While Saturday’s Revierderby takes center stage among MatchDay 26’s fixture list, the weekend kicks off with a very good matchup as Hertha Berlin hosts TSG Hoffenheim Friday (on FS2, Fox Soccer 2 GO, and Bundesliga Audio in the USA beginning at 2:30pm EDT). The matchup of the two blue-clad clubs is especially meaningful as both 4th place Hoffenheim (45 pts) and 5th place Hertha (40 pts) want to secure a European position, and with RB Leipzig slipping in the Ruckrunde, perhaps even a Champions League berth.
Berlin’s Olympiastadion has been a fortress for BSC this season, as Pal Dardai’s club have won 10 of their last 12 home games. Hertha’s coach also will be operating with a somewhat depleted squad, although central defender John Brooks appears to be able to play after coming home early after playing and suffering an injury when he appeared for the USA in their WCQ a week ago against Honduras. Brooks is still listed as doubtful, as well as attacker Salomon Kalou, while important BSC players such as Mitchell Weiser, Fabian Lustenberger and Marvin Plattenhardt are out, along with attackers Ondrej Duda and Julian Schieber who generally feature as second half substitutes. Hoffenheim’s young general on the bench, Julian Nagelsmann, will have more to choose from as the village team has a virtually intact squad for Friday’s clash, with Mark Uth, one of Hoffe’s trio of attackers, has been back in training after missing five matches with injury. Youngster Kerem Demirbay has a facial injury but will play while wearing a mask.
Not only will Friday’s fixture be a matchup between two of the Bundesliga’s best coaches, but it will feature each club’s main striker who once played for Friday’s opponents. Berlin’s Vedad Ibisevic began his Bundesliga career with Hoffenheim and earned a great deal of attention when he scored 18 goals in the 17 matches of Hoffenheim’s first Bundesliga season before a winterpause injury derailed his, and Hoffenheim’s, campaign. Nevertheless, the Bosnian international with roots in St. Louis, MO played four and a half seasons in Sinsheim, scoring 54 times in all competitions. Hoffenheim’s Sandro Wagner, meanwhile, featured in 78 matches for BSC in all competitions over three seasons. Both have 11 Bundesliga goals this season.
Hoffenheim lead Hertha by five points in the table because of their ability to earn results. Hertha actually has more wins in league play, 12 -11, but Hoffe’s 12 draws mean that they are the second most difficult Bundesliga club to beat behind mighty Bayern Munich. Hoffe has won four of the last meetings with Hertha, and the biggest win in their short Bundesliga history was a 5-0 2014 rout in Berlin. Matchups between the two have never ended in a scoreless draw.
With Hertha having the best home record in the Bundesliga this season and Hoffenheim undefeated in their last five outings, one would expect an evenly played contest. Friday’s away side definitely boast more offensive flair, ranking third in the Bundesliga in shots per game (14.5), possession (54%) and passing accuracy (82%) while having a +21 goal differential compared to Hertha’s more modest 9.8 shots per game, 49% possession and 77% passing accuracy leading to a lowly +4 goal differential…. and a much more depleted squad. But Hertha Berlin’s ability to win at home indicates that Hoffenheim will have a difficult time earning all three points to pass Borussia Dortmund in the standings prior to Saturday’s Revierderby.