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18.06.2020Bundesliga

Our next opponents: Hertha hopes pinned on Cunha

Another two wins to qualify for the Champions League: The Werkself want to take the next step to being in Europe's elite club competition at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Saturday, 20 June (kick-off: 15.30 CET). The opponents from the capital have improved lately – and are now hoping for the return of a regular first choice.
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Position

For Hertha Berlin, a turbulent season is coming to a comparatively calm end. Four different coaches, sensational winter transfers and several media effective events off the pitch – and finally back in more shallow waters. Mainly responsible for that: Bruno Labbadia. The former Werkself coach, who took Bayer 04 to the cup final in 2009, was appointed to the Berlin club before the coronavirus pandemic and he quickly sorted out the somewhat unpredictable Old Lady. In his first four games as the Hertha coach, Labbadia picked up ten points including wins at Hoffenheim (3-0) and in the city derby against Union (4-0) plus a more than respectable draw at Leipzig (2-2). The Berliners briefly had hopes of the Europa League thanks to the upturn under their new coach but after three defeats on the bounce the chance of being on the European stage has gone. For Hertha Berlin, there is no possible movement up or down with two games to play – but their games could prove to be very decisive. Labbadia's team could tip the balance in the race for the Champions League: On Saturday they face the Werkself and on the final matchday are away to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Personnel

The depth of the Hertha squad has been severely reduced by a long injury list. Kraft, Mittelstädt, Ascacibar, Rekik, Dilrosun, Leckie, Skjelbred, Wolf – all potential starters unavailable to Hertha the game against the Werkself. At the same time, there is good news on the personal front: In Dedryck Boyata, the most solid central defender in the team returns after suspension and Matheus Cunha could be back in the starting line-up. The Brazilian has been ruled out due to concussion and in the last two games against Eintracht Frankfurt and SC Freiburg he came on as a substitute late in the game as he was not yet ready for the starting eleven. That could now change – and that would represent a definite plus in Hertha's attack.

The stats for the winter new signing from Leipzig are impressive: From his transfer to Berlin up to his head injury, Cunha was directly involved in a Hertha goal in six out of seven games and he often made the difference with his dribbling at pace and his threat in front of goal. And coach Labbadia is also well aware of the enormous quality the 21-year-old has: "He has something exceptional and can always do something special." If Cunha does start then the Hertha game would have an additional, unpredictable element that the Werkself would have to be well aware of – as Cunha can play both on the left wing as well as in the number 10 role or even as a central striker.

Problems

There is no doubt the team has enormous quality and that means they are capable of much more than their current eleventh place. However, inconsistency has affected performances throughout the season. Great games and poor displays too often followed each other. Examples of that are the two games against the Werkself's last opponents: Hertha beat FC Köln 4-0 earlier in the season but lost 5-0 at home at the Olympic Stadium. The team's performances have improved considerably under Labbadia and in the last two matches there have been unnecessary errors that have cost Hertha dearly: Boyata was shown a red card against Frankfurt and Hertha lost 4-1 after being 1-0 up, and at Freiburg, Vladimir Darida made an individual error that led to the crucial second goal conceded in a 2-1 defeat.

Potential

Hertha Berlin are very ambitious for the years ahead. The club management again and again stress the target of bringing the club back onto the European stage on a regular basis. The financial foundations for that have been created through the partnership with investor Lars Windhorst that saw the signing of two top international players in the winter break in the shape of Cunha and Krzysztof Piatek and another follows on 1 July with the signing of Lucas Tousart from Olympique Lyon. Not to be ignored: Hertha have enormous quality and they have a youth section that again and again delivers players to the senior squad. In Arne Meier and Jordan Torunarigha, there were two home-grown players in the starting eleven at Freiburg and there were another six on the bench.

Prediction

Relegation and Europe – neither are possible for Hertha now. But the Berliners will definitely not give up. Also because there is the question of the 'city title’ for the Old Lady against rivals Union, level on points but one position behind Hertha due to a worse goal difference – and a lot of people place great value on that situation remaining the same. From a Werkself perspective, it is to be hoped that the Old Lady picks up the necessary points next week…

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