Arminia Bielefeld were duly conquered on Sunday, with the Brazilian brothers of Raffael and Ronny scoring (Raffael twice) to keep us firmly at the top of the table. It’s only Bielefeld, one might say, and one might agree, but three points are three points and it would be far worse to throw those “easy” ones away. Indeed, now there is some clear daylight between us and the rest of the table, thanks to our win and Augsburg’s loss.
Hertha did what they needed to, going ahead through Ronny early, after about 18 minutes. The younger of the de Araújos has been coming into his own lately, which I’ve been really enjoying. I’ll admit to some skepticism when we signed him, thinking that it was just enough that he kept Raffael happy. But he’s worked hard, got himself into shape, and seems to be enjoying himself in Berlin. He and Raffael are also a good combination statistically- of the six games the brothers have played together, there have been 5 wins and 1 draw.
Raffael scored himself not long before halftime, and so Hertha went into the dressing room 2-0 up. The second half started with some complacency on the Hertha side, but a nice pass from Rob Friend and a clever non-move from Valeri Domochivskyi let Raffael in to score his second of the game. At 3-0, the win was never in doubt, even if Bielefeld manager to get one back in the 85th after everyone had stopped paying attention.
2,000 Hertha fans traveled to the imaginary city of Bielefeld for the game, which has to be worth a mention, so I’m mentioning it.
This weekend, of course, is the game we’ve all been waiting for. The Berlin derby, take 2. At our own Olympiastadion. It’s sold out, of course- 74,244, which is not at all bad for a 2nd division clash. And one of those 74,244 tickets belongs to me! I’ll be at the game on Saturday, and am very excited about it. The team is in good form, strong since the break, but derbies are special. We’ll see what happens. I can’t wait.
Two games played, two games won, back to the top of the table. Sure, there were a few wobbles in those games, maybe a couple more goals conceded than I would prefer, but you can’t argue with the numbers.
The story of the first two games has been Pierre-Michel Lasogga, with the 19-year-old scoring twice against Oberhausen (and winning a penalty) and then once again against Düsseldorf. Nicely-done goals too. He’s been in great form (and reminds me of a bull when he runs). Naturally, he’s now injured, having sprained knee ligaments during the Düsseldorf game. It doesn’t seem to be terrifyingly serious, but he’s still out for a couple of weeks right when he was looking fantastic.
This means that Rob Friend, who Lasogga has been replacing, will likely be given another chance at Arminia Bielefeld on Sunday, and even next week at the Berlin derby.
In good news, though, Andre Mijatovic will be back against Bielefeld, having served out his suspension. Anyone who’s watched the past two Hertha games would have noticed the defensive shakiness, so hopefully the captain will sort that all out. Scoring goals is great, but so is not conceding them and making me nervous.
In players we won’t be seeing again this season: Kaka (no, not that one), who came in while Mijatovic and Hubnik were both suspended, has gone back to Portugal on loan to Sporting Braga. He was originally signed for us from Académica de Coimbra in that country, so he’s back to a league he has some awareness with. Also on loan until the end of the season is Daniel Beichler, who has gone to St. Gallen in Switzerland. The young Austrian has been in the papers of late for complaining about his lack of game time, so hopefully he’ll get what he wants over there. The young Hertha product Sascha Bigalke was also supposed to go on loan, to Bielefeld oddly enough, but he’s broken his metatarsal and won’t go. Get well soon, Sascha.
Sunday’s opponents are Arminia Bielefeld, who sit absolute bottom in the 2. Liga, having won a grand total of two games all season. Since the break they’ve drawn once and lost once. Still, doesn’t mean we should get distracted by the game after that, which is the Berlin derby. These points are ours for the taking if we stay focused and can score without Lasogga.
Speaking of the derby – which everyone has to be excited about – the always excellent European Football Weekends has a great write-up about it, which I recommend you all read.
But first, hopefully, a very real three points from the possibly fictitious city of Bielefeld.
The winter break comes and the winter break goes. Fortunately, not as long as it’s been in the past. We’re all ready to get back to the important business of hauling ourselves back to the Bundesliga.
Hertha BSC spent its winter vacation in lovely Portugal, enjoying a training camp out of the German cold. While there they also enjoyed two friendly wins, over the Dutch second-division leaders FC Zwolle and, more interestingly, Belgium’s Standard Liege. After that it was back to Germany, where they battered lower-division Babelsburg, and finished preparations to hopefully do the same to Rot-Weiß Oberhausen tonight.
Yes, now is when we repeat the games we played before, but away instead of home and vice-versa. Hertha’s 2. Bundesliga campaign began back when it was warm with a 3-2 win over Oberhausen, with Domovchiyski and Djuricin providing the goals. Since then we’ve moved up and Oberhausen have slid down, now finding themselves at 15th, just barely above the relegation playoff spot. They need points, and are definitely looking to keep them at home.
