Hoffenheim coach Andre Breitenreiter celebrates his 49th birthday on Sunday and the ideal present would be three Bundesliga points at the Olympiastadion. Looking to spoil his special day however are a Hertha Berlin side full of optimism and looking to give their own trainer Sandro Schwarz something to smile about.
A win for visitors Hoffenheim would cement their place in the Bundesliga top four and extend the very pleasing start they have made to the new season. After losing to Borussia Mönchengladbach on the opening weekend the Sinsheim club notched up three consecutive wins before a narrow loss to Dortmund. A nice win over Mainz showed they could take it in their stride and last time out they battled to a goalless draw with in-form Freiburg.
The next three matches are all games they will consider winnable (Hertha, Werder Bremen, and Schalke) before they travel to Bavaria to face Bayern Munich on matchday 11. If everything goes to plan that encounter at the Allianz Arena could be a battle for top spot in the Bundesliga- something that would have seemed far-fetched at the start of the campaign.
Hoffenheim have however impressed with their mix of experience (Oliver Baumann, Kevin Vogt, and Andrej Kramaric) and youth (Christoph Baumgartner, Denis Geiger and Georginio Rutter). Three points from Sunday’s game would make Andre Breitenreiter’s birthday a happier day should his charges deliver.
Hertha though are on an upward trajectory, having picked up five points from their last three matches. With six points in total, they currently sit in 13th place in the table ahead, but with ambitions of climbing.
They will consider themselves very unlucky not to be going into Sunday’s game in a much healthier position. They were denied all three points on matchday 7 at Mainz with a last-gasp equaliser in stoppage time and were denied a clear penalty in their 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen. Their losses to both Dortmund and Mönchengladbach were by the slenderest of margins and the only match thus far that they can consider a poor performance was the opening day defeat to city rivals Union.
Sandro Schwarz is introducing a new way of playing for Hertha with a higher press and although it hasn’t fully clicked yet, the pacey front three of Chidera Ejuke, Wilfried Kanga and Dodi Lukebakio are looking threatening, and it seems only a matter of time before somebody feels their full force.
Suat Serdar should return to the midfield after missing the Mainz game through illness. Jean-Paul Boetius’ testicular cancer diagnosis sees him out of the squad, but Marco Richter, who himself has just returned from cancer treatment is pushing for a start after scoring twice from the bench.
New defensive signing Agustin Rogel will have to wait for a start as Sandro Schwarz keeps faith with the back four that has performed so well recently.
Possible line-up: Christensen, Kenny, Uremovic, Kempf, Plattenhardt, Sunjic, Tousart, Serdar, Lukebakio, Kanga, Ejuke
With the exception of Ihlas Bebou (knee problems), Ermin Bičakčić (training backlog) and Benjamin Hübner (ankle injury), TSG have a full complement of players after the international break. Sebastian Rudy will be permitted to play wearing a cast on his injured arm. Angelino may have to make way for the fit-again Robert Skov.
Possible line-up: Baumann, Kabak, Vogt, Akpoguma, Kaderabek, Geiger, Skov, Prömel, Baumgartner, Rutter, Kramaric
What they’re saying:
Sandro Schwarz: “The international break was emotional for us, particularly regarding Djanga. So, we are really happy to hear some good news and hope for the same with Marco! We very strongly recommended that the players should go for a check-up. I went myself at the beginning of the week, and many of the guys from the coaching team did as well.
“Andre Breitenreiter’s DNA is clearly visible at Hoffenheim. Nevertheless, we’re going into the game with self-confidence and want to win the three points. It’s all about performing the right way on matchday. You can’t keep worrying about losing points. That will be the case again on Sunday.”
Andre Breitenreiter: “Hertha are a team that have reinvented themselves. They play very intensively and wait for the opponent to lose the ball so they can transition at speed. They are currently the best counter-attacking team in the league. We need to be ready for that.
“We want to restart successfully after the break. The players returned from their trips at different times. We want to use the time to ensure our boys are fresh for Sunday. We mustn’t be passive and want to play our positional game so that we continue to be versatile. Then we will create enough goalscoring opportunities too.
“The lads have all returned fit. Some players played as recently as Tuesday and have only trained with us selectively so far. But we still have time before Sunday. Almost all our players performed well. For example, Andrej Kramarić qualified for the Final Four of the Nations League.”
16.09.22 Mainz (a) 1-1 D (Bundesliga)
10.09.22 Bayer Leverkusen (h) 2-2 D (Bundesliga)
04.09.22 Augsburg (a) 0-2 W (Bundesliga)
27.08.22 Borussia Dortmund (h) 0-1 L (Bundesliga)
19.08.22 Borussia Mönchengladbach (a) 1-0 L (Bundesliga)
18.09.22 Freiburg (h) 0-0 D (Bundesliga)
10.09.22 Mainz (h) 4-1 W (Bundesliga)
02.09.22 Borussia Dortmund (a) 1-0 L (Bundesliga)
27.08.22 Augsburg (h) 1-0 W (Bundesliga)
20.08.22 Bayer Leverkusen (a) 0-3 W (Bundesliga)
The corresponding fixture last season saw new Hertha trainer Felix Magath missing out on his first game in charge through Covid, but under Mark Fotheringham, die Alte Dame strolled to a 3-0 win at the Olympiastadion thanks to three set-piece goals to record their first win of 2022.
A Niklas Stark header from a Marvin Plattenhardt corner gave them a first half lead with goals in the second 45 minutes from Ishak Belfodil and Lucas Tousart (both instigated by Plattenhardt deliveries) sealing the three points.
Players to watch:
Young Boys of Bern lost both of their strikers in the summer transfer window with Jordan Pefok joining Union Berlin and Wilfried Kanga signing for Hertha. So far, the US striker has been then more successful in settling into life in the Bundesliga, but even though he hasn’t scored yet, Kanga is showing signs that he too will succeed following his step up from the Swiss league.
The goals will surely come, but Hoffenheim will be hoping he holds off for another week. With the service coming in from Lukebakio and Ejuke though the TSG backline should be tested this weekend and the drought could be broken.
Georginio Rutter has gone from being a rising star at Hoffenheim to just simply being a star. This season there is a palpable feeling when he is on the ball that something is going to happen, and his dancing feet are going to create some magic. Some magic at the Olympiastadion this weekend would go a long way to cementing TSG’s place in the top four.