Manuel Veth –
For the second season in a row, Hertha Berlin qualified for Europe. The club improved from their seventh place finish in 2015-16 to finish sixth in 2017, which means that Hertha are going straight to the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. In this preview, Manuel Veth looks forwards to what is in prospect for them over the course of the next season.
Hertha Berlin – Last Season
Hertha Berlin’s season started with a major disappointment last season. Drawn against the Copenhagen based Brøndby in the third qualifying round of the Europa League Hertha were the favourites to go through. Hertha then did well to win the first leg in Berlin, but then lost 3-1 in the return leg. As a result, Hertha were out of Europe before the season started in earnest and head coach Pal Dardai then briefly suspended Mitchell Weiser and Fabian Lustenberger for not displaying professional behaviour ahead of the European tie.
Dardai’s criticism of those two players would come at just the right time. Weiser, in particular, would play a significant role in Hertha’s strong Bundesliga season. The 23-year-old was among Hertha’s best players despite missing some games with an injury.
Hertha had a solid start to last season and were regularly in the top three in the Hinrunde. With just two defeats in the first 13 games, there was even talk about potentially reaching the UEFA Champions League. Those talks, however, proved to be premature. Hertha lost 13 out of their last 21 games last season, and it was only thanks to the inconsistency of big clubs like Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke that the poor results towards the end of the season were enough to finish in the top six. Hertha’s matchday 34 performance against Bayer was reflective of the sides real strength. Bayer having just secured safety from the drop destroyed Hertha 2-6, and it was only thanks to Borussia Dortmund defeating Werder Bremen and Bayern defeating Freiburg that Hertha would finish sixth and secure a spot in Europe.
Hertha Berlin – Transfers
Although a top six side observers will point out that Hertha lack a creative spark, it is true that the capital club can at times make for dull viewing. The problem, however, is that Hertha are at home in one of the youngest and most dynamic cities in Europe at the moment. Using slogans like “Berlin’s oldest start-up” Hertha needed to find young and German speaking faces to make the club a better selling point to Berlin’s hipster community.
The last time they signed a young up, and coming star was back in 1999 when the club brought in Sebastian Deisler. Deisler, also known as BastiFantasti, caused a real buzz around the club. There is no Deisler among the transfers this season, but Hertha have gone out and signed two young and German speaking players that could take the league by storm. Number one they brought in 22-year-old German striker Davie Selke from RB Leipzig and number two they brought in 21-year-old Austrian winger Valentino Lazaro from Red Bull Salzburg. Lazaro in particular will be a fantastic addition.
In addition to Lazaro and Selke, the club also signed Mathew Leckie from Ingolstadt, Karim Rekik from Olympique Marseille and Jürgen Klinsmann’s son Jonathan Klinsmann from UC Berkeley. While goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann will be one for the future Leckie and Rekik will be asked to contribute right away. Leckie will add more depth up front where Hertha now have an impressive array of attacking options. Rekik in the meantime is expected to replace John Anthony Brooks, who left Hertha for VfL Wolfsburg.
Alongside the new signings Hertha Berlin have also promoted the talented Arne Maier, Julius Kade, Florian Baak and head coach Pal Dardai’s son Palko Dardai. All four will be given a chance throughout the season to play for Hertha’s first team.
Hertha Berlin – Pre-Season
Hertha stayed close by for their preseason preparations. Spending time in Germany and Austria the highlight of Hertha’s pre-season was the friendly match against Liverpool FC, which was scheduled to celebrate Hertha’s 125th Birthday. Unfortunately for Hertha die Blau-Weißen lost the game 3-0. Games against smaller opposition were overshadowed by the fact that Hertha at one point had six injured goalkeepers.
Hertha Berlin – Predictions
Hertha Berlin’s strongest eleven will look like this:
The Player of the Season:
Mitchell Weiser scored the game-winning goal for Germany at the U-21 European Champions against Spain. The winger can be deployed both as an attacking option, but also as a wingback in a four-man defence. Always considered a big talent in German football Weiser has made a tremendous step forward in his development both on and off the field and if he continues his development could have a good chance to make the German national team squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The Signing of the Season:
Valentino Lazaro will be Hertha’s signing of the season. The 21-year-old right winger could allow Pal Dardai to drop Weiser further back, which would give Hertha a deadly one-two combination on the right wing. Sadly, Lazaro will miss the start of the season with an injury, but once fit will feature on a regular basis. But the Austrian has the potential to become a big star in the German capital and could very well become the footballing face of Europe’s hippest capital.
The Disappointment of the Season:
Lazaro’s arrival is bad news for right-back Peter Pekarik. The 30-year-old Slovak is the first candidate to be cut once Lazaro reaches match fitness. With Hertha trying to create a dynamic duo on the right side of the pitch and with Pekarik ageing it is likely that the Slovak will have a tough season on the bench ahead of him.
A seventh place finish in 2016 was followed up with a sixth place finish in 2017. But Hertha benefited primarily from big teams stumbling in the league. The likes of Bayer, Gladbach and Schalke are all expected to play more consistent seasons. Furthermore, Werder and Stuttgart could make a push for the top spots. Hence, Hertha has to be more consistent in the second half of the season if they want to reach Europe again. In the end, a top half finish will be the likely destination.
With the DFB Pokal Final always taking place at the Olympiastadion in Berlin Hertha desires nothing more than a final in their home stadium. Since the final has been moved to Berlin in 1985 Hertha’s first team, have never reached the final. In 1993 it was Hertha Amateure (the team’s second side) that lost in the final to Bayer Leverkusen. Hertha Amateure were the only reserve team in German history to reach the final of the DFB Pokal sadly nowadays reserve sides are banned from the competition. This means that Hertha’s first team has to undergo the task to reach the final this year and there is a good chance that they will finally get there. Hertha have already beaten Hansa Rostock in the first round and with a bit of luck will finally reach their first final in their stadium as a professional side.
Hertha Berlin have directly qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Europa League. With the new signings in place, Hertha should have the depth to navigate the group stage. From there it will be the luck of draw, but Hertha’s side is strong enough to reach the round of 16 in the competition.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.