Of course, we need points too, especially as MSV Duisburg and FC Augsburg scored wins over the weekend that takes them above us on the table. Although we ended the break in second, we’re now in third. A win tonight would put us back into second.
The biggest concern is defense. With both Mijatovic and Hubnik suspended, Markus Babbel has to rely on the young Sebastian Neumann and the not-seen-since-December-2009 Kaka (no, not that one). The Brazilian was on loan in Cyprus for a while, but is apparently back and ready to play in the absence of the names we all know. Babbel says he’s “got stuck in at every training session,” and apparently has every confidence in the Brazilian. Which, of course, is what he’d have to say.
On a more positive note, it seems that Maikel Aerts is for real fit this time, really. The Dutchman played in the winter friendlies and his knee doesn’t seem to be giving him any problems, unlike the last time he claimed he was fine. At least now he’s played a few games, which gives me a lot more confidence that he’s actually back and not just claiming he’s fine. Patrick Ebert was also seen on the field in the friendlies, and while it may be too soon for him to start, he’s definitely back in the team.
The winter hasn’t seen any new signings, but it has seen Bayer Leverkusen sniffing around Nico Schulz, one of our prized youngsters. He’s not quite 18 and has already been impressive for us, and Hertha doesn’t seem all that interested in selling him off. Still, you never know in this business.
In backroom news, a mysterious investor/group of investors has apparently given Hertha €8 million to be used to service the debt and negative equity, meaning that no matter what league Hertha is playing in next season, we’ll be able to get a license for it. The investor(s) so far are secret, but the club has been telling the press that they are German citizens. As the contracts aren’t signed, they’re not saying anything else. It’s curious business, but it would be a massive benefit to the club, and doubly important if, heaven forbid, we aren’t promoted at the end of the season. Still, there’s something about mysterious investors and their piles of cash that one can’t help but find odd. We’ll see, I suppose.
In other news, Marvin Knoll and Alfredo Morales have signed professional contracts with the club. They’re both 20 and both Berlin-born. Morales’ international situation is a bit more complicated, though. He’s already joined up with the US youth setup, was at one point called into the German U-20 squad, and his father would love him to play for his native Peru. There’s an interesting little interview with him here. Of course, as an American, I’d love to see him stay involved with the USA, but I wish him and Knoll luck wherever.
And even more luck to the rest of the team tonight. Here’s to starting the second half off right!
Holiday greetings from the Hertha BSC team. Totally from the heart, I’m sure.
Amazing on so many levels.
A fractious game to end a frantic year at Hertha BSC. Two red cards for each team. Five yellow cards. And a goal each, as well.
As I had just taken off from Amsterdam when the game started, I missed by what was all accounts a ridiculous sort of game. It kicked off with captain Andre Mijatovic getting sent off for a straight red in the 15th minute, allegedly for bringing down Nando Rafael. However, this wasn’t the collapsable Hertha of earlier and against the odds (but not the run of play), a man down away from home, Hertha took the lead. Nikita Rukavytsya scored on the 27th, and Hertha went into the dressing room ahead by one.
Hertha were holding until another somewhat questionable call. According to the referee, the young goalkeeper Sasha Burchert took down Thorsten Oehrl, and a penalty was rewarded. Ex-Herthaner Nando Rafael scored it to take the home side level.
That wasn’t the end of it, of course, and again, it involved the ref. Augsburg were down to 10 men as well when Daniel Baier was sent off for kicking Hubnik. Then, towards the end, they were down to nine when Axel Bellinghausen for fouling Lasogga.
Oh, and then we were down to nine when Roman Hubnik got a second yellow in the dying moments.
The talking points, of course, were about the ref, as any game where the teams both end at nine would be. But the draw means that FC Augsburg take the winter championship, and we go behind them, but only on goal difference. It’s a bit bitter considering how well we started the season, but considering the little slump we went through, it’s not terrible. We’re still in the automatic promotion places, we’re only behind on goal difference, and we can possibly take the moral win from the Augsburg game.
Now it’s the break. TIme for a little rest, relaxation, then training camp and doing it all again for the next half. It’s Rot-Weiß Oberhausen again on January 17th.
In some non-Hertha news, I’ll be appearing on Mao’s Football Show tomorrow, talking with mao of Timbers Offside. We’ll mostly be discussing MLS, but I never give up the chance to talk Hertha. It’s on at 4 PM PST, and saved as a podcast as well in case you miss it.
It’s the last game of the year tomorrow, and you can’t really hope for a better one. Or a more important one, for that matter. It’s a table-topping clash in the 2. Bundesliga, fighting for the winter championship, and also for non-meaningless things like eventual promotion.
