FEATURE | Hertha Berlin firing on all cylinders in push for European football – Bundesliga Review

Under manager Bruno Labbadia, Hertha Berlin have excelled since the return of the Bundesliga in mid-May. Hertha added to their big wins against Hoffenheim and rivals Union Berlin with another victory on Saturday afternoon against a lowly Augsburg side still fighting against relegation this season. Goals from Javairo Dilrosun and Krzysztof Piatek completed a routine 2-0 win which saw Die Alte Dame move four points behind Wolfsburg in 6th spot. With five games left to play, can big-spending Hertha steal an unlikely spot in the Europa League next season?

From back to front Hertha Berlin once again looked incredibly organised in their clash against Augsburg on Saturday afternoon. With another clean sheet defensively, the team from the capital have become an extremely difficult side to break down since the resumption of the Bundesliga in May. Under new head coach and Bundesliga veteran Bruno Labbadia, Hertha look like a new team after the previous failed reigns of Jürgen Klinsmann and Ante Čović. The excitement of their young pacey players in attack coupled with their defensive sturdiness could yet see them make a move into the top six and secure Europa League qualification for next term. Their opponents Augsburg have seen a mixed bag of results in recent weeks including a fabulous 3-0 away at Schalke.

It’s no secret that Hertha Berlin have spent big this season in an effect to close the gap on European qualification. Spending €77 million in the January transfer window, perhaps it isn’t surprising to finally see Die Alte Dame improve their league form. Their improved performances however are at least to some extent influenced by new boss Bruno Labbadia. The former Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg and Stuttgart manager, amongst others, was brought in with the side struggling for traction slumped in 14th spot in the Bundesliga standings. Since then, his implementation of possession-based play across the defence mixed with their lightning fast counter-attacks has seen his side pick up 10 points out of a possible 12, only dropping points away at RB Leipzig during that time.

An interesting caveat would see Eduard Löwen play for Augsburg despite being on loan from opponents Hertha. Thankfully for the home side on the day, the German midfielder would play out a largely uneventful appearance before being substituted at half-time. Augsburg offered great resistance but not enough quality as Labbadia’s side went in search of another vital win on Saturday.

The breakthrough for Hertha against Augsburg came in the 23rd minute from winger Javairo Dilrosun. A free transfer from Manchester City in 2018, the 21-year-old Dutch winger has enjoyed a string of great performances since the resumption of the Bundesliga following the COVID-19 pandemic. Saturday afternoon proved to be no different with a sublime finish topping off another great afternoon for the youngster. The ball may have fortuitously landed for Dilrosun following a save from Augsburg ‘keeper Andreas Luthe but his first touch was world class. Scooping the ball over opposition defender Felix Uduokhai, Dilrosun then slammed the ball into the top corner to give Hertha the lead.

Soon after, Hertha striker Vedad Ibisevic had a first-time effort pushed away for a corner from a Max Mittelstädt cross, the 23-year-old left back’s deliveries exceptional all day. Bosnian Ibisevic again would come close to getting the home side’s second goal before the break, seeing an on-target header palmed away by the opposition shot stopper. Hertha would have to settle with just a one goal advantage at the break but their play arguably deserved more, Vladimir Darida in particular caused the away side a lot of problems in his central attacking role.

Thankfully for boss Heiko Herrlich, the away side started the second half much better and were nearly level as soon as play resumed. Hertha ‘keeper Rune Jarstein spilling a cross to Noah Sarenren Bazee who saw his effort saved by the Norwegian international. After this win, Jarstein has now kept three clean sheets in four matches since the Bundesliga resumed.

On the hour mark, the away side should have arguably been level after putting the Hertha back line under pressure. A quick throw in down the line resulted in a big chance for star striker Florian Niederlechner who should have headed home but instead put his effort just wide. Augsburg came even closer with two efforts in the last ten minutes of the match. First Georg Teigl saw his effort deflected just wide of Jarstein’s left-hand post before Marco Richter cracked a left-footed shot against the bar from outside the box a few minutes later. Another late goal was surely coming.

Unfortunately for Augsburg, it would be them who would concede again. With 92 minutes on the clock, Hertha midfielder Marko Grujic would unselfishly square the ball to €24 million signing Krzysztof Piatek who finished first-time with aplomb into the bottom left-hand corner. As the Polish forward wheeled away to perform his trademark celebration, the away side knew the game was finished.

Labbadia was quick to praise his victorious team during the post-match press conference. “The team is very willing to work on the smallest details. If everyone goes along like this and the players accept content well, it can be fun. To improve our football together is what drives me as a coach!”

The result leaves these two Bundesliga outfits in very different positions. Hertha Berlin can still catch up to sixth-placed Wolfsburg and a Europa League place before the season is done but face a tough run in to achieve that. The travelling Augsburg now sit only four points above Fortuna Düsseldorf and Bundesliga safety and need to get back to winning ways urgently. With crucial matches on the road against Fortuna Düsseldorf and struggling Mainz coming up, Augsburg will have to be at their best to survive this term but showed against Hertha that they’re most definitely up for the fight.

1 | Schalke’s Weston McKennie led the tributes for George Floyd this weekend with a customised “Justice for George” armband on Saturday. Speaking to Forbes, the USMNT midfielder said: “I felt like it was my duty and my responsibility to go out to show justice for George Floyd. This is a problem that’s been going on way too long.” Borussia Dortmund attacker Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi both revealed a “Justice for George Floyd” t-shirt whilst Borussia Mönchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring – all of which are now being investigated by the DFB control committee, who forbid “political messages.” There are some things far more important than football and fighting against racism is one of them.

2 | Jhon Cordoba gave FC Köln the lead vs RB Leipzig after seven minutes in what was the best game of week 29. The Colombian has suffered a mix-bag since joining from Mainz 05 for €17m in 2017, replacing Anthony Modeste, who moved to China before later returning. Cordoba’s first season in the Bundesliga for the Billy Goats saw the powerful striker often criticised. Not known for his goalscoring exploits, Cordoba scored 21 goals in 33 games in all competitions last season – when Köln were in the 2. Bundesliga – whilst the 27-year-old is now considered a hero around the RheinEnergieStadion, scoring 13 in 27 games this season. Patrik Schick, Christopher Nkunku and Timo Werner put Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig in a 3-1 lead before Modeste gave Köln some hope, before Dani Olmo scored Leipzig’s fourth minutes later.

3 | Bayern Munich’s 5-0 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday was Hansi Flick’s 22nd win out of his first 25 games, a new record for Bayern, with Pep Guardiola winning 21 out of 25. Robert Lewandowski scored a brace taking his tally to 29 Bundesliga goals in 27 games, 11 behind Gerd Müller’s record set in the 1971/72 season. Borussia Dortmund’s 6-1 win against Paderborn puts Lucien Favre’s side back to within seven points of Bayern Munich.

N.E & D.P

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