Sunday’s early game in the Bundesliga pits relegation battlers Hertha BSC and SC Freiburg against each other in a must-win match for both teams. With just eight points separating seventh from eighteenth in the table, a win and the three points it provides would go a long way towards securing safety.
Bundesliga Fanatic club bloggers Jack Grimse and Adrian Sertl break down their respective clubs heading into the penultimate fixture of match day 21.
Jack: Last week’s 2-0 victory over Mainz was Hertha’s first win in five tries, boosting them out of the bottom three and into 14th. Still, they are just three points above Freiburg and will be hoping to make it two in a row, a feat they haven’t achieved since December 2013.
Adrian: Simply put, Freiburg needs to put last week’s 3-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund out of their minds and focus on leaving the Capital with all three points. By the strictest definition, this isn’t quite a must-win game, but after Sunday Die Breisgauer’s next five opponents are all currently in the top half of the table (Hoffenheim, Leverkusen, the suddenly surging Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg, and Augsburg). Freiburg also has to deal with a DFB Pokal encounter with FC Köln in March. A victory in Berlin would see Freiburg not only vault over their opponents and out of the relegation zone, but give a boost of confidence ahead of their toughest stretch of the Rückrunde.
Jack: The offense in Berlin has not been of much help. Hertha’s goal total of 21 is tied for fourth lowest in the division.
As poor as the offense has been the problem has been at the opposite end of the pitch. They’ve shipped the third most goals in the league (38), just 10 less than last year’s season total. Poor defense makes holding onto a lead problematic; Hertha has conceded eight equalizers to date. Only Frankfurt(10) has conceded more.
Things may be turning around, though, after the sacking of Jos Luhukay. Die Alte Dame recorded an important win in Mainz last weekend, just their third since October. The return of the team’s second-leading scorer, Salmon Kalou, from Africa’s Cup of Nations tournament may also be a big boost for the club. Valentin Stocker’s energetic play won a penalty that got Mainz keeper Loris Karius sent off last week, hopefully signalling Hertha can expect more regular contributions from the Switzerland international.
Adrian: It may be somewhat simplistic, but in order to achieve success, Freiburg need to get back to doing what they are good at doing: tirelessly pressing the opposition when not in possession of the ball.
However, with Hertha Berlin being the worst club in the Bundesliga in terms of ball possession, it is almost a given that Streich will need a plan B. Freiburg have shown real flashes of dominance in their matches versus Frankfurt (especially the 2nd half) and against Borussia Mönchengladbach, as achieved by patient build-up play. If Freiburg’s midfield can link up well with the strikers instead of relying on aimless long passes out of the back, the chances will come. Though, the task then turns to converting these chances, which has been something of an inconsistency so far in the 2nd half of the season.
Jack: Fabian Lustenberger will miss this match through suspension, after collecting bookings in the 54th and 58th minutes last weekend. Coupled with Johnny Heitinga’s injury, Lustenberger’s unavailability means only two central defenders — John Anthony Brooks and Sebastian Langkamp — are available for interim manager Pál Dárdai. Though, midfielder Jens Hegeler could fill in if needed.
Projected line-up (4-2-3-1): Kraft; Pekarik, Brooks, Langkamp, Plattenhardt; Hegeler, Skjelbred; Beerens, Ronny, Stocker; Kalou.
Adrian: Expect to see some changes to the lineup that Christian Streich trotted out against BVB.
Options at striker, already hampered due to Admir Mehmedi’s ankle ligament injury, were further compounded last week when Nils Petersen went off with a torn knee ligament, leaving one of Dani Schahin, Karim Guede, or Mike Frantz to likely partner with Mats Møller Dæhli in a striker duo.
Also confirmed as “out” for Sunday is Nicolas Höfler (flu). Captain Julian Schuster will be a game-time decision after he resumed training late this week after also battling the flu bug, which prompted Streich to remark that all of the players who have children are the ones coming down with the colds, a problem that parents with school aged sons and daughters know all too well.
Streich also hinted that Berlin-born youngster Maximilian Philipp could get the nod over Jonathan Schmid, whose sub-par performances of late may see him start on the bench. Veteran defender Pavel Krmas will also likely see time on the bench after his not-so-hot performance versus Dortmund, leaving Streich preferring to bring Emmanuel Höhn back into the starting lineup.
Projected line-up (4-4-2 “double 6”): Bürki; Sorg, Höhn, Torrejon, Günter; Klaus, Schuster, Darida, Frantz; Philipp, Møller Dæhli
Jack: Both teams will be desperate for a win. The Freiburg attack is short on reliable options, but the leaky Berlin defence is sure to be breached. Olympiastadion has been a decent venue for Hertha this season, and should give the home side enough of a boost to collect at least a point. Hertha 1:1 Freiburg
Adrian: While Frieburg are battling some injury problems, Die Breisgauer appear capable of fielding attackers competent enough to compensate. This could lead to trouble for a Hertha team who already struggle to keep the ball out of their net. Hertha 0:2 Freiburg
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