After a stumbling few weeks, Hertha seemed to find their feet last weekend in another top-half game, against Erzgebirge Aue. Against Aue they looked like the Hertha of the first half of the season, the one that swept all comers and looked a complete certainty for automatic promotion. Of course, in the month prior, we looked like anything but that team. And that’s the question for tomorrow.
Augsburg had their own slump, but it was back in September and October and they’ve been on fire since then, unbeaten since October 22. Ex-Herthaner Nando Raphael has scored 9 goals so far, which is never something you want to hear. They’re a strong team eager for promotion, having missed out on it last year through the playoff. We’ve got to be at our top form to take them down and go into the winter break with our best chance of promotion.
The other question for tomorrow is about the goalkeeper. Sejna is back after his suspension, but there’s talk that Burchert will keep the spot. He did well against Aue, and he’s young enough to be promising. What is more worrying is that it seems that Mikael Aerts’ injury will take longer to heal, with rumors that we’ll need to sign Michael Rensing for the next half of the season.
Also worrying is the conduct/words of young Austrian Daniel Biechler, who looked to be a smart signing at the beginning of the season, but then got injured and hasn’t been seen since. Well, apparently he’s fit, playing in the reserves, and is annoyed that Markus Babbel doesn’t talk to him. That interview has now cost him €5,000, as he was hit with a fine and told that he “definitely” isn’t in the squad for Augsburg.
But the Biechler situation will have to wait. Right now, the focus can only be on Augsburg. It’s a big game, daunting as we have to go there, but it’s not impossible. The Aue result has to have helped confidence, as well as having Andre Mijatovic back and directing the defense, a role he will continue to play tomorrow. Peter Niemeyer is also back. Babbel is still a bit coy about the position of Lasogga, who has been in fine form lately. If you’re good enough you’re old enough, I tend to think, but I don’t need to deal with the subtleties of keeping a young player from getting too far ahead of himself/injured. And speaking of Pierre-Michel and age, happy birthday to him! He turned 19 on Wednesday.
Speaking of promising young players, Patrick Ebert has returned to training! It was a major coup keeping him in Berlin after the relegation, only to have him injure himself in the preseason and be out until now. But he’s back, he’s just about fit, and he has a ridiculous new haircut to go along with it. Augsburg is too early, but I’m sure he’ll be a major part of the second half of the season.
With a little luck (and hopefully no more snow) I’ll be on a plane during the game, so here’s hoping for good news when I get back to the States.
For now, at least.
An altered Hertha side restored a bit of the swagger that was the promise of the first months of the season with a 2-0 home win over Erzgebirge Aue. The win tips us over the Saxons and back into the automatic promotion spots, level on points with league leaders (and next opponents) Augsburg, although now behind on goal difference.
Five changes were made from the side that lost in Munich, some tactical, some forced. Marco Sejna’s red card meant that Sasha Burchert got another chance in goal. Captain Andre Mijatović was fit again, which meant that he was back in the side, as was Raffael. Rounding out the changes were Ronny and Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
From the start, Hertha were far more aggressive, organized, and committed than they were in the previous games. Maybe it was the changes, maybe it was the sting of losing so many in a row, or maybe it was that the motivation is stronger while playing against the team topping the table, but Hertha just looked better. There were still a few nerves, but altogether, I was much happier watching Hertha than I had been recently.
Still, it took a penalty later on in the first half to open the game. Lasogga was brought down in the box, and up stepped Levan Kobiashvili to break the string of bad results. He cooly blasted the ball home. It’s one of those moments where having a veteran like Kobi is really useful- it was massively important to score that goal, and there was certainly a lot of pressure to do so.
It meant Hertha took a lead into the dressing room, and they doubled it well in the second half. After a couple of sniffs at goal for Lasogga and Nikita Rukavytsya, the two combined for a fine second goal. Ruka played in Lasogga behind the Aue defense, and the youngster finished strongly to put Hertha two up. After that, Aue dropped their heads a bit and a restored Hertha defense dealt with whatever they did manage to come up with. Hertha had a couple more attacks as well, but mostly, the 2-0 was pretty much enough.
As said, it was a much improved performance. The team as a whole looked far more organized and worked much harder, keeping Aue from creating much at all. It’s great to have Mijatović back – the defense missed him. Praise must also be given to Sasha Burchert, although he didn’t have much to do. He came up with some saves towards the end when he needed to, and a clean sheet at this stage has to be big. He’s very young, especially in goalkeeper terms, and his Hertha debut coincided with our worst stretches of last season. He made some mistakes then, but he’s got the chance to learn from them, and he looked much more assured on Sunday. Long may it continue for the kid.
Sunday also saw the return of Zecke Neundorf, the Hertha fan favorite who rejoined the first team to “boost the spirits” of the squad. He came on for a few minutes at the very end after the crowd had been chanting for his return, and actually looked pretty good for them. Maybe he did give us something of a psychological boost after all.
