Can Hertha really stay top of the Bundesliga?

February 16, 2009

Hertha Berlin have found their way to the top of the Bundesliga table for the first time since October 2006 and given their long-suffering fans a faint whiff of championship hopes.

It’s been a very long time since Hertha’s last championship in 1931 and many years since their last Champions League appearance in 2000.

The amazing thing about Hertha’s stumble up to the top after their rather undeserved 2-1 victory over a dominant Bayern Munich on Saturday is that they’re really not very good. (As a closet Hertha fan I believe I’m qualified to concede that point).

Hertha, who have broken the hearts of their fans in past years with false pre-season promise, have underwhelmed many of their opponents this season yet often ended up, improbably, with the three points.

Hertha have 12 wins from their 20 matches and have also scored far fewer goals (32) than rivals Hoffenheim (46), Bayern Munich (43) and Bayer Leverkusen (43) with only third-placed Hamburg similarly shot-shy (31). Many of Hertha’s 12 wins were by a one-goal margin.

They don’t really have a ‘best player’, they’re a team of not well-known names aside from perhaps their lone German international Arne Friedrich, while their top striker Marko Pantelic doesn’t get along with the coach and will probably be gone at the end of the season.

To be fair, their defence is well organised most of the time, defender Joe Simunic is having his best season in Berlin and goalkeeper Jaroslav Drobny has never been better.

On Saturday, Bayern had possession more than 60 percent of the time and were closer to going in front through much of the second half before Andriy Voronin scored the winner — his second goal of the match against the run of play.

“Stand up and cheer the team that’s now on top of the table,” Hertha’s public address announcer told the first sell-out crowd of the season with five minutes to play (74,244 were in the Olympiastadion, which is 30,000 more than their average crowd of 44,686). At first the crowd seemed to think he was talking about Bayern.

For most Berliners, who recall Hertha barely surviving a relegation battle only a few years ago, it took a while to digest.

First place? Hertha? Will it last?

PHOTO: Hertha celebrate with their fans after defeating Bayern Munich, February 14, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Charisius


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“The amazing thing about Hertha’s stumble up to the top after their rather undeserved 2-1 victory over a dominant Bayern Munich on Saturday is that they’re really not very good. (As a closet Hertha fan I believe I’m qualified to concede that point).”

I’m not a Hertha fan, so I believe I’m qualified to disagree. Bayern had zero real chances in the first half and when that’s the case possession stats are meaningless. Hertha had one good chance which Ze Roberto cleared of the line and one half chance which Voronin converted to give Hertha the lead. And Bayern’s equaliser was more or less stumbled in after four tries following a speculative shot by Lucio. They had chances to take the lead after that. After an excellent counter attack had given Hertha the lead again, they also had chances to equalise again. Though Hertha remained dangerous throughout. They had Bayern pretty much under control and in the other cases their goalkeeper took care of the rest. With some good will I will concede that Bayern could have just as well drawn the match, but Hertha certainly deserve their win. Much more than Hamburg two weeks ago actually.

That doesn’t make Hertha title favorites. But they are a better team than many think.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

I am a Hertha fan, and that may mean I am biased, but I doubt it. I do think Hertha is probably not the best team in the league, but like Ben said they are better than people think. Sure, Bayern had loads of possession in the first half, but no good chances and the Dardai’s shot was cleared excellent off the line for Hertha.

Drobny did make some big saves in the second half, but Hertha played much better football after the break. And Bayern were not able to break down the defense expertly anchored by Friedrich and Simunic. And Voronin is wold-class – look at his goal versus Bielefeld last week.

Ben is exactly right. Hertha is well-organised and better than what people think. I don’t know if we can win the title, but we have beaten Bayern, Hamburg, Leverkusen and Hoffenheim. That says a lot right there.

Posted by Santosh | Report as abusive

That’s true, Santosh, Hertha have indeed beaten Hoffenheim, Bayern and Leverkusen, BUT Hertha also were beaten by Energie Cottbus at home — alongside a 5-1 drubbing at Werder Bremen, 4-1 at Bayern at 1-0 at Schalke. Hertha often get the hopes of their fans up…and then they lose matches they shouldn’t lose. Hertha seemed outplayed by Bayern and after getting home from the stadium I checked the stats and saw Bayern had 16 shots on goal to Hertha’s 8 and 6 corners to Hertha’s 2. Bayern also won 55 percent of the “Zweikaempfe” — data that seemed to confirm the impression that Bayern had more of the match.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

I am not doubting that Bayern had better stats! They are the better team than Hertha.

But in football when you play a superior opponent and play a counter-attacking style, you concede the possession. That means you concede the shots as well. But when you have a superior goalkeeper – and Drobny is superior to Rensing – that is OK.

In football the only stat that counts is goals. Hertha have won matches when they have been outplayed, look at the Leverkusen match as an example.

Favre has instituted his brand of football and the team is responding. Hertha won’t play flashy football by any means, but they can be effective. The best teams in football win by one goal – Inter Milan has 10 1-goal victories and has been held scoreless three times in Serie A – nobody thinks they are not good.

Cottbus is no doubt a bogey team for Hertha, of course. But the four toughest away fixtures – Bayern, Leverkusen, Bremen (no matter how bad they are, they are a Champions League team) and Schalke – are all behind Hertha.

Look I don’t expect any miracles here. But at the same time you can’t luck your way to the top of the table in February.

Posted by Santosh | Report as abusive

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