They almost couldn't take it any more: the praise for their courageous play that was so much better than last season, so attractive, so full of energy. What use is that if there is nothing to show for it in the end? Knocked out in the first round of the DFB Cup after a frenetic encounter at Braunschweig (5-6 on penalties), a 3-1 defeat in the derby against Union, two narrow 1-0 reverses against Gladbach and Dortmund and just one point against Frankfurt (1-1). No wonder that the 2-0 victory last weekend at FC Augsburg was seen as a change in fortune by players, coaches and management. "We get praise from opponents but we have to earn the rewards ourselves," said Fredi Bobic, sporting managing director, ahead of the game in Augsburg. And that's exactly what happened. Lacklustre but deserved. Points instead of praise.
Sandro Schwarz said the whole team had defended well after the first win of the season. The 43-year-old coach, who was the successor to the "saviour" Felix Magath in the summer, not only highlighted the defensive solidity but was also happy about the quality of his players on the bench. The win was sealed in added time with a goal from Marco Richter who came on as a sub after recently recovering from testicular cancer. Davie Selke provided the assist having come on as a substitute minutes before. And the Dutchman Jean-Paul Boetius, who also came on at the hour mark, impressed in his 30-minute display. "It was important that we won the game from the bench and that everybody remains dynamic and ready," said Schwarz. And: "Results speed up the development process." Hertha can now take a somewhat more relaxed view of the table after the 2-0 win at Augsburg: The Old Lady climbed from seventeenth to thirteenth in the Bundesliga.
The most important new signing is the coach. Continuity should now return in this key position with the appointment of Sandro Schwarz. The Mainz-born coach is the eighth manager at Hertha since 2019. It is generally known that the capital club has gone through turbulent times. "The last few years have been marked by a lack of professionalism and chaos," Kay Bernstein, the new president at Hertha Berlin, candidly declared. "We have more building work than the City of Berlin." The 41-year-old probably has the most unusual CV of all club bosses in professional football. Bernstein used to be active amongst the Hertha ultras, a founding member of the 'Harlekins '98' and at times he led the singing in the East Stand at the Olympic Stadium. Now he wants to "detoxify the club from inside" and "introduce a change of culture." Big targets that arouse great expectations.
The new Hertha identity should start with a different type of football. A style of play marked by active, brave and ambitious football going forwards. And with a "good structure in working off the ball," as Sandro Schwartz has put it. The coach always plays a 4-3-3 formation. The full-back positions in the back four are occupied by captain Marvin Plattenhardt (30) and new signing Jonjoe Kenny (25) from Everton. The central defence is usually made up from the regular first choice Marc Oliver Kempf (27) and the Croat Filip Uremovic (25). It is possible that there might be another new debutant for Hertha against the Werkself. The Berlin club signed the Uruguayan Augustin Rogel just before the end of the transfer window. "A strong, tall, tough-tackling central defender," said Schwarz about the 24-year-old who last played for the big Argentinian club Estudiantes de la Plata. It's understandable that Hertha needed to act in this position after the departure of Dedryck Boyata (Club Brugge), Jordan Torunarigha (KAA Gent) and Niklas Stark (Werder Bremen). Schwarz mostly plays the trio of Ivan Sunjic (25), Suart Serdar (25) and Lucas Tousart (25) in midfield. But, Kevin Prince Boateng, who missed the game and Augsburg due to a muscular problem, continues to play an important role in the Schwarz team with his huge experience.
The attack in the last four league games has included the two new signings Chidera Ejuke (24, from CSKA Moscow) on the left wing and Wilfred Kanga (24, from Young Boys Bern) as the centre forward. Neither has scored yet. The Belgian Dodi Lukebakio has already netted twice. And there could soon be an alternative in the shape of Jessie Ngankam with his versatility and goal threat. The 22-year-old trained with the team for the first time this week since recovering from a knee injury.
The win against Augsburg has reduced the pressure a lot and a good mood is evident at Hertha. The team spirit under Sandro Schwarz has been top from the start. And the progress on the pitch could clearly be seen from the first matches perhaps with the possible exception of the 3-1 defeat against Union. The team looks solid, is very determined and also does not fall apart after going behind as in the games against Gladbach and Dortmund. On the other hand, they are never satisfied with a 1-0 lead as in the match at Augsburg. The many goalscoring opportunities the team have created in the demanding first fixtures of the season says a lot for the new attacking desire at Hertha.
The group could be accused of wasting chances. There is room for improvement in the conversion rate – Hertha are currently seventeenth in this ranking. Wrong decisions are often made in the final third and there is a lack of accuracy in finishing. Ejuke and Kanga, the two new players up front, are very busy but are still waiting for their first Bundesliga goal. However, the coach is confident: "If you work hard then you will get your rewards. I'm very confident that our attack will score goals for us."
No more relegation battles, please. The Blue and Whites want to have a more settled campaign this term after avoiding relegation at last minute in the play-off against Hamburg SV. Character plays a stronger role in the composition of the squad. The team are on the right track to a new unity, to a new confidence. But the process will take time. "It can't be done within four or five weeks," said Fredi Bobic. The first win of the season in Augsburg was important for morale. "I hope this win will break the logjam," said the skipper Marvin Plattenhardt. His teammate Dodi Lukebakio is convinced of it: "That was just the start. We are really up for the home game against Leverkusen!" That sounds like a warning.
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