So, the win brings us back to almost where we want to be, and makes the next game particularly massive. Of course, it was before. FC Augsburg are now at the top of the table, with only goal difference separating us from them. The Bavarians have emerged as our strongest competition for the promotion spots, having missed promotion last season after losing the playoff to 1. FC Nürnberg. They’ve been in great form since emerging from their own slump and are unbeaten since October, with only a draw against Greuther Fürth preventing them from taking maximum points in that period. Before the Aue game I was dreading having to face them, but I’m feeling much better about it now. The top spot is still available, and if we can keep playing as we did, we can have it.
Well, that didn’t go to plan. Instead of readjusting our play and beating a middling 1860 team who have just announced across-the-board pay cuts, we lost to an early goal and had our goalkeeper sent off. From coasting to a winter championship, now we’re in fifth.
I was at a different football game (FC Utrecht finally won while I was watching them), and have generally been too depressed about the game to find highlights. It’s now 3 straight losses, 4 losses out of 5 games over all, and something is wrong. Plus, the next game is against the new leaders of the league, Erzgebirge Aue.
Can we just get to the break already?
No, we can’t. We have to play Aue first, and we’ll have to do it without our first two goalkeepers, as Sejna will be suspended for his sending-off in Munich. Youngster Sascha Burchert will get another chance to prove himself, after not being very convincing in his appearances last season. But he’s young and young players make mistakes. Also suspended is Peter Niemeyer, who has picked up too many yellow cards and has to sit this one out.
However, captain Andre Mijatovic re-joined first-team training this week, and we might see him on Sunday. It will be a big boost to have the captain/capable defender back, especially with Burchert probably needing some protection. Raffael is also back, and if he’s ready to play and fit that is the biggest help we can have.
Also worth nothing, if just for the eyebrow-raising factor: former Hertha favorite Andreas “Zecke” Neuendorf, who you might remember from being the vaguely hipsterish red-headed guy they have talking about the team on Sky Bundesliga every so often, is back in the squad. The 35-year-old left Hertha three years ago to go to Ingolstadt, but is now back and has been playing in the reserves. He’s actually been a top scorer in them as well, and has been added to the first-team squad to “uplift” the players. Which I guess means yell at things. We could probably use someone to do that, but it’s still curious.
It’s a home game Sunday, but Aue, in Saxony near the Czech border, is set to bring a large contingent of away fans. Officially 7500 away tickets have been sold, but Aue are claiming that there will be more than 10,000 in the stadium. Hertha need the home fans now more than ever to make a difference.
Aue are the leaders but not invincible- most of their games are settled by one or two goals, and they were absolutely tonked by Energie Cottbus 6-0 two weeks ago. I’m not saying we will win, but we could, and if we do it would help the holiday season be a lot more cheerful.
It was a cruise, and now we’re a bit seasick.
From a season with no losses, and only two draws, we’re now looking at the end of a November with three defeats and one win. And not exactly defeats to strong teams, either- 14th-placed VfL Osnabrück and 12th-placed SC Paderborn are among our vanquishers. We’ve dropped down to third, and while that’s not cause to panic yet, it’s definitely cause for concern.
So what’s going on?
Really, Hertha just aren’t playing well. The strikers are misfiring, the midfielders aren’t creating enough, and other teams are finding it too easy to figure us out. Babbel wonders if the team are ‘comfortable and lazy’ after the good start. But tactics are also an issue, with a growing sense that the players aren’t being deployed in the way that makes the most sense for them. (And injuries don’t help, of course, especially to Mijatovic, which robs us of defensive solidity at the time we need it most.)
There is definitely worry around, especially as the financial results were just announced. Considering it’s Hertha, and considering the relegation, I’m not at all surprised that they were bad. But they make it feel like this is basically the best shot we have at getting promoted. The financials won’t get any better with another year in the 2. Liga. If we can’t make it now, who knows when we will? And what Hertha will be then?
There are three games left before the winter break. Sunday it’s a visit to Munich for 1860, a team who knows a few things about the costs of relegation and financial difficulties in general. The Bavarians aren’t in the best recent form either, although in better than us, with two draws and a 1-0 loss in the last three games. They’ve also just announced that salaries will be dropping by 10% across the board at the club, including players. There but for the grace of God, etc., etc. With things the way they are, both teams probably think it’s a good time to play the other.
Player-wise, there are a few cracks. New father Christian Lell has the flu. Youngster Sebastian Neumann has a foot injury. And something is wrong with Raffael’s calf. The loss of Raffael is a particular blow, as Babbel was working on retinkering the tactical situation around the Brazilian.
It’ll be interesting to see what is come up with in Munich.
(Papers written and turned in, back to regular posts soon, I promise.)