Hovering just one point above the drop zone, if Hertha Berlin don’t figure it out soon they could be back in the 2. Bundesliga next year.
The first half of last season was very encouraging, with the Berlin club in sixth place with 28 points when the Winterpause came around. It was a brilliant start after promotion back to the top flight, but it didn’t last. A poor performance in the Rückrunde saw Jos Luhukay’s side earn just 13 points. Still, finishing 11th in the league in the first year was solid.
However, the slide has continued ever since the beginning of 2014. In the calendar year of 2014, Hertha BSC recorded just 31 points. This summer, signings were brought in to try to correct this, but it hasn’t exactly worked. A host of attacking players were brought in to replace the outgoing Adrian Rámos, but the results have been mixed. Forwards Salomon Kalou and Julian Schieber have combined for 11 goals, not a bad total at all. However, Valentin Stocker hasn’t performed yet as the club expected. Yet to score so far, all he has managed to provide is three assists in eight starts and four substitute appearances. Additionally, he has completed just 56% of his passes.
But let’s get back to the slump. Is it really fair to call a yearlong performance trend a slump? Maybe the start of last season was a fluke, because recently the club has shown no signs of changing. This could be an issue with the manager rather than the players.
Sitting in 15th, the capital city club is in a totally different scenario than they were in a year ago. Just one point away from the relegation places, the situation is becoming dire, especially since Borussia Dortmund can be expected to start climbing the table, well, anytime now.
Opening up the second half of the season with a 2-0 loss to fellow strugglers Werder Bremen is not an encouraging sign. This was a match of the two worst defences in the Bundesliga, and Hertha couldn’t even muster a goal. In fact, they only were able to get three shots on goal, compared to 19 that Die Werderaner had. Luhukay tried a 3-5-2 formation, and it wasn’t effective. Hopefully it wasn’t the only thing they worked on during the winter break.
Another worry for fans is that the club chose not to spend in the January window, when there are obviously holes in the squad. Another central midfielder really would have been useful, as well as another forward to cover for Kalou, who is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast.
In contrast, quite a few other relegation candidates strengthened their squads. Hamburg brought in central midfielder Marcelo Diaz and striker Ivica Olić. Mainz signed forward Nicolás Castillo and winger Christian Clemens. Stuttgart signed defensive midfielder Serey Die. Bremen signed central defender Jannik Vestergaard and central midfielder Levin Öztunali, and Freiburg got forward Nils Petersen and attacking midfielder Mats Möller Daehli. For Freiburg, it has already paid off as Petersen hit a hat-trick in his first appearance, giving Freiburg the 4-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt and boosting them from last up to 13th on the table. Vestergaard featured for Bremen in their win over Die Alte Dame. Refusing to spend may come back to hurt the club.
The only business that Hertha did in the January window was selling Hany Mukhtar to Benfica for €500k. Mukhtar, the player who scored the winning goal for Germany in the U-19 European Championships last summer. His contract was due to be up in June and bigger and better things were always going to be in his future, but failing to give him a shot in the first team may come back to haunt the club.
But back to the subject of the manager, Luhukay doesn’t really have the best track record in the top flight. He’s only had two full seasons; last year with Hertha and 2011/12 with Augsburg. That season, Augsburg finished 14th with 38 points.
His record in the 2. Bundesliga is much better. In five full seasons, he won promotion three times, and lost the playoff once. He hasn’t ever had a great team in the top division, but in 109 matches his teams have won 110 points.
Over the course of a season, that averages out to 34 points. This would have been enough points to stay in the division four of the last six seasons, but not by a large margin. Aside from that, the club should have higher aspirations than finishing a couple of points above the drop zone. With a ground the size of the Olympiastadion, and a city the size of Berlin to draw fans from, there’s no reason to think that they shouldn’t be challenging for European places at least on occasion. No other countries lack a decent capital city club like Germany.
Is Luhukay holding the club back? Quite possibly. It’s increasingly seems that last season’s Hinrunde was the exception rather than the norm. While there is congestion in the bottom half of the table right now, Hertha are just a few losses away from letting things slip out of reach. If things don’t change soon, relegation may be a real possibility. While it’s not always the best practice to switch managers mid-season, sometimes it can energise the squad by bringing in fresh ideas.
2014 calendar year
first half of 2013/14