Levan Kobiashvili (last season’s back four), Sebastian Neumann, Nico Schulz, and Christoph Janker. Janker spent most of last season out with a horrifying leg injury, and Neumann played only when Mijatovic was out. Nico Schulz is currently sick with mono (Epstein-Barr virus) and has missed all the pre-season training.
Pre-season training and friendlies
Markus Babbel put the team through their paces in their camps in Switzerland, pushing them to their limit and a step further. The ex-Bayern defender said it was important to be fit for the Bundesliga, and he worked to get them in top shape. It wasn’t all medicine balls and running, however; one day was spent on fun games, like three-legged sack racing and egg balancing, and the losing team had to do a ‘punishment’ devised by the rest of the team (it involved karaoke).
The first friendly was a 13:0 victory in a charity match against amateur side SV Amtzell, and the second was a 7:2 victory over another amateur side, TSV Kottern. The third wasn’t as successful, a 2:4 loss to Young Boys Bern. Babbel declared himself pleased with the result, because the team was tired from the hard training. “The last thirty minutes was a pure lesson in will,” he said. The next friendly was another loss, 0:2 to the Grasshoppers of Zürich. Babbel was less pleased after this match, though he again acknowledged the players’ exhaustion after the tough training program. The third match in four days was against FC Basel, and was another loss, 0:3. Maikel Aerts played despite a hint of injury, and it was made worse, and he’s out for a few weeks.
In the middle of the second training camp, Hertha beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 2:1, and at the end of the camp, they drew with Sigma Olmütz 2:2.
As a thank-you to the fans, Hertha’s management got Real Madrid to agree to a friendly, which was played today (July 27) in Berlin. Jose Mourinho didn’t play around, and he brought out his stars, starting the match with Mesut Özil, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Iker Casillas, and other big names.
Babbel started with his preferred formation, the 4-2-2-2: Kraft-Lell, Hubnik, Mijatovic, Kobiashvili-Lustenberger, Ottl-Ebert, Torun-Ramos, Lasogga, and by the end had given every fit player time on the pitch, with Ronny, Raffael, and Janker coming on for Ebert, Lasogga, and Hubnik, respectively, at the half, and six substitutions, including Burchert for Kraft, around 75 minutes.
Lustenberger showed his talent at finding an opening in the 18th minute, when he sent the ball to Ebert, who scored. Madrid went on to win the match 1:3 (a free kick by C Ronaldo and two defensive errors). Torun looks to be a good fit with the squad, taking runs up the left wing to complement Ebert’s right wing.
The defense is a critical problem. Last season had a veritable plethora of defensive catastrophes, where the defender was off his mark or too slow to react to a challenge, resulting in a goal. The inconsistency of Maikel Aerts (GK) combined with the porous defense led to 28 conceded goals. There were 14 clean sheets, but eight matches in which they allowed two goals.
The match against Real Madrid showed that the defense problem hasn’t been solved yet, though Kraft seems to be a more solid presence in the goal than Aerts was. Perhaps fortunately for the team, Aerts sustained a muscle tear during the training camp, and Kraft will probably be starting in goal for the time being. Third GK Sascha Burchert is improving, and he’ll probably get most of his playing time this season, like the last, in the reserves.
Misplaced passes and lost challenges continue to plague the team. Real’s midfield is strong, with players like Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, and they intercepted passes and won challenges far more often than Hertha did.
On a positive note
Hertha’s offense is strong and has depth. The main attackers and attacking mids find chances and take them, and they’re strong on the counterattack. A strong offense can make up for a weak defense, but that’s not the best strategy to rely on, unless the team can take control of the ball and maintain possession.
They held Real Madrid to 1:3, despite lost balls and a Swiss-cheese defense. If Babbel can stop the gaps in the defense or get the lost balls down, 42 points and a respectable mid-table finish should be manageable this season.
Follow Conni on Twitter @strafraum
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