It is patently too early to be talking of a crisis before the season has even begun in earnest, but it is fair to say that things aren’t exactly going to plan at Hertha Berlin right now. A shock elimination from the DFB Pokal has highlighted the gap between the high aspirations of the capital club and the reality facing trainer Bruno Labbadia as he seeks to achieve them.
Friday evening saw die Alte Dame kick-off the weekend’s DFB Pokal first round matches with a trip to Eintracht Braunschweig. It took just over a minute for them to concede and by the time the final whistle went they had let in another four, going down to a 5-4 defeat at the Eintracht Stadion. Not since 2012 have Hertha been knocked out in the first round (Wormatia Worms beat them 2-1 when they were in the 2. Bundesliga).
The loss to the Löwen is their fourth in a row after a poor run of recent pre-season friendlies. Consecutive defeats to Ajax (1-0), PSV Eindhoven (4-0) and Hamburger SV (2-0) highlighted deficiencies in the Hertha team (particularly in attack), and despite scoring four against Braunschweig, they conceded their 12th goal in four matches. Indeed, the newly promoted 2. Bundesliga side hit the back of the net with five of their first seven efforts on goal.
The absence of striker Krzysztof Piątek through an enforced quarantine was a blow, but the absence of a real alternative has exposed Hertha’s need for further transfer activity in the current window. As it stands Labbadia’s only back-up for the Polish forward are Daishawn Redan and Jessic Ngankam. The absence of defensive anchor Dedryck Boyata was another key factor for Hertha’s shocker. An achilles injury has kept the Belgian centre back out of the four matches mentioned and Karim Rekik in particular has not enjoyed the best of times deputising.
The new players brought in are also taking a little longer than hoped to adapt. Keeper Alexander Schwolow didn’t exactly cover himself in glory against Braunschweig (particularly with the opening free kick). New right back Deyovaisio Zeefuik hasn’t shown yet that he is a better option than veteran Peter Pekarik, while midfielder Lucas Tousart still needs time to find his rhythm after having not played since Ligue was shutdown in April. The loss of both Per Skjelbred and Marko Grujic has been felt over the four defeats.
Expectations are high going into the new season with the club wanting to develop themselves into a ‘big capital city club’ backed with the financial investment of Lars Windhorst. This is however not to going to be an instant occurrence and any fans expecting a miracle this season will need to temper their desires. Indeed, Hertha had been looking for a major shirt sponsor to replace Tedi and were hoping for a name as big as Amazon or Tesla. That hasn’t come to any fruition with the main contender being textile manufacturer Trigema, who are offering just €4.5 million as opposed to the €7.5 Tedi were paying.
The start of the summer saw unbridled optimism at the Olympiastadion as the club looked to start their upwards development. With the new Bundesliga season kicking off next weekend against Werder Bremen, the situation is not however as rosy as those of a blue and white persuasion would have hoped for. Hertha Berlin face a huge challenge this season balancing expectation with